The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate,
MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
Jan Steen (1625/1626-1679) could be called the O. Henry of Dutch painting.
Packed into every picture was not only a good story, but one with lots of
twists, wit—occasionally mordant—and a moral. The Dancing Couple
which dates from 1663, when Steen was living in Haarlem, tells the story of
a kermis, a local outdoor fair or dance that was popular in the Low Countries
in the 16th and 17th centuries. Derived from the words kerk (church) and mis (Mass), the original
celebrations were held on holy days or saints' days. Because of the colorful
village attire and variety of people it attracted from the surrounding countryside,
the kermis was a popular topic for many Netherlandish painters, especially
the Flemish, who were mainly Catholic and not restrained by the Calvinist
proscriptions on painting. (Steen, one of the few Dutch artists who portrayed
the subject, was Catholic.) The actual setting of The Dancing
Couple is unknown. It could be a village near Haarlem, or a remembered
scene from Steen's youth in Leiden, where his father had run a brewery, or
a scene from Delft, where a decade earlier the young Steen had himself run
a brewery—and failed.
Southgate MT. The Dancing Couple. JAMA. 2000;283(23):3040. doi:10.1001/jama.283.23.3040