One Flesh… Two (Wise) Fools

Open Inquiry Archive Vol. 1. No. 2 (2012)
Issue Introduction

Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard’s provocative essay, “One Flesh… Two (Wise) Fools: Evidence for Artistic Collaboration Between Judith Leyster and Jan Miense Molenaer in Four Festive Paintings,” (below) explores the working dynamic of an artistic couple in seventeenth-century Haarlem. Her proposed pairing of several genre works draws our attention to the subtleties of a unique husband-and-wife partnership, and to the artists’ contributions to pictorial invention as well. Cloutier-Blazzard skillfully relates Leyster and Molenaer’s newly formed alliance to diverse manifestations of an increasingly influential Christian humanistic tradition. Her stimulating interpretation of these pendant paintings connects these genre works to the practices of low and high culture, from the popular customs of carnivalesque festivities to the bawdy rituals of erudite rhetoricians. By providing new insight into the social and religious milieu of artistic Haarlem, Cloutier-Blazzard presents a revealing case-study of how artists negotiated Protestant and Catholic interests in early modern Holland.

~ Sandra Cheng


One Flesh… Two (Wise) Fools:

Evidence for Artistic Collaboration Between Judith Leyster and Jan Miense Molenaer in Four Festive Paintings

by Kimberlee A. Cloutier-Blazzard

“Though marriage makes man and wife one flesh, it leaves ’em still two fools.” ~William Congreve, The Double Dealer (1694) Act II, scene iii.

It is generally assumed that husband-and-wife artists Jan Miense Molenaer (c.1610–1668) and Judith Leyster (1609–1660) worked collaboratively, both before and after their wedding in 1636. [note 1]  This paper examines the broader concept of artistic collaboration as intellectual endeavor by Molenaer and Leyster, focusing on four thematically-related comic paintings from before their marriage:  Leyster’s slightly earlier The Merry Company (Figure 1)**[note 2] and The Last Drop (Figure 2)[note 3] of 1629–1631, and Molenaer’s smaller set of 1634, The Battle of Carnival and Lent (Figure 3)[note 4] and Twelfth Night (Figure 4)[note 5].  These festive pictures have not yet been fully considered in relation to each other,[note 6] perhaps because some scholars have questioned identifying these paintings as directly paired within the artists’ oeuvres.[note 7]  There are many valid reasons for seeing them as companion works however,[note 8] not least of which is that—as stated by scholar Cynthia von Bogendorf Rupprath—“there seem to have been no set regulations for pendant paintings of the period, other than a common or connected theme and a sense of related space.”[note 9] Indeed, von Bogendorf Rupprath also notes that even copies after Leyster’s The Merry Company are of similar proportion to The Last Drop.[note 10]

My primary focus in examining these four works will be their iconographical, literary, cultural, and philosophical sources, viewed as evidence for arguing Leyster and Molenaer’s paintings are not simple genre scenes, but paintings that share an overlooked theme of ecumenical Christian humanism burgeoning in intellectual circles at this time. Leyster and Molenaer’s shared interest in the convivial humanism celebrated in Dutch intellectual circles and chambers of rhetoric was perhaps meant as an antidote to the tide of restrictionism on the part of increasingly repressive local church and state authorities.[note 11] Both sets of paintings depict joyous carnival celebrations in juxtaposition with the advent of Lenten temperance. In this way the pairs of paintings connect the two central festivals of the Christian liturgical calendar: Christmastide and Eastertide. Though a new pairing in art of the time, these feasts were linked in European popular culture where they were bound together by an entire carnival season running from early December to Shrovetide (the raucous, liberal days before Ash Wednesday) and the advent of Lent, the six abstemious weeks leading to Easter. And, along with their references to traditional seasonal festivals, the paintings also share relatively similar sizes, style, setting, dress and iconography.

In Leyster’s The Merry Company the fiddler and his friends drink, dance, play music and sing, much to the delight of the family of middle-class onlookers seen through the Dutch door on the left hand side of the painting. Indeed, such “Merry Trios” were a popular theme in contemporary painting, evidenced by three early copies of Leyster’s painting and the appearance of a quotation of the left hand figure in a lost Merry Trio by Frans Hals.[note 12] Leyster’s personal pride in this highly innovative work is reflected in the fact that around 1633 she included the fiddler from The Merry Company in her smiling Self-Portrait[note 13] as the ultimate metaphor for her achievement as a painter.[note 14] Aside from their charm, what qualities in this painting were prized by Leyster’s contemporaries?

First, the unusual, antiquated and brightly-hued or “motley” clothing of Leyster’s trio of strolling musicians is related to the loose-fitting garb of Commedia dell’Arte players, and also resemble Shrovetide costumes known as pèksjes, linking them to this festival.[note 15] Shrovetide was commonly known as “the Fool’s Festival”[note 16] and figures wearing either “motley,” or red, green and yellow stripes, garish patterns or bright colors generally represent fools,[note 17] occasionally combined with brown as well.[note 18] Fools such as these are associated with the mock-king of Carnival, a seasonal inversion of temporal authority with roots in the Roman Saturnalia.[note 19] Moreover, the hand-gesture of Leyster’s reveler in a brown costume links him with similar pointing figures by her colleague Frans Hals that find their source in the archetypal role of the Fool as social critic.[note 20]  These pointing Fool figures are related to three types: the sinnekens of rhetorician farces; Dutch depictions of the ancient laughing philosopher Democritus;[note 21] and to even earlier images of the liminal (threshold) Fool figure who critiques from just outside the scene, often through a door or window.[note 22] Thus, there is ample reason to view Leyster’s flashy trio as playing the role of carnivalesque fools who question social customs and hierarchy, an increasingly popular cultural and literary motif in its time. All three of these fool-types are liminal figures insofar as they exist on the boundary of public and private, and thus occupy a unique position outside the proscriptive boundaries of social propriety and constraint. This is the same space that supports what the British cultural anthropologist Victor Turner terms communitas: the class-leveling space within the liminal phase of rites of passage.[note 23] Indeed, early modern festivals such as Shrovetide, which the Trio seem to personify, can bring great feelings of social equality, solidarity, community and togetherness, epitomizing communitas—something also celebrated in rhetorician drama, festive rituals and ceremonies, some of which survived the collapse of Catholic festivals in the north.[note 24]

