Artibus et Historiae no. 22 (XI)

1990, ISSN 0391-9064

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LEO STEINBERG - Steen's Female Gaze and Other Ironies

Before the Second World War, Jan Steen's painting The Drawing Lesson was understood somewhat naively as a straightforward documentary record of actual studio practice in seventeenth-century Holland. During the last forty years, the picture has come increasingly to be interpreted as a noble allegory of painting and of art education. This article suggests that the picture is deeply ironic. Steen gently ridicules the foppish, overdressed painter who, like the purblind physician in Steen's many versions of The Doctor's Visit, remains unaware of his pupils' emotions: the young boy falling in love with pretty lady at the very moment when she herself is jolted of her innocence by the revelation of uncensored masculinity in the statuette on the table. The painting depicts a rite of passage without ritual pomp, with all the surrounding paraphernalia providing the requisite authenticity along with plentifuluf further ironies.

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