The Family Concert
Oil on canvas
34 1/8 x 39 3/4 in. (86.6 x 101 cm)
Gift of Timothy B. Blackstone, 1891.65
Jan Steen's The Family Concert shows a family at home, relaxing and making music. Within this scene of family fun, Steen alluded to opposing forces of domestic life. The music making of the couple on the left suggests their future harmony together, and the lute, a common symbol of alliances, played by the husband reinforces this association. Other figures' actions, however, hint at flirtation, even infidelity. Steen transforms the "bow," with which the child at right plays the cello, for instance, into a clay pipe, a favorite symbol of bawdy behavior in Dutch painting. Examples of discord are also present—notably in the confrontation between the dog and cat.
Family Concert is an example of genre painting, (scenes of everyday life) popular among the growing middle class of 17th-century Netherlands. Unlike the Catholic populations of their European neighbors, the Dutch were predominantly Protestant and, after gaining independence from Spain in 1648, enjoyed a form of self-government that promoted and supported a strong middle class. Dutch painters' focus on the everyday world of the present in genre, landscape, portrait, and still life views was a response to Protestant restrictions on religious images as well as a reflection of the growing middle-class market for paintings that mirrored patrons' environment, possessions, and pastimes. Steen, who was active as an artist in Utrecht, The Hague, and Leiden (where he managed a tavern), paid careful attention in this painting to the diverse collection of objects in this family's home. The fine clothing, Middle-Eastern tablecloth, large painting with gold frame, and array of musical instruments attest to, and possibly criticize, the current Dutch preoccupation with displaying wealth.