Social History of Art

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17th Netherlands Steen

Steen, detail of Kermiss, Philadelphia

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Steen, detail of Kermiss, Philadelphia
This is a relatively rare example of a Dutch Baroque painting depicting peasants and burghers together. The upper class arrives by coach, seen in the rear of this detail. Their decorum and self-control contrasts strikingly to the drunken revelry, dancing, and public urination shown by the shameless peasants. This painting and others like it by Molenaer listed below help explain the appeal to wealthy, polite, art collecting elites of oil paintings depicting disorderly peasants. Such works allowed upper class viewers to let down their hair in the privacy of their imagination while using art to uphold social hierarchies. Other Dutch paintings mingling social class include Duck's "Street Scene with an Elegant Couple: (Los Angeles, LACMA), Molenaer's "Fashionable Couple Watching Peasants Playing Ball," Molenaer's "Family Group" (Raleigh), Potter's "Farm Near The Hague," Steen's "Burgher of Delft and His Daughter," Ochtervelt's "Street Musicians" (St. Louis), and van de Venne's "Who Wears the Pants Has the Power" depicting three peasant women giving three sumptuously dressed ladies a good beating (Vassar College). Vermeer's two scenes of courtly music with a brothel scene hanging on the wall could also be included. All of these images are available in the slide show "CLASS" found in my archive of art by subject matter on this web site. While Steen could also depict burgher excess, most of his scenes of revelry took place in the countryside and upheld traditional burgher social ideas of the "better people'.
Posted by Robert Baldwin on May 27, 2013 Full Size| Slideshow