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Object details

As the Old Sang, So Pipe the Young
118,4 × 188,5 cm
Inventory number: 

More about this work

The grandparents in this family concert are singing from a book and a sheet of paper, which they are reading conscientiously with the aid of their spectacles. They are accompanied by a bagpiper, and in the middle a lady, who may be the musician’s wife, is enjoying the beautiful music. The little ones are also doing their best. The baby on its mother’s lap is blowing on the flute of its rattle, while it big brother is playing a recorder. Their dog is pricking up its ears in the foreground. The teamwork is distracting it from the delicious food on the table. That corner of the painting shows that in addition to being a skilful figure painter Jordaens excelled at still lifes.
In the cartouche at the top there is the proverb that Jordaens may have borrowed from the emblem book Spiegel van den Ouden ende Nieuwe Tijdt by Jacob Cats (1632): ‘As the old sang so pipe the young’, meaning that the young follow the example of the elders. In the book Cats writes that in the animal kingdom, at any rate, the young imitate the adult, just as human children do. With his love of depicting proverbs, Jordaens was following in the tradition of Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
The old man on the left is usually identified with Jordaens’s teacher and father-in-law, the painter Adam van Noort. It is said that the woman in the middle is Van Noort’s daughter Catharina. Jordaens supposedly played the part of the bagpiper himself, although the figure does not resemble his self-portraits. Perhaps this identification is based on romantic imaginings rather than historical fact.
Technical examination has revealed that the artist enlarged the canvas by some 20 centimetres on the right. That was accompanied by a change in the composition. X-radiographs and infrared photographs show that the grandmother and mother were originally closer together. The grandmother had already been fairly well worked up when Jordaens decided to modify the self-portrait. Only in the cartouche can it be seen how the letters have been shifted more to the right and upwards. The paint layer on the added piece of canvas also looks different, being a little redder and seemingly a bit rougher. Jordaens may have been dissatisfied with his initial idea. Or did his client simply ask for a bigger painting?
There used to be a preliminary drawing for the bagpiper in the collection of Professor I.Q. van Regteren Altena in Amsterdam. The KMSKA picture represented the start of a series of variations on this subject. In the years that followed he painted similar, often larger canvases that are nowadays preserved near Berlin (Schloss Grünewald, inv. no. GK 1 3489; 5 figures), in Valenciennes (Musée des Beaux-Arts, inv. no. P.Y.36; 6 figures), in Dresden (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, inv. no. 1014; 6 figures), in Ottawa (National Gallery of Canada, inv. no. 15790; 7 figures), in Liechtenstein (Princely Collections, inv. no. GE 2504; 8 figures), and in private collections.

Acquisition history

purchase: graaf Arnold de Pret de Terveken, 1883

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