Jan Steen: The Feast of Saint Nicholas (1665 - 1668)

(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

A painting by the Dutch artist Jan Havickszoon Steen (1625 – 1679). This a typical painting of Jan Steen who shows scenes from everyday life in a vivid and chaotic manner. In this case this family is celebrating the feast of Saint Nicholas which in the Netherlands is held in the evening of 5 December (the feast day of Saint Nicolas, the patron saint of children, is 6 December). Before going to bed, children can put their shoes next to the fireplace chimney and the next morning when they wake up they find candy or present in their shoes (if they were good that year). If the child was bad the saint gives the child a piece of coal or the 'roe' (a birch rod). The young girl in the foreground received a doll and other treats which she carries in het bucket. Her older brother behind her apparently was a bod boy that year because he received the 'roe' in his shoe. In the background on the right his grandmother seems to beckon the boy perhaps to give him a gift which she is hiding behind the heavy curtains. Also on the right is a child can be seen holding a baby and pointing up the chimney, while a younger child looks on in amazement, as he has probably just been told that this was the saint method of gaining entry to the house. There are 2 versions of this painting by Jan Steen. This painting from the Rijksmuseum is the catholic version - the young girl in the foreground holds a miniature version of the saint John the bapist. the version in the Museum Catharijneconvent is the protestant version - in this version the young girl received a large round cake (protestants don't worship saints and viewed the typical gifts of miniature versions of the saint during this feast as heretical). Painting from 1665-1668