John the Baptist preaching, 1653
Oil on canvas, 107 x 113 cm.
Inventory number: 0053NMK
In addition to his depictions of everyday life, Jan Steen also painted religious scenes, which were marked by a different sort of grandeur and seriousness. In this painting, the artist has depicted a holy scene where a heavenly light shines down upon John the Baptist. In a landscape with wooded cliffs, the prophet stands preaching the Gospel before a more or less interested crowd of learned men, Pharisees, soldiers and other onlookers. Dressed in a fancy scarlet cape and blue turban, Herod and his entourage observe the preacher. This group stands in contrast to the poor, pious people in the foreground who are listening with great interest and devotion. Even though this religious scene may appear far removed from the artist’s genre paintings, it is similar with respect to the stage-setting and narrative elements. The underlying moral point is made by highlighting the piety of the poor people in contrast to the heathen Pharisees
Jan Steen (1626–1679)
Jan Steen was a student of the painter Jan van Goyen and one of the most important contributors to the characteristic folk and genre painting that arose in the Netherlands in the 1600s. The core of his work consists of images with scenes from everyday life in the Dutch lower and middle classes, often lively, disorderly tavern scenes and tumultuous family gatherings. Jan Steen had his subjects right at hand, as he occasionally worked as an innkeeper. The narrative and theatrical aspect as well as a humorous tone with an underlying moral point are traits that pervade the artist’s oeuvre.