Jan Sanders van Hemessen's "Loose Company" is "outspoken" in a very different sense. Born in Heemixen, near Antwerp, the painter treats his figures in a way that reflects his time spent in Italy, securing his place among the Dutch "Romanists". His work, painted in 1540, offers a view into a locale, which closer inspection reveals to be a brothel - the birdcage in front of the door being only one indicator.

Close to the viewer, virtually at the front, on the apron of the stage-like space of the painting, the artist has arranged three nearly life-sized figures: an older man with striking features and a red hat, a young woman with light colouring, who lays her hand on his shoulder and seeks his attention, and an ugly older woman with a furrowed face, who gestures to a pitcher of wine and also tries to seduce the guest. The man, however, a wayfarer with a bag and a sword, raises his right hand defensively, apparently intending to stand up. A wine glass stands on a pile of playing cards on the table.

The guest apparently resists being seduced into frivolity, wastefulness, and impurity by the lures of alcohol and gambling. In side scenes in the upper corners of the painting, a sailor is being coerced into entering the locale of "Venus and her followers". On the right, a lad has fallen victim to four strumpets who surround him, one of whom has already taken possession of his wallet.

The depiction of the small figures is probably not the work of Hemessen himself, but rather of the so-called Monogramist of Braunschweig, who is known as the inventor of brothel and tavern paintines. Hemessen's painting is characterized by enthusiasm for drastically exaggerated figures, dramatic contrast of light and dark, and the meticulousness typical of the Old Masters. The content of his work establishes him as one of the first proponents of moralising Dutch genre painting.


  • Title: Loose Company
  • Creator: Jan Sanders van Hemessen
  • Creator Nationality: Netherlandish
  • Date Created: circa 1540
  • Physical Dimensions: 83 x 111,5 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Original Source: Loose Company
  • Medium: Tempera on wood
  • Art Genre: Genre painting
  • Art Movement: Baroque
  • Art Form: Painting
  • Support: Oak wood
  • Depicted Topic: Morality

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