Jan Havicksz Steen (c. 1625-1679) was a born storyteller with an obvious sense of humour. His narrative urge is reflected in the huge variety of themes represented in his oeuvre. Not surprisingly, Steen has gained a reputation as one of the most popular seventeenth-century artists.
What a light-hearted household scene! During the 17th century, genre paintings – scenes of ordinary people engaged in everyday activities – were very popular. All kinds of moralizing messages were often hidden in them. Such paintings served simultaneously to ‘educate and entertain’. Jan Steen urged his viewers to set a good example for their children.
Steen’s output was huge. Best known are his genre pictures of merry companies, but he also painted portraits and historical scenes. This painting is a portrait of two of Jan Steen’s neighbours in Delft. The evident wealth of the father and daughter contrasts with the rags of the woman and the boy, who are begging for alms.