Beyond this, the threshold motif of the figures in the doorway in Leyster’s The Merry Company also calls for special attention.  First, the threshold highlights the interior location of the actors, perhaps a reflection of the recent loss of open-air outlets for rhetoricians’ drama that was forcing them into enclosed halls or courtyard spaces of local charitable institutions.[note 25] Secondly, Leyster cleverly subverts cultural convention by locating a bourgeois family in the Fool’s traditional threshold position. [note 26] As the Fools take center stage, Leyster reveals a new, privileged position of the Fools in The Merry Company, reflecting Carnival’s socially-leveling nature.[note 27] The motif was relatively rare in the art of the early seventeenth century, furthermore insinuating that Leyster may have been its progenitrix.[note 28] As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated profession (Leyster was one of only a handful of female members of Haarlem’s Guild of Saint Luke), she perhaps appreciated an implied inversion in Dutch social structure more profoundly than most artists would. In this regard, it is notable—and as of yet unremarked—that it was Leyster who created the novel motif, an artistic accomplishment that clearly resonated as she, Molenaer, Hals and several others repeated it in various versions.[note 29]

Leyster’s related image of The Last Drop sheds further light on the contemporary fascination with Carnival and its attendant ambiguities.  In Leyster’s picture, a skeleton wielding an hourglass, candle, and skull leers, grinning, at two youths in carnival attire. Pointing to these symbols, and severing the painting from its association with The Merry Company, modern scholars frequently interpret this painting as a vanitas or memento mori.[note 30] These iconographers often cite Jan van de Velde II’s engraved image of Death from a print series, published several years after the painting, in Samuel Ampzing’s Spigel ofte Toneel der ydelheyd ende ongebondenheyd onser eeuw (Mirror of the vanity and unrestrainedness of our age, 1633) as a similar type.  In the print, a three-quarter length Death leers at the viewer, a winged hourglass in one hand and an arrow in the other.  Though not pictured next to drinking figures, as in the Leyster, Death directly addresses tipplers in the text below: “Oh ye, oh ye, oh ye!  Surprise!  Surrender you beasts.  Do you never make an end to your Bacchus feasts? Your merriment will be cut short, your joy will become confined to an eternity of hellish crying.”[note 31]  Taken at face value, this would seem to confirm a moralistic meaning.

Thus, working piecemeal and divorcing form from context, vanitas provides one way to analyze the image.[note 32] Such interpretations, however, do not adequately explain why Death is dressed in similar garb to that of carnivalesque Jolly Topers, complete with lovelock, fur collar, slashed beret, and laughable feather.  Truly, this outfit is a rather unconventional and comical costume for what purports to be a soberly moralizing personification of Death.[note 33]  Also unlikely, as has been suggested, is that a foppish figure of Death is emblematic of the drinkers’ ultimate fate, a drunkard already suffering death.[note 34] In light of the skeleton’s ridiculous costume, it makes far more sense to see him through the lens of irony than as a straightforward vanitas. To wit, there are ample precedents in Renaissance culture to view such fops as comic fools rather than tragic figures of Death, especially at Shrovetide.[note 35]

In the Renaissance both Death and the Fool served as ambiguous, inversionary figures, and as such they could even merge in pictures, as in Hans Holbein’s figure of Death in his image of Death and the Queen from The Dance of Death series.[note 36]  There, skeletal Death dresses as the court jester, donning a traditional fool’s cap and bells.[note 37] Beyond the boundaries of Early Modern culture, the Death/Fool pairing has been interpreted as a cross-cultural visualization of the duo’s shared roles as boundary-breakers, reflecting their similar ambiguity and paradoxical natures as tricksters.[note 38] Considering this, the implicit foolishness of the figure of Death in Leyster’s painting suggests that she has transformed him into an emblem of folly. Therefore Death in The Last Drop serves not as a simple negation of life, but more so as its foil, and a comic, ironic one at that: what the Renaissance literary scholar Mikhail Bakhtin termed “Pregnant Death,” a reminder that in the early modern period Death was considered a necessary partner with life.[note 39]

To reiterate, especially in the context of Shrovetide, it is more appropriate to see the skeletal image of Death in Leyster’s The Last Drop not as an ill-omen but as a harbinger of the expected end to festival revelry.  In this scenario, Death is a temporary rather than a final inversion of the life-sustaining merriment that Carnival brings.  Not limited to Northern Europe, the tradition of the arrival of Lenten Death at the end of Carnival was common in other areas. The English, for example, whose popular culture was linked to Holland via the tradition of wandering performers,[note 40] had a character known as the “Jack-a-Lent,” a skeletal scapegoat who was chased away from carnivalesque festivities.  He was the ludicrous figure famously called-out by Falstaff in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.[note 41]  We can also see him as a close relative of the “Thin Man” chased away from the Fat Kitchens of Marten de Vos, Pieter Bruegel and Jan Steen, and we even find him arriving at the rear door of Molenaer’s Twelfth Night scene,[note 42] which forms part of the paired pendants in question, and further relates their conceptions (Figure 4).

