The Merry Drinker (1625) by Hendrick ter BrugghenCentraal Museum
Gerard von Honthorst’s The Debauched Student wasn’t the only painting to portray the kannekijker: a habitual drinker peering wistfully into an empty tankard. Hendrick ter Brugghen also took on the depiction of this popular figure, with The Merry Drinker serving as a visual warning against excessive drinking.
The man’s gaze is clouded and his nose reddened from excessive alcohol consumption. Ter Brugghen’s unsparing depiction of the disinhibited drunk, whose ungainly laughter exposes damaged teeth, makes for an unflattering portrait of a man who has lost his way.
The heightened naturalism in the Caravaggisti’s paintings is also clearly visible in this painting: while the face and neck of the reveller are tanned, his bare shoulder – in less drunken states typically covered – has remained untouched by sunlight and therefore retains a paler hue.
High consumption of alcohol increases the desire for salty food. This was clearly common knowledge even in Ter Brugghen’s day: the drinker is holding a herring in his left hand.