Jan Steen

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One of the Eight Dutch Masters, Jan Steen was part of the Dutch Golden Age of painters, known for the humorist portrayal his paintings used to contain. Apart from the sense of humor associated with his works Steen’s paintings also had a deep psychological insight to them and were layered in vibrant colors. Steen’s name is taken in the same line as Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in popularity and he is regarded as one of the most prolific Dutch painters of all times with more than 800 paintings. Steen’s work, no doubt having a strong element of humor associated with it, also had a moral character beneath the humor. Steen was also a bit of an all rounder as he not only painted portraits but historical, religious and mythical objects, animals, still portraits of children which were unrivaled in those times.

Jan Havicksz Steen was born in 1625 in Leiden, Holland into a well-to-do Catholic family of brewers. Due to his strong Catholic upbringing he was put in Latin school and then from there into Leiden University. Soon Steen grew tired of University and began an apprenticeship with Nikolaus Knuper and Jan Van Goyen whose daughter he would eventually marry a few years down the line. Steen was never one to stay put, shifting from one city to another opening up a tavern at one point then a brewery after another few years, in many ways he was a kindred spirit searching for the meaning of life with a positive attitude. This is finely captured in many of his paintings which depict people in normal walks of life in a lively manner. Steen’s mastery in rendering light and texture rank him as amongst one of the greats and add an element of impeccable genteelness to his paintings. There is a heavy richness of characterisation found in his paintings beneath all the humour and his skill is a colorist is also remarkable. Steen used to handle difficult colors like salmon red, pale yellow and blue green in a manner which was seen as paving the way for a new methodology of using color in paintings. In his painting, Rhetoricians at a Window Steen showcases a vibrant scene in a tavern window with a bunch of men in a merry mood enjoying and holding mugs of ale. To many this may seem like a normal painting but the way Steen managed to capture the light on the faces of the individuals and show them having a genuinely good time is unique. Daily life was a common theme in Steen’s paintings.

There was no vanity in any of Jan Steen’s works; he painted all the fine lines, wrinkles and objects as they were with the only difference being he managed to capture them in a positive light. A lot of Steen’s paintings were also references to old Dutch proverbs and literature showcased in a warm hearted and light manner. Steen even managed to capture religious references in this manner, rather than the seriousness they are often associated with. The expression a ‘Jan Steen household’ became a popular reference in Dutch language; the term was used to define an untidy yet lively and happy household.

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