Object Image

Celebrating the Birth

In this painting, Jan Steen departs radically from the established tradition of depicting childbirth celebrations by focusing not on the mother, but on the father, and by suggesting the child’s illegitimacy. His subversive treatment of the subject was not apparent until the painting was cleaned in 1983, and the removal of 19th-century paint revealed a hand making the sign of the cuckold above the baby’s head. The husband stands at the centre and is showing off the new child, unaware of the duplicity surrounding him. The cheeky long-haired young man behind the baby is probably a self-portrait of the artist. To emphasize the husband’s impotence, Steen litters the scene with sexual imagery and vis...
Oil on canvas
87.7 x 107.0cm
Images and text © Wallace Collection, 2017

Where you'll find this

The Wallace Collection
Permanent collection