Image: Jan Miense Molenaer, The King Drinks (1636-1637)
Last Saturday for our weekly art post, we highlighted a painting of the Roman feast of Saturnalia, one of the winter solstice feasts that were incorporated into modern Christmas. This weekend’s painting advances the story a few hundred years.
Following on the Saturnalia idea of turning the power structure topsy-turvy during the season, in the Netherlands, they had a tradition of the bean king. On the Feast of the Epiphany, a cake would be baked and whoever got the bean in their slice would be named king, with the power to appoint fake courtiers and minister for the merriment. At the center of the tradition was the idea that when the king drinks, everyone drinks. The great painter Jacob Jordaens did a series of paintings to celebrate the drunkenness.
The painting we focus on is by a less-known artist and portrays a less bawdy scene. Jan Miense Molenaer was born in Haarlem around 1610. The NGA profile of him summarizes his work:
“During the 1630s, Molenaer depicted a wide range of subjects, from merry company scenes to tavern groups, biblical scenes, theatrical subjects, and portraits. His style of painting was quite varied, ranging from precise and refined to loose and free. Above all, Molenaer was able to impart individuality to his figures and convey their relationships with one another. In 1636, Molenaer married his fellow Haarlem artist, Judith Leyster (Dutch, 1609 – 1660). In 1637, the two moved to Amsterdam, where they resided for the next 12 years. Attracted like so many others to the city’s bustling art market, Molenaer found professional and personal success in Amsterdam. He continued to paint a variety of subjects, from theatrical scenes and images of the five senses to religious narratives, but he also produced genre scenes of peasant villages and tavern scenes. While in Amsterdam, the couple had four children, all baptized in the Nieuwe Kirk.”
This painting is located at the Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna.
Please celebrate responsibly this holiday season, no need to drink as much as the Bean King. We hope that this year will bring more companionship and family for you than last year’s restrained observances.
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