Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jan Steen

Mama, waar is Sinterklaas?

Jan Steen. The Feast of St. Nicholas, 1656.

Friends, friends! How we have been away, Jan and I, busying ourselves with obligations of writing and teaching. In the past few years (has it been so long, Jan?) we have had nary an afternoon to sit, write and share the certain perfumes of our favorite paintings. But with contracts now fulfilled and manuscripts submitted we can delight in our most-loved paintings yet again.

Though we've been negligent (perhaps unforgivably) I'm pleased to announce the fruits of my double sabbatical! A new book, soon published by Oxford University: The Golden Table: Food and culture of the Dutch merchant class.

The book will be available this fall in your local university bookstore. It's available for pre-order now on Amazon for those of you eager for a copy.

It is indeed a warm feeling returning to our blog. I'm reminded of an extended absence from my home in 1990 and 92. The Metropolitan Museum of Art had offered me an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellowship, too delicious to refuse. I spent a dizzying two years living in a cramped two-bedroom in Carol Gardens with a calligrapher friend of mine, working all of the time at the Museum. With my work spread so thick and the money so thin, I didn't journey home to the Netherlands until my fellowship had finished. When I finally returned to my flat, exhausted from a sixteen-hour trip, with two lay-overs, I was rejuvenated and ecstatic to find myself at home.

There I found my case of books and a favorite engraving, wonderful still in its hazy frame. A shelf of pipes exactly as I'd left them; a stash jar, still fragrant when the lid was lifted. And there was my spare copy of Europe '72 still on the turntable. And here, in the pages of On Familiar Things, I've found the dusty bits and faithful company of my great friends Jan Peeters, Frans Hals, Dirck van Baburen, Pieter Claesz and Jan Steen.

We find a similar and vibrant camaraderie in this late painting from Jan Steen. Here we see a family reveling after a visit from Sinterklaas. The golden child, shown here in her golden frock, has been showered with gifts from dear Saint Nicholas: baskets of bread, pretzel rolls, chewy bagels (by the bag!) and tubs of whipped Philadelphia cream cheese spreads. Standing and sobbing behind his younger sister is the misbehaving brother, slighted by Sinterklaas for his woeful mischief. Here he is openly mocked by his family, who tease him with a sort of keep-away game. A cousin hoists a tub of Philly just out of reach. Even his grandmother, partly hidden by a beaded curtain, is in on the jest as she enjoys a dollop of rich whipped cream cheese. The rest of the family is reeling, with the exception of its patriarch. He appears in the center of the paintings, seemingly lost in thought, mellowed as he recalls a distant visit from Sinterklaas on a morning long ago.


Jan Peeters said...

Welcome back, Hermann! How funny you should share this painting with us — I was just now reading the galleys of your wonderful new book, whilst eating the last of my Cinnamon Raisin Bagels!

Hermann Wundrum said...

Thank you, Jan. Your comments on the manuscript have been hugely important and helpful, as I hope you know. Enjoying the bagels with whipped Philadelphia, I hope!