"As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young"

Jan Steen (1626-1679)
"As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young," 1668-70
Oil on canvas
52 ¾ x 64 1/8 in. (134 x 163 cm)
Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague
Acquired in 1913
Inv. no 742

Steen uses what is ostensibly a celebration of the baptism of the baby at center as an occasion to demonstrate the effects of errant adult behavior on impressionable youngsters. An elderly woman holds a sheet of paper containing the words to a popular proverb, referenced in the painting’s title. Steen playfully portrays himself as the figure teaching the boy to smoke. Thematic symbols punctuate the composition: the bagpiper suggests the “copycat piping” mentioned in the proverb (the instrument connoted indolence and debauchery), the foot warmer and oysters have erotic associations, and the parrot implies mimicry.