Although many of his works were careful copies of his father’s compositions, A Village Fair was entirely Pieter II’s creation and proved so popular that he made a number of copies of it, often with slight variations in the figures.
To the right of the painting, effigies of Saints Anthony and Hubert, the nominal reason for this celebration, are carried in procession past spectators whose attention is diverted by a group of travelling actors performing on a makeshift stage. The play was known as the Trick Water Farce, and the actors are shown having a meal onstage, reflecting the simple feasting which for many was the main object of the day, for wherever you look people are either eating, drinking, dancing or rabble-rousing. In the centre of the painting a woman stirs an enormous cauldron of what looks to be a simple gruel or porridge which is ladled directly into bowls. Another cauldron suspended from men’s shoulders on a pole is being carried into a building.
For rich and poor alike the year was regulated by a cycle of indulgence and rationing, which ensured that limited food supplies could be evenly spread. Petty excesses of behaviour are everywhere; in the foreground on the left is a group which includes a young boy getting drunk, while on the right another reveller is so inebriated that he has collapsed among the chickens. Pockets are picked, drunken fights have broken out, and maidens’ morals are no doubt threatened, yet these excesses are matched by little pieties — a man kneels at a confessional, others toll the church bell, and another doffs his hat as he gives directions to two mendicant monks.