Two painters, two paintings, same subject: at the Mauritshuis Museum

This autumn, the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague will open a major exhibition on Flemish Masters. The museum and its Flemish counterpart, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, organize this exhibition.

For those unable to visit: both museums offer a consolation. Two paintings, one owned by the Antwerp and one by the The Hague museum, treating the same subject but created by different painters, can be admired right now.

Both paintings are found on the museum’s second floor. They share a room, but not a wall. Hard to miss them while visiting this museum. In the same room hangs Fabritius famous “Goldfinch as well as other great works of art.

Though both paintings do not share one wall, they are hung in such a manner, visitors can compare them both. Multi media are also on hand, to help visitors compare, detect similarities, observe differences.

Jordaens version

The painting on loan from the Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts (KMSA) is by Flemish Master Jacob Jordaens. A contemporary of Rubens, they actually studied with the same teacher for a while. Rubens left Antwerp for a tour to Italy; Jordaens remained behind and married his master’s daughter. The streets where Jordaens was born and lived actually still exist in Antwerp, though no house like the one Rubens owned remains.

Jordaens specialized in tapestry design, landscapes, portraits and genre paintings. Where Rubens had aristocratic clients, Jordaens commissions came from wealthy burghers. The genre painting exhibited at the Mauritshuis seems to show a few of these burghers.

Seems: this painting contains double meanings. The painting’s title refers to an old saying “old folks sing, young chirp”. Here are wealthy burghers setting wrong examples for children to follow. Grandpa and grandma are making merry, mum seems to sit quietly and the children make music?

The instruments in the painting have negative, sexual associations. The mother holding her child in her lap sits pleased with herself, in the middle of the painting? She has feathers in her hat. They point at vanity.

The painting and its theme were popular and prints were made of it. One of these prints left Antwerp and ended up in the hands of Jan Steen. He worked in Delft and Leiden and found the subject irresistible.

Jan Steen painted his version about thirty years after Jordaens’ painting. Though there are striking similarities, Steen’s painting is far more dynamic. Here the party is in full swing – or should one say: in a rather advanced stage?

Steen’s interpretation

A woman on the left is having her glass refilled. Yet the way she lolls in her chair, as well as her open bodice, indicate she is already tipsy – perhaps even drunk. Behind her, grandpa seems to be nodding off.

Here, a mother is also seated in the middle of the group. She is not merely staring pretty pleased; but turning towards gran. As in Jordaens’ painting, gran is seated on the right. She is also using spectacles to read from a sheet of music.

There are more similarities and differences between the paintings, which occasionally go by the title “Baptism” – into bad manners. Both paintings show a bagpipe player, as well as a dog. But Steen added a parrot. The parrot hints at the children parroting their parents – as the saying goes. Or do Jordaens and Steen both think that mankind is innate and immutable?

As so often in his paintings, Jan Steen is present. What he is up to? Misbehaving of course, but go and have a look to find out how. Then you can also admire Jan Steen’s “Oyster-eater”, which hangs right next to his “As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young”; as well as all the other great paintings in this museum.

The multi media explain how popular the theme of older generations setting wrong examples were. In fact, both Jacob Jordaens and Jan Steen created several versions, which can now be admired in museums all over the world. No need to travel far for another Steen version: it usually hangs on a wall at the “Galerij prins Willem V”, within walking distance of the Mauritshuis Museum. Only time to visit Amsterdam? The Rijksmuseum there, owns works treating the same subject by other painters.

Mauritshuis, The Hague: Steen and Jordaens – as the old sing; on show till 14th of January 2018
Prince William V Gallery, The Hague


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