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The Cover
June 21, 2000

The Dancing Couple

Author Affiliations

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2000;283(23):3040. doi:10.1001/jama.283.23.3040

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 (cover ), 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.