Social History of Art


17th Netherlands Steen

Jan Steen, Samson and Delilah, detail, LACMA

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Jan Steen, Samson and Delilah, detail, LACMA
Compare this to Ter Borch's Woman at her Dressing Table (previous image). Here is another variation on the male who falls under the spell of a beautiful woman and who lies, like a courtly lover, in the lap of the lady. This theme was popular in Northern art since the late fifteenth century where it appeared as one of many narrative "examples" of the dangers of "female" beauty and worldly sensuality. As usual, western culture projected male anxieties about the dissipating world of the body onto women. By the time of Steen's painting, Dutch burgher society had turned away from traditional middle class values of moderation and sobriety to embrace courtly luxury, beauty, pleasure, leisure, elegance, and love in every category of art including portraiture, still-life, landscape, genre painting, and literary subjects (history painting). Steen, of course, specialized in the new subjects of pleasure, though with a comical and satiric edge. Samson exemplifies the new Dutch social-climbing burgher, complete with the latest French courtly hairstyle.
Posted by Robert Baldwin on September 2, 2010 Full Size| Slideshow