The Feast of Saint Nicholas

Jan Steen, 1665 — 1668
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

It starts with a shoe. A discarded child’s shoe in yellow leather, whose sweet and rewarding contents have been removed, and now fill a tin bucket on the arm of a young girl. This creates the focal entrance to the composition and recounts the particular event depicted in this masterpiece. Considered one of Jan Steen’s most popular paintings, this depiction, the best of three on the theme of the Feast of Saint Nicholas created during the 1660s, features a traditional gathering on the evening of 5 December. This Dutch Catholic family’s living room is alive with three generations brought together to feast on sweetmeats, nuts and fruit. But most of all, it puts the children at the center, for this is when the younger members of the family receive their gifts (or not), according to how they behaved throughout the year. That alone is a perfect reason to include this amusing and convivial painting in the CODART Canon.

Shlomit Steinberg, Senior Curator of European Art, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

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