Celebrating the Birth
  • Jan Steen (1626 - 1679)
  • Celebrating the Birth
  • Netherlands
  • Date: 1664
  • Object Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Image size: 87.7 x 107 cm
  • Inv: P111
  • Location: East Galleries II
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Further Reading
  • In this painting, Jan Steen departs radically from the established tradition of depicting childbirth celebrations by focusing on the father rather than the mother, and by suggesting the child’s illegitimacy. His subversive treatment of the subject was not apparent until the painting was cleaned in 1983, and the removal of 19th-century paint revealed a hand making the sign of the cuckold above the baby’s head. The husband stands at the centre showing off the new child, unaware of the duplicity surrounding him. The cheeky long-haired young man behind the baby is a self-portrait of the artist. To emphasize the husband’s impotence, Steen litters the scene with sexual imagery and visual puns. The warming pan, prominent in the foreground, recalls the saying ‘the only warmth in the marriage bed is the warming pan’. Other innuendoes are provided by the hanging sausage and the broken eggshells: ‘cracking eggs’ was a euphemism for sexual intercourse at the time. Underlying such ribaldry is the moral importance of the institutions of marriage and family in a harmonious and civilized society.