The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate,
MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
More than 300 years after his death, Jan Steen (1626-1679) is still
identified primarily as a genre painter of Dutch middle- and lower-class life.
In sharp contrast to the calm, ordered interiors of his contemporaries, Pieter
de Hooch, for example, or Jan Vermeer, Steen's pictures show the tidy Dutch
life gone awry: messy kitchens, drunken scullery maids, lazy housewives, unruly
children, even the bedlam of tavern interiors. Indeed, when the Dutch wished
to describe a disordered household, they used the phrase "a Jan Steen household."
Moreover, because Steen's father had been a brewer and Steen himself was an
innkeeper, biographers assumed the paintings were autobiographical, that Steen
himself was often drunk. Matters were not helped when Steen sometimes included
his own likeness in the paintings. Whatever the facts may be, the picture
Steen's early biographers painted of him is not entirely accurate. Among the
800 or so works he painted (more than half of which remained in his possession,
unsold, at his death) were a sizable number of history, religious, and mythological
subjects—enough, certainly, to establish, in addition to his reputation
for genre, a respectable reputation as a history painter.
Southgate MT. The Worship of the Golden Calf. JAMA. 2002;288(22):2785. doi:10.1001/jama.288.22.2785