Naturally, at the height of carnival celebration it is not yet the Thin Man’s time to arrive, but at the end of Shrovetide, the Jack-a-Lent must enter for the party to end. Fittingly, when Lenten Death appears in Leyster’s Last Drop the carnival costumes of the figures fall away, revealing the street clothes beneath. Without this historical perspective, Leyster’s image of The Last Drop has routinely been seen as a heavy-handed, moralizing image where cruel Death brings an end to profligate youthful binging.  In fact, the misunderstood skeleton was once painted out by a former owner and only recently restored after the skeleton was discovered as Leyster’s original concept in a later copy.[note 43]

During the 1630s both Leyster and Molenaer focused on festival themes found in sixteenth-century Northern art. Molenaer’s Battle of Carnival and Lent (Figure 3) and Twelfth Night (Figure 4) pay homage to works by the Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel, such as The Battle of Carnival and Lent[note 44] and The Fat- and Lean Kitchens.[note 45] Many scholars have argued that similar peasant images are either satirical treatments[note 46] or pit competing Catholic and Protestant religious ideologies against one another.[note 47] I would argue that the aforementioned pictures lack an overt moral stance, but require a more nuanced reading that reveals how both these artists sought a middle path between never ending extremes of self-denial and exuberant celebration.

In Bruegel’s Battle of Carnival and Lent, the fool at the center is critical to the painting’s significance.  Bruegel offers the motley fool as the guide for “Everyman.”  This is the wise Fool who knows that the path to redemption lies in comic ambiguity and measured response.[note 48] In Molenaer’s Battle of Carnival and Lent we also find a mediating foolish personality. On the right side of the scene, in the tavern window, Molenaer’s female innkeeper steps into the role of Fool-as-critic and laughs at the folly of both extremes of Carnival and Lent stretched out before her.[note 49] As in Erasmus’ Praise of Folly, Molenaer has the traditionally male Fool’s liminal role taken over by a laughing woman. Molenaer recognizes the age-old motif of the Fool as guide, yet enhances the figure’s “outsiderness” by giving her a female gender. Though perhaps Molenaer chose to make this wise fool a woman partly in homage to Erasmus, it is interesting to ponder whether he points to his witty wife who had first privileged the Fool’s role in her revolutionary The Merry Company.

As Leyster did in her pendants, in The Battle of Carnival and Lent and Twelfth Night Molenaer clarifies his dependence on humanist traditions that stretch back to Bruegel by employing the antiquated theatrical costume commonly used by Dutch rhetoricians.[note 50] Instead of depicting his figures in contemporary dress, Molenaer uses slashed sleeves, breeches and codpieces that had gone out of fashion after 1575, as well as highly stylized Commedia dell’Arte costumes.

Front and center in his Battle scene, Molenaer uses two standard Commedia characters to form our entry point into the picture. On the left hand ‘Carnival’ side of the match, the overpowered, youthful figure wears a blue livery jacket that suggests he is the likeable, trustworthy Piero, the lowest person in the Commedia’s social pecking order.[note 51] He is an appropriate counterpart to the blustering figure of Capitano on the right hand ‘Lenten’ side of the painting, a soldier who regularly doled out comic beatings to servants such as Piero.[note 52]  The sartorial Capitano represents the hubris of worldly self-assuredness as he appeared in contemporary political cartoons.[note 53] Behind him are belligerent, weapon-wielding Franciscan monks who appear to suffer similar delusions of grandeur.  In the Praise of Folly, Erasmus in fact singled out mendicants for their vainglorious pursuit of arcane rituals over simple faith and charity.[note 54]

Similar to Piero and Capitano, the ragged youths in the foreground of Molenaer’s Twelfth Night also wear loose-fitting theatrical costumes. The youth dressed in yellow who takes a swig from a jug plays the traditional role of the Bean King as he is saluted with the traditional Twelfth Night toast, “The king drinks!”[note 55] The violinist in green puts a new twist on the role of court jester by doling out punishment for neglecting the call not with the usual swipe of soot, but by sharply hitting the boy in the red vest with his violin bow.[note 56]  As with the analogous figure of a theatrical clown, the boy in red becomes the comic target of the violinist’s foolish indignation. Because together their clothes form a traditional combination of the motley colors of green, yellow and red, they echo the original functions of Saturnalia: renewal, laughter and virility, respectively.[note 57]  Moreover, in their actions and colors the trio collectively assumes the role of the Fool, a function also embodied by the figures in Leyster’s The Merry Company as noted earlier.

Along with antiquated costumes, Molenaer uses other legible artistic conventions such as format to elucidate his rhetorical message. For the pendants in question, Molenaer chose the form of the oval composition, which was a shape unique among his known oeuvre.  I propose that the unusual format of these works relates them to tondi, or round paintings that traditionally represent universal themes in Northern art, indicative of a rhetorical project.[note 58]  This tradition stretches back to fifteenth-century artists such as Hieronymus Bosch whose Tabletop of the Seven Deadly Sins has been compared to Molenaer’s Twelfth Night.[note 59]

Moreover, with their complementary subjects of Carnival and Lent, Molenaer’s paintings, comparable to Leyster’s pendants, depict the age-old, contentious relationship in Christianity between feasting and fasting that surrounds the Saturnalian festivals of Shrovetide.  In early modern culture, feasting and fasting traditionally were held in balance, each serving a purpose.[note 60] There was interest among select wealthy humanist patrons in the Dutch Republic and Flanders in the traditional subject of popular festivals and peasant celebrations combined with the wisdom of the ancients.[note 61] Many early modern humanists and artists embraced peasant feasts as the survival of antique Bacchanalia and delighted in tracing the roots of carnivalesque popular festivals to Roman Saturnalia wherein both upper- and lower classes participated together in the festive rites of spring.[note 62]

