The Scholar and Death

Jan Steen

Jan Steen - The Scholar and Death
The painter Jan Steen was very successful in genre painting, creating scenes full of wit, irony and ambiguous hints. He was a Catholic working in a strictly Calvinist university town of Leiden, where he also opened a pub. The depicted scene presents confrontation of man and death - which in the form of skeleton enters the room where the unheeding scholar is seated at the desk, deep in thought. He even cannot see a boy with a laurel wreath on his head, who is showing him an hourglass, warning him his earthly time is up. The two of them are pointed at by a cloaked man with a red cap - a comparison with Steen’s self-portraits seems to suggest this is the painter himself, with a grin of irony on his face. The skeleton is accompanied by a small weeping boy, bringing a vessel containing urine in a wicker basket - at the time a patient’s diagnosis was predominantly based on a urine sample. The result of the examination is not good, Death is arriving to end the scholar’s lifetime.
measurements: height 46,5 cm
width 42,5 cm
material: oak panel
technique: oil
inventory number: DO 4151
gallery collection: Collection of Old Masters

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