This text is based on the entry on the painting by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. in H. Perry Chapman, Wouter Th. Kloek, and Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Jan Steen, Painter and Storyteller, ed. Guido Jansen (Exh. cat. Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art; Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum) (New Haven and London, 1996), 139–41.
Translation adapted from Peter C. Sutton, Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting (Exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art) (Philadelphia, 1984), 307. The Dutch text on the placard reads: “Drie dingen wensch ick en niet meer / woor al te minnen Godt den heer / geen overvloet van Ryckdoms schat / maer wens om tgeen de wyste badt / Een eerlyck Leven op dit dal / in dese drie bestaet het al.”
Peter Hecht, “The Debate on Symbol and Meaning in Dutch Seventeenth-Century Art: An Appeal to Common Sense,” Simiolus (1986): 177, n. 15, notes that the saying “in den hoed kijken” (“to look in the hat”) is an expression indicating silent prayer. I would like to thank Guido Jansen for this reference.
See, for example, Roemer Visscher, Sinnepoppen (Amsterdam, 1614), emblem 66, “‘T Vertroude trouwelijck,” which equates trustworthiness with a key. The key also has religious associations that relate thematically to the tenor of this work. Christ said to Saint Peter: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
The vanitas connotations of the book are less certain than those of the extinguished candle and skull. It could be a Bible. Nevertheless, many vanitas still lifes with extinguished candles and skulls include books as well.
For the symbolism of wheat, see Ingvar Bergström, Still Lifes of the Golden Age: Northern European Paintings from the Heinz Family Collection, ed. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. (Exh. cat. Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art) (Washington D.C., 1989), 103–4.
For a full listing of other paintings by Steen representing this subject, see Peter C. Sutton, “The Life and Art of Jan Steen,” in “Jan Steen: Comedy and Admonition,” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 78 (Winter/Spring, 1982–83), 29–31, particularly nn. 7 and 10.
See, in particular, Jacob Cats, Houwelyck: Dat is de gansche gelegentheyt des echtenstaets (Middelburg, 1625). For the relationship between Cats’s writings and such scenes, see Wayne Franits, “The Family Saying Grace: A Theme in Dutch Art of the Seventeenth Century,” Simiolus 16 (1986): 36–49; and idem, Paragons of Virtue: Women and Domesticity in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art (Cambridge, Mass., 1993), 131–60.
See Eddy de Jongh, Portretten van echt en trouw—Huwelijk en gezin in de nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw (Exh. cat. Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum) (Zwolle, 1986), 292–310.
See Pieter J. J. van Thiel, “Poor Parents, Rich Children and Family Saying Grace: Two Related Aspects of the Iconography of Late Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Dutch Domestic Morality,” Simiolus 17 (1987): 128–49.
Wayne Franits, Paragons of Virtue: Women and Domesticity in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art (Cambridge, Mass., 1993), 82, notes that Petrus Baardt, Deugden-spoor (Leeuwarden, 1645), 373, associates the fruitful vine with a “een deugdelijcke huys-vrouwe van eerbaer Zeden” (virtuous and chaste wife).
Peter C. Sutton, Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting (Exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art) (Philadelphia, 1984), 308.
The infrared reflectogram also reveals a number of fingerprints in the wet paint along the painting’s upper edge.
Wybrand Hendriks made a drawing after this painting in the late eighteenth century (now Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam). The painting was then probably in the collection of Johannes Enschede, Haarlem.
The characterization of the wood is based on visual examination only.
Infrared imaging and X-radiography conducted in June 2013 by Douglas Lachance, painting conservation technician, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Infrared image capture, J and H filters configured from 1.1–1.8 microns, Santa Barbara Focal Plane ImagIR LC InSb camera. Infrared reflectogram composite, Adobe Photoshop assembly.