"As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young"

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Painting of a group of adults and children seated and standing around a table filled with food including grapes,a peeled lemon and oysters. One seated woman raises a glass into which wine is poured by a standing man. Another woman holds a young child on her lap. A man holds a long white pipe while a young boy smokes it. Next to them, a man plays bagpipes. A white dog with brown spots stands looking at the people as does a red parrot.

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.


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