Jan Steen’s Self Portrait in “The Continence of Scipio” as a Social Commentary

2561 Words Jun 22nd, 2018 11 Pages
Jan Steen’s Self Portrait in “The Continence of Scipio” as a Social Commentary
There is a tremendous difference between a fool and a jester. Fools are regarded as light-hearted, dim-witted, and absent-minded people whose outrageous stupidity amused the rest of the population. These jovial folk represented the lowest in society: too carefree to get ahead in society and too stupid to care. Many people believed that Jan Steen, a prominent and well-educated artist of the Dutch Golden Age, was a fool. It is not a far-fetched assumption to make since he donned the appearance of a fool in his own paintings. However Steen was no fool. Much like the history of jesters, Jan Steen’s unsavory appearances in his own work is often misunderstood and
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He also suffered some money problems during this time and had out several loans (Chapman, 1996). Many people have concluded that Steen’s money problems stemmed from his dissolute lifestyle. However, during that time the second Anglo-Dutch war had broken out causing a severe drop in the art market (Chapman, 1996). The post-reformation society seemingly obsessed with purity, justice, and goodness seemed to suffer a blow to its heavenly façade when corruption among some of the most prominent leaders of society was exposed. In 1673 William III and the Deventer fathers were found to be corrupt and traitorous to the Dutch Republic (Kunzle, 2000). These men were meant to be the epitome of what it meant to be Dutch. They were meant to be symbols of temperance, virtue, and justice and were often related to Scipio Africanus, a Roman general (Kunzle, 2000). Scipio was a popular subject matter in art, especially in 17th century Holland. During this time the middle class became the major patrons of art. The Netherlands had just declared their independence from Spain and wanted paintings reflecting their new Dutch identity (Shaw-Eagle, 1996). Many artists gained fame by doing genre paintings such as scenes from everyday life. The years earlier had shown the public’s desire for genre and history painting (Meagher, 2000). Some, took old stories of

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