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The Feast of the Bean King

Jacob Jordaens1640-1645

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Jordaens’s energetic compositions would be inconceivable without the paintings of Rubens to which the younger artist sometimes contributed. But he combined the influence of his mentor with a selection of burlesque, coarse and common physiognomies (showing the influence of the Netherlands successors to Caravaggio in both this and the usually close-up view) to create his own, unmistakeable style. In presenting “laughing but didactic” contents, Jordaens is also assimilating modern Dutch influences: in the Protestant Netherlands moralising genrepaintings – always, however, in small format – were much more highly esteemed than in Catholic Flanders. Raised above their everyday cares and united in song, costumes, drunkenness and gluttony, the revellers are pressed into the smallest conceivable space. Several days earlier, at Epiphany (Twelfth Night), they had bought slips of paper with the names of various court offices, and to choose the “king” a cake had been made containing a single bean. The guest who found the bean in his piece became the king of the feast. But Jordaens does not leave the choice of the protagonist to chance: the oldest participant is wearing the crown, and he has chosen the prettiest woman as his “queen”. This touches on a theme that had been widespread since the 16th century but was usually depicted in isolation: the “odd couple”. Now the rest of the citizens are being assigned their respective roles. On the right, above the king’s massive head, the “royal taster” is performing his duties. The “doctor” in the left foreground is relieving himself in dangerous proximity to the food. In the foreground is the poorly illuminated but powerful figure of the “equerry”, who has already lost his slip of paper. His body has an important function in the composition: it stabilises and provides rhythm to the other figures in the painting, who are depicted with slight foreshortening. Discreetly in the background is an inscription on a cartouche: “nil similusinsano quam ebrius” – “nothing is more like a madman than a drunk”. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010

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Details

  • Title: The Feast of the Bean King
  • Creator: Jacob Jordaens
  • Date Created: 1640-1645
  • Style: Flemish Baroque
  • Provenance: Collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm
  • Physical Dimensions: w3000 x h2420 cm (without frame)
  • Inventory Number: GG 786
  • Artist Biography: From the time of Peter Paul Rubens's death in 1640 until 1660, Jacob Jordaens was in greater demand than any other artist in northern Europe. He remained Antwerp's leading figure painter until his death. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Jordaens never went to Italy; he was born and lived his whole life in Antwerp, where he and his friend Rubens shared the same teacher. In the 1620s Jordaens built a flourishing studio while also frequently assisting Rubens. His style is based on Rubens's exuberance, with stronger chiaroscuro and thicker impasto. Despite converting from Catholicism to Calvinism in mid-life, Jordaens received numerous commissions for Catholic churches. A masterful technician, Jordaens' prolific output includes altarpieces, portraits, genre, and mythological scenes. He also produced watercolors, tapestry designs, and engravings. His late works include large genre scenes of drinking parties. ©J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/picture-gallery
  • Medium: Oil on Canvas

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