Saturnalian festivals were kept alive in Christian feasts such as Twelfth Night and Shrovetide for generations,[note 63] but by the mid-1630s, when Leyster and Molenaer were rendering the paintings in question, such festivals were on the wane in both Protestant Holland and Catholic Flanders.[note 64] In the seventeenth-century Netherlands, dominated as it was by conservative Protestants, some figures castigated public displays of traditional festival culture as sectarian Catholic festivities.[note 65] Furthermore, it seems Counter-Reformation movements also occasionally played a pivotal role in the purgation of popular culture in early modern Europe.[note 66] For example, it has been suggested that the Jesuits, with their militantly confessional approach, prized high culture and doctrinaire Roman Catholic ideology over tolerance, traditional local preferences and cultural autonomy.[note 67] These findings perhaps allow us to see Leyster and Molenaer’s carnivalesque imagery in a more nuanced fashion, not as pat moralizing but rather as evidence of their humanist support of the traditional local culture against an at times repressive and divisive social and religious climate.

In parallel to the painted pendants, the pairing of the festivals of Shrovetide with Saturnalia was a contemporary trend among Haarlem’s literati. The humanist Petrus Scriverius linked them in his comic essay Saturnalia ofte poëtisch Vasten-Avondspel (Saturnalia. Or the poetical Shrove Tuesday evening game. Containing the use and misuse of tobacco, 1618, 1630).[note 68] It is notable that Scriverius and his close associate, the minister and author Samuel Ampzing, were connected with Molenaer and Leyster through the person of Frans Hals. Both scholars were among Hals’ illustrious portrait subjects,[note 69] and Ampzing commends both Leyster and Hals by name in his famous Praise of Haarlem, suggesting that he knew these two artists personally.

This close circle of humanists in Haarlem also likely included intellectuals such as Ampzing’s best friend, the noted scholar Daniel Heinsius, who wrote the ironical Latin oration Laus pediculi (In Praise of the Louse, 1609) along with highbrow Senecan tragedies.[note 70] Clearly, as with Erasmus and the rhetoricians, the Haarlem literati were not above mixing levels of rhetoric in their works. The Dutch scholars in Ampzing and Scriverius’ circle were well-versed in Lucianic irony, the seriocomic pastoral of Theocritus, and the liberal stoicism of Seneca.

Considering our central topic of the traditional social inversion of Saturnalia, it bears mentioning that Stoics, closely read by the Haarlem intelligentsia, specialized in notions of clemency and magnanimous apologetics for slaves and the lower classes.[note 71]  In light of the abundant interest in Saturnalia and Stoicism among the Haarlem elite, we should re-address contemporary images of beggars and carnival participants in a more sympathetic light: in particular, the imagery of fools and idlers in Ampzing’s posthumously published Mirror of the vanity and unrestrainedness of our age (1633) whose engraved image of Death was previously mentioned in reference to Leyster’s painting of The Last Drop as evidence for heavy-handed moralizing.[note 72]

With their provocative jests and jolly demeanor that scoff at Lenten abstemiousness, the youths in Molenaer and Leyster’s pendants are not only similar to the ambiguous fools in Ampzing’s writing, but fulfill a similar role to that of Pickleherring, a licentious clown always thirsty for libations, ironically due to his steady diet of salted Lenten fish. Like the Merry Trio, Pickleherring’s carnivalesque demeanor was jolly and provocative—a necessary merriment to chase away the doldrums of the saturnine winter.

Similar to the Merry Trios found in Leyster and Molenaer’s pendants, Pickleherring also typically wears various combinations of the motley colors green, yellow and red [note 73] and points the Fool’s finger-of-derision.[note 74] For their part, Pickleherring and the Merry Trios embody the festivity and parody of Shrovetide, the pre-Lenten season. In essence, Pickleherring and the Merry Trios can substitute for the carnival revelers who traditionally battle the somber advent of Lent.

For this reason, perhaps, the roles of Merry Trios and Pickleherring were directly related in the seventeenth-century mind. Archival evidence indicates that well-heeled citizens and taverns hired performers to play both Pickleherring and musical Merry Trios during Vastenavond.[note 75] Pickleherring and Commedia actors also appeared at kermises and in various farces by the companies of rhetoricians, suggesting further connections between themes in contemporary art, literature and festival-culture.[note 76]

It was Leyster and Molenaer’s mentor, Frans Hals, who formally introduced Pickleherring into Dutch art with his Shrovetide Revelers of around 1615.[note 77] Quickly becoming a popular trend, numerous examples of Pickleherring were painted by Haarlem artists, including Leyster, in this period.[note 78] The increasingly popular role of Pickleherring was partly inspired by one of Hals’ portrait sitters, Pieter van der Morsch, the famous jester of the Leiden Witte Ackoleyen (White Columbines) chamber of rhetoric.[note 79] Piero, as he was known, was a fifty-year member of de Witte Ackoleyen where he served as a respected elder statesman for the entire brotherhood of Netherlandish Rhetoricians. The portrait was painted in 1616, the same year Hals joined the Vine Tendrils (De Wijngaardranken) chamber of rhetoricians in Haarlem,[note 80] providing us a link between Hals’ personal connections and interests, forged in the fraternal order of rhetoricians and shared across city lines. Artists and rhetoricians have a long association and many Dutch artists were members of their local chambers.[note 81]

Hals’ clever portrait employs a rebus about Piero’s avocation, evincing Piero’s at once clever and comical persona.[note 82] In his inversionary dual nature, Piero is a manifestation of the “wise Fool” construct. The earnest combination of seriousness and foolishness embodied by Piero was well-understood during the Renaissance era and consequently by its direct intellectual inheritors, the rhetoricians. Wise-folly is ascribed to ancient figures such as the philosophers Democritus and Socrates, emulated in the sixteenth century by Erasmus in his Praise of Folly.[note 83]  Both Socrates and Democritus have been associated with liberal drinking, as is born out by the eliding of Socrates with Silenus in Stoic circles in Flanders at the time of Rubens and Jordaens,[note 84] as well as Democritus’ occasional appearance in Dutch art with a drink in hand.[note 85]  Artistic proponents of Democritus as a drinker include the Utrecht Romanist painters such as Hendrick ter Brugghen, Paulus Moreelse and Frans Hals whose lost image of Democritus is now known only from inventories. We also know that Leyster and Molenaer owned at least three paintings depicting Democritus.[note 86]

Unfortunately, even in Leyster and Molenaer’s time Classicists began disregarding the long tradition of convivial humanism and the literary banquet, derisively mocking festive rhetoricians with the phrase “rederijker-kannekijker (rhetorician-drunkard).”[note 87]  In this way, the seriocomical and convivial humanism eventually became casualties of the emergence of sober modes of philosophy and religion in the seventeenth century. In the 1630s, however, Haarlem was fertile ground for manifestations of convivial humanism. To begin with, in his Praise of Haarlem (1628), Ampzing frequently employed the popularly-embraced metaphors of satyrs and “Bacchiades” for what he saw as the somewhat unruly plebeians of Haarlem.[note 88] In fact, satyrs proudly decorate one of the paired hearths inside the main chamber of the Town Hall and can be found on the city’s coat of arms of the Haarlem Vleeshal (Meat Market) as well.[note 89]  Along with their celebrated Bacchic nature, however, the townspeople of Haarlem also shared a proclivity for a liberal atmosphere that grew out of a longstanding, widespread intellectual tradition that avoided extreme positions in questions of conscience.

Aristotle’s term eutrapelia, meaning “the middle path of civilized humor,” from his Nicomachean Ethics best describes this model of civil discourse. The term is found in humanistic literature of the period, promoted as a specific form of Christian humor: an important tool for personal, moral improvement.[note 90] The call for religious toleration was present as early as Erasmus who, in his “Fabulous Feast” from the Colloquies (1524), named one of his jovial characters Eutrapelus.[note 91] Then, in 1560 the peripatetic Dutch scholars Junius and Coornhert debated theological self-assuredness in their works, equally calling-out the dogmas of Mennonism, Calvinism and the Catholic Church within their treatises. In this regard we should recall P.J.J. van Thiel’s suggestion that along with the two major, organized Catholic and Protestant denominations, a third tradition should be added, “the powerful tradition of Christian humanism created by thinkers such as Erasmus and Coornhert, those champions of tolerance.”[note 92] Erasmus’ philosophy of constructive criticism had a long afterlife; it is lauded in the recently discovered notebooks of the aforementioned rhetorician Piero, who specifically invokes Erasmus as the foundation of his liberal humanism.[note 93]

The inclusion of edifying laughter in the writing of many seventeenth-century philosophers and preachers indicates that the concept of eutrapelia remained well understood among the literati. In the widely-translated Introduction à la vie dévote (Introduction to the Devout Life, 1619) by the contemporary French theologian François de Sales (1567-1622), the author explains that eutrapelia “means good conversation, word-play in an atmosphere of modest gaiety and joy.  It is an honest recreation on the frivolous occasions which the human imperfections offer.”[note 94] This good-natured style of humorous debate presupposes a comedy of inclusion rather than scorn.[note 95] Thus, as with liminality, eutrapelia allows for communitas.[note 96]

This type of civility was also encouraged by Dutch chambers of rhetoric as this was part of their function as edifying confraternities.[note 97] In Haarlem, chambers of rhetoric were not just social clubs, but also adopted deeper causes such as religious harmony, a project often involving artists.[note 98] This is borne out by the image of Haarlem Rhetoricians once attributed to the London-born artist Pieter de Molijn.[note 99] Though the meeting is an artistic fabrication, the chamber depicted represents a fanciful version of the aforementioned chamber of the Vine Tendrils (Wijngaardtrancken). Flanking the notional chamber’s chimney in the painting, and looking like a secularized altarpiece, personifications of Rhetoric, Charity, and Bacchus, preside over a fictitious meeting attended by several theologians, including Calvin, Arminius, Luther, Menno Simons and Faustus Socinius, as well as a Jesuit, a Jew and a Muslim.

Much as the Classicists of the day did, art historians and literary critics of the first half of the twentieth century read the painting’s central argument as a commentary on rhetoricians’ divisive religious factionalism and seeming disregard for their obligations to charity—especially when exacerbated by drink.[note 100] Instead, with knowledge of period culture we should view the chamber as a place where diverse theologians might respectfully sit and discuss in the symposiac atmosphere of the guildhall, freely enjoying music, tobacco and drink together as they debate. Indeed, when we carefully ponder the painted inscription, “everyone can interpret the writings of the founders of religion in the way he pleases…,” it reveals the nuanced concept described as the “ecumenicity of everyday.”[note 101]

With their comic celebrations of traditional forms of carnivalesque social equity, Molenaer and Leyster’s traditional feast imagery was an outgrowth of the congenial, symposiac culture of Haarlem’s literati. And, not only in their work, but also in their life together, Molenaer and Leyster literally embodied the religious ecumenicity and tolerant cultural milieu of Haarlem’s intelligentsia.  Leyster was a lifelong member of the Dutch Reformed Church, apprenticed to the devoutly Catholic de Grebber family.[note 102] Molenaer, on the other hand, was likely baptized into the Catholic Church[note 103] and most probably studied with the Protestant artists Frans and Dirck Hals.[note 104] Though he most likely joined the Reformed church before marrying Leyster, and certainly had his children baptized there,[note 105] it remains a remarkable fact that Molenaer’s life, oeuvre, and commissions show that he remained close to Catholicism throughout his career.  We know, for example, Molenaer acted as a witness in a Catholic church for the baptism of two of his brother’s children [note 106] and that he garnered a sizeable commission for a large-scale painting of The Mocking of Christ for the Roman Catholic church of Assendelft, near Haarlem.[note 107]

Though one might argue that Protestants occasionally received Catholic commissions, such cross-denominational works turn out to be rare exceptions, typically based upon personal connections shared between those artists and the Catholic Church. [note 108] Not only do we know Molenaer was open to Catholic commissions, but we have evidence that he and Leyster kept traditionally Catholic-themed works either hung or stored in their home. Through the inventory done upon his death in October of 1668, we know that the couple had a “Mary Magdalene” by Molenaer in the dining room, a “Small Madonna” also by Molenaer in their side room, a “Joseph” and “Flight into Egypt” in their main room, a “Nativity” in the loft, and an unframed “small painting of a religious subject [sacrament]” in the home’s studio.[note 109]

Holding fast to traditional Catholic cultural modes would not have been unusual in the Haarlem of Molenaer and Leyster’s time.  At the turn of the century Haarlem was a diverse city made up of large numbers of Catholics and Protestants.[note 110] Despite the Reformation, Haarlem had remained a Catholic stronghold and by the beginning of the seventeenth century Catholics still made up about a third of its citizenry. Catholics in Haarlem were subject to the same de juris restrictions on their worship as their brethren elsewhere in Holland, required to perform mass in hidden churches, and celebrate their festivals without public display. [note 111] Though some outspoken factions railed against minority denominations,[note 112] in 1576 the Pacification of Ghent protected the privatization of religion and Catholics were assured that no one should be harassed or questioned on the subject of divine worship.  As a result, traditional liturgical feasts did not disappear as some zealous Reformers had hoped, but simply moved from the public square into less-conspicuous private homes or taverns, the precise setting for Molenaer and Leyster’s festive carnival imagery.

Indeed, while the public square was strictly held to a policy of religious non-interference, the liminal space between public and private remained a place where the seams between Catholicism and Protestantism were evident and explored.[note 113] In daily life, liminal spaces between public and private fostered social dialogue not possible elsewhere due to social taboo. Liminal spaces in Early Modern Dutch society included shops, entranceways, and especially doorways. In a case of art imitating life, writers and visual artists fruitfully explored these spaces as the recognized venue for questioning communal boundaries. Bakhtin terms a marriage between a particular subject and setting that fosters the viewer’s expectation of conventional actions the “chronotope.” It follows, therefore, that the “festive tavern” is the liminal artistic chronotope that Molenaer and Leyster explore in their pendants.  The comic treatment of Carnival and Lent in “festive taverns” was not limited to Haarlem and Antwerp, but can be found elsewhere on the continent as well.  Hitherto unnoticed is the way in which Pieter van Laer’s contemporary drawing of the Artist’s Tavern of circa 1630 and a couple of his Liedboeck (songbook) illustrations closely relate to the artistic conceptions of van de Velde, Leyster, and Molenaer.[note 114]

To the early modern mind, Carnival was the symbolic, cultural celebration of life’s unending cycle: the Janus-headed moment when one year dies and the next is born. This is precisely why, in the art of Leyster and Molenaer, Death is not a moral castigator but a welcome analogue to Lent.  He is the doppelgänger to carnival mirth; his arrival, hourglass in hand, simply signals the necessary end of Carnival.  In these related works, the partying is over, at least until the celebration of Easter and the Resurrection.  For Molenaer, Leyster and their sympathetic humanist colleagues, Lenten Death solemnly prepares the way for Easter and rebirth by insisting upon Christ’s tragic Passion and death, without which Salvation is impossible.  Thus, neither state of being, Carnival or Lent, is prized over the other for neither can exist without its opposite. Therefore, identifying such comic-Christian artworks as Molenaer and Leyster’s pendants as vanitas images seems unlikely since Carnival cannot be killed.

Back in Leiden, we find further proof of the connection between Fools and Death in an anonymous verse written about the famed jester Piero in a 1596 lottery logbook.  The unknown rhetorician penned a short quip and illustrated it with a skeleton that puns on Piero’s last name of “van der Morsch.” “Morsch” is a play on the word Mors in both Dutch and Latin, making it a doubly appealing jest for a humanist such as Piero. In Dutch Mors means a knoeipot (a foolishly messy person) and in Latin, it refers to Death. One scholar suggests that this funny juxtaposition led Piero to change his surname from the original spelling of van der Mersch just to highlight the witty association. [note 115]  Thus, “foolish Death” is not just a general construct in European culture, but is present in the very fabric of Holland’s literary society, so well connected to Haarlem’s cultural and artistic elite as we have seen.

Without this historical knowledge, carnivalesque works such as Molenaer’s and Leyster’s pendants routinely have been misunderstood as vanitas imagery.  As I have shown however, through the complementary lenses of Carnival and the convivial humanism, we can successfully re-connect them to the traditional Early Modern European construct wherein three inversionary figures traditionally puncture all human pretensions: Christ, Death and the Fool.


About the author: 

Kimberlee A. Cloutier-Blazzard, Ph.D.’s website is:  Email her here.


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[1] Though specific works of art have been suggested the results remain inconclusive. Frima Fox Hofrichter, Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter in Holland’s Golden Age (Doornspijk, 1989), p. 18; Dennis P. Weller, Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age (Raleigh, 2002), pp. 16-17. As Weller notes, there are no extant documents describing collaboration, nor are there any co-signed paintings. Weller, p. 16. Cynthia von Bogendorf Rupprath has made a case for a close working relationship centered on common workshop practices and shared studio props. James Welu, et al., Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World (Worcester, MA, 1993), pp. 75-92.  Finally, Pieter Biesboer has noted the influence of Molenaer on Leyster, as well as the apparent parallel training of the couple in the workshops of Frans and Dirck Hals. Welu, p. 83

[2] 74.4 x 62.9 cm, oil on canvas, circa 1629-1631, Private Collection, Netherlands.

[3] 88.7 x 73.2 cm, oil on canvas, circa 1629-1631, Philadelphia Museum, Philadelphia.

[4] 40.6 x 55.3 cm, oil on panel, circa 1634, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, In honor of A. Ian Fraser, with funds provided by David L. Chambers Jr. Fund, Dr. V.K. Stoelting Art Fund, and Mrs. Jane W. Myers.

[5] 41.5 x 55.5 cm, oil on panel, circa 1634-35, Collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein, Vaduz Castle.

[6] Cynthia von Bogendorf Rupprath saw similarities in the figure of the “drinker with jug” in Molenaer’s Twelfth Night and Leyster’s The Last Drop, but did not develop the cultural and literary motifs shared therein beyond a shared prototype in a pose for Gula (Gluttony) and the possible sharing of studio models and props.  Welu, cat. 6, pp. 156-159.

[7] Frima Fox Hofrichter no longer supports viewing the Leysters as pendants as tentatively put forth in both: Hofrichter, “Judith Leyster’s ‘Self-Portrait’; ‘Ut Pictura Poesis’,” in Essays in Northern European Art Presented to Egbert Haverkamp Begemann on His Sixtieth Birthday, ed. Anne-Marie Logan (Doornspijk, 1983), pp. 106-107, n. 3 and in Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter, cat. 9, p. 41.  This change in view was made known to the author via personal conversation, 1/6/2009. Peter Sutton considers the pairing of the Leysters as “quite possible.” Sutton, cat. 61, pp. 234-235. Xander van Eck has perhaps most vociferously expressed disapproval of linking the Leysters. Van Eck,  “Review of Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World by James A. Welu,” Simiolus 22, no. 1/2 (1993-1994), pp. 106-107. Van Eck points to the change in size and handling of the two paintings as “trigger(ing) an alarm.”  On the debate surrounding the pairing of Molenaer’s works, see Weller, Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age, cats. 18 and 19, pp. 118-123.  Weller sees the works as “presumed” pendants due to their shape and size, though he writes, “one cannot be certain if they originally were intended as pendants,” mostly due to their difference in handling and proposed dating.

[8] In my opinion, evidence for the pairing of the pictures is stronger than that for separating them. Even without fully accepting the privately held The Merry Company as by the hand of Leyster, the existence of three early copies testifies to the popularity of the composition. (Sutton, p. 235 and n. 5)  Furthermore, scholars assert their connection by stating as evidence that both Leyster paintings share the same earliest provenence together in the collection of Sir George Donaldson, London, circa 1903.  See: Welu, pp. 150, 156; Sutton, p. 234. Cynthia von Bogendorf Rupprath argues convincingly for the pairing of the Leysters in: Welu, cat. 5, p. 150-155 and cat. 6, pp. 156-161.

[9] Welu, p. 161. I have confirmed this assertion with von Bogendorf Rupprath via personal email communication, 7/29/2011.

[10] Here, von Bogendorf Rupprath is citing Hofrichter, Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter, pls. 69 and 70.

[11] Arjan van Dixhoorn writes eloquently of the changes that occurred within the chambers after the ascendancy of the sober Reformed Church (1581), whereby church and state worked in tandem to limit the extravagant, festive communal performative culture of earlier generations of rhetoricians. Van Dixhoorn, “Chambers of Rhetoric: Performative Culture and Literary Sociability in the Early Modern Northern Netherlands,” in The Reach of the Republic of Letters: Literary and Learned Societies in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, eds. Arjan van Dixhoorn and Susie Speakman Sutch (Brill, 2008), vol. 1, pp. 131-132; and, van Dixhoorn, Lustige Geesten: Rederijkers in de Noordelijke Nederlanden (1480-1650)(Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2009), pp. 333-339.

[12] Sutton, p. 234.  Sutton cites the collections for these copies in notes 5 and 6: Duke of Richmond, Goodward Estate (National Trust), Chichester; private collection, London, 1928/29, with a cityscape in the background; sale, Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, December 14, 1954, no. 36; and Sale, Paris, November 14, 1967, no. 26.

[13] 74.4 x 65.3 cm, oil on canvas, circa 1633, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

[14] This was an unusual choice reflecting her personal vision of what it meant to be a successful, intellectual woman artist capable of mixing genre and portraiture in her hybrid presentation piece. On the significance of this painting to Leyster, see: Hofrichter, “Judith Leyster’s ‘Self-Portrait’,” pp. 106-109 and Sutton, p.234.  On Leyster’s guild membership, see: Welu, pp. 43-45.

[15] Sutton, Masters, cat. 61, pp. 234-35 and also cat. 28, p. 176; Hofrichter, Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter, cat. 9, pp. 41-42; and, Welu, cat. 5, p. 150.

[16] As Slive notes (Frans Hals [1970-74], vol. 1, p. 34), this is found in the colophon to the Renaissance satirist Sebastian Brant’s Ship of Fools (Basel, 1494); in modern translation: The Ship of Fools, trans. Edwin H. Zeydel (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1962).

[17] R. Mellinkoff. Outcasts: Signs of Otherness in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages (Berkeley, 1993), vol. 1, pp. 35-56.

[18] D. J. Gifford, “Iconographical Notes towards a Definition of the Medieval Fool,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 37 (1974), p. 336, or a more contemporary example in Hendrick Pot’s The Merry Company, o/c, date unknown, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam; the painting is described in Welu, cat. 37, pp. 336-341.

[19] For the Romans Saturnalia brought about a temporary inversion of the social order where slaves rule their masters and the toga is thrown-off in favor of the colorful synthesis, the dining tunic also known as a “Vestis Cenatoria.”

[20] Two examples of pointing figures by Hals are his Peeckelhaering, o/c, c. 1628-30, Leipzig, and his Shrovetide Revelers, o/c, c. 1616, Metropolitan Museum, New York. Seymour Slive, Frans Hals (Washington, DC, 1989), cat. 32, p. 220; Pl II, p. 2. An early example of a pointing fool in printmaking is “Interior with Ill-suited Lovers, a Fool and Death” by Monogrammist L, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, described in F.W.H. Hollstein’s Dutch & Flemish etchings, engravings and woodcuts ca. 1450-1700,  x (Amsterdam 1949-87; Roosendaal 1988-94; Rotterdam 1995-) p. 244, no 99, and illustrated in Mirror of Everyday Life: Genreprints in the Netherlands 1550-1700 (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 1997), p. 11, fig. 9.  A later example is from Jan van de Velde’s print series illustrating Samuel Ampzing’s Mirror of the vanity and unrestrainedness of our age (1633), Hollstein, vols. 33 and 34, no. 122, and illustrated in P. J. J. van Thiel, “For instruction and betterment: Samuel Ampzing’s Mirror of the vanity and unrestrainedness of our age,” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, 24/2, Ten Essays for a Friend: E. De Jongh 65 (1996): p. 192, fig. I:16.  On critical fools see also: Tietze-Conrat, Dwarfs and Jesters in Art (London, 1957), pp. 54-58; Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York, 1969); Paul Vandenbroeck, Over Wilden en Narren, Boeren en Bedelaars.  Beeld van de Andere, Vertoog over het Zelf, exh. cat. (Antwerp,1987), especially pp. 45-52; and William Willeford, The Fool and His Scepter (Evanston, 1969), p.84.

[21] Albert Blankert has made this connection between pointing figures of Democritus and fools. Blankert, “Heraclitus en Democritus,” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 18 (1967), p.57, n. 57.  Cited in Seymour Slive, Frans Hals (Washington, DC, 1989), cat. 32, p. 220.

[22] Renaissance examples of liminal fool figures include Lucas van Leyden’s Tavern Scene, a woodcut of 1518-20. For an in-depth discussion of the Fool as liminal figure, see Willeford, pp. 129-47.

[23] First introduced as a concept by Arnold van Gennep in his book Les rites de passage (1909), a “rite of passage” is a ritual event that marks a person’s progress from one status to another. It is a universal phenomenon that highlights the social hierarchies, values and beliefs important to specific cultures. For a brief overview of this concept, see: Turner, The Forest of Symbols, p. 100; Turner, The Ritual Process, pp. 94-97, 125-130.

[24] As a starting point on the corporate effect of chambers of rhetoric within Netherlandish communities, see:  Anne-Laure van Bruaene, “Brotherhood and Sisterhood in the Chambers of Rhetoric in the Southern Low Countries,” The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 36, no. 1 (Spring, 2005), pp. 11-35.  On the survival of Lenten plays in Haarlem, van Dixhoorn cites a 1593 payment to the “Trou Moet Blycken” chamber by the city for “production of an allegorical play and a farce in the days before Shrove Tuesday for the recreation of the citizenry.”  These are listed as a “play of the sober times” and the “farce of the blanket jumper.” The Reach, pp. 142-143, n. 92.

[25] Van Dixhoorn, The Reach, pp. 142-143.

[26] By contrast, earlier printed images of Shrovetide entertainers such as mummer-figures performing in well-to-do homes are integrated with the audience into the scene. See for example, Jacques de Gheyn’s The Masqueraders, c.1565-1629 or Crispijn de Passe the Elder’s engraving of February, c. 1590-1637.

[27] Turner, The Ritual Process, pp. 94-97, 125-130.

[28] This observation is made by von Bogendorf Rupprath in Welu, cat. 5, p. 152.  As she points out, one notable exception is Molenaer’s Children Making Music (c. 1629-30, Agnew, London, 1960).

[29] See note 12 above.

[30] Scholars have described the “degrading and dissipated state of drunkenness” of the two young men or labeled the painting as “a ghoulish memento mori.” Welu, p. 156; Sutton, Masters, p. 234.  Von Bogendorf Rupprath instead prefers to view The Last Drop in context with its companion, The Merry Company, softening any moralizing tone into a detached look at the foolish behavior of youth, much like Jacob Cats’ emblem of the young man in fool’s shoes in the Spiegel van den Ouden ende Nieuwen Tyt (Mirror of Old and New Times, 1632). There we read: “Men moet een paer narreschoenen verslijten, eer men recht wijs wordt” (One has to wear out a pair of fool’s shoes, before becoming really wise) and elsewhere in the book “Vroeg rijp, vroeg rot; vroeg wijs, vroeg zot” (Early ripe, early rotten; early wise, early misgotten). In these works, Cats argues for latitude in the moral education of children, allowing them leeway to experiment and make mistakes, highlighting a continuing philosophical and cultural ambivalence towards foolishness is supported by contemporary moralists. Welu, p. 154; Benjamin B. Roberts and Leendert F. Groenendijk, “Wearing out a pair of fool’s shoes”: Sexual Advice for Youth in Holland’s Golden Age,” Journal of the History of Sexuality, 13/2 (April 2004): p. 152.

[31] Translation from Welu, p. 160.

[32] Hofrichter also cites Heda’s title of 1628, the title-page to Scriverius’ Saturnalia (Haarