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The Cover
December 11, 2002

The Worship of the Golden Calf

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2002;288(22):2785. doi:10.1001/jama.288.22.2785

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.

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