“As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young” is a scene of pure joy. Laughter, singing, eating and the feeling of belonging welcomes me to join in the merriment. The window is open, the fire glows in the background and the connection between young and old remind me of a family sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal. But if I look closer, there are subtle meanings held within the painting.
Jan Havickszoon Steen (1626- 1679) was a Dutch Golden Age painter and one of the leading genre painters of the 17th century. He captured ordinary people people in scenes of daily life doing common tasks. In so doing, he created extraordinary moments. He was known for revealing the nuances of facial expression, especially in children.
Jan Steen loved to paint, which was demonstrated by the 800 paintings that he produced over his lifetime. Fortunately, approximately 350 of his paintings still exist in museums and galleries around the world.
Many of Jan Steen’s paintings were set within inns which was influenced by childhood memories. He was the son of a brewer. When the art market collapsed in 1672, called the Year of Disaster (that is another story for another time), he opened a tavern.
“This painting is a visualization of a popular Dutch proverb about younger generations following the models of their elders. The proverb, written in Dutch, appears on the sheet of paper at lower left. Steen suggests that older generations may not always set positive examples: the nursing mother at center offers a toast of wine, while the woman to her left offers a child a drink directly from the wine pitcher. The laughing figure standing at center is a self-portrait of the artist, who sets the tone by pointing out the folly and comedy of the scene.” Philadelphia Museum of Art