Thursday, November 27, 2008

Jan Steen

Jan Steen. The Bean Feast, 1668.

A gift for my American friends! Even as I rush hurriedly from conference to conference, I have time to remember the gift of peace that the colonial Americans gave to the Natives, and the good feelings, feasts, and fests to which it gave rise!

Of course, Steen's painting of a Bean Feast is not quite apropos Thanksgiving, but nevertheless, it is a perfect depiction of the kind of familial good time that I hope my friends across the Young Country are having today. The Bean Feast, of course, was originally a winter festival among farm workers, at which a cake with a bean inside would be cut and distributed among the festival-goers: he or she who was lucky enough to get the bean would be the Bean King (or Queen) and thus preside over the festivities. In this painting, Steen's grasp of charm and frivolity is on full, resplendent display: a young boy has been chosen for the King (likely his first Bean Feast); a nun holds and lights his Sherlock pipe as the revelers look on, surely delighting in the comic nature of the scene. (Note, too, Steen's immaculate brushwork in the Magic Eye poster: he truly delighted in hiding nuggets of this sort in his paintings, and it is a treat for the art historian and amateur alike to find them! And consider the technical difficulty in painting the clouds of smoke!)

Ah, though I write this from a library in New Haven, I recall my young days at Bean Feasts, the custom of which has not changed a whit since Mr. Steen painted this lovely treasure – and I am sure that Professor Wundrum does as well (though I was not as lucky as he – I was never the Bean King!): delicious foods (herring, turkey, breads of many sorts, pizzas, fresh fruits, cakes), wreaths of heady smoke, psychedelic music, and the company of dear friends. Happy Thanksgiving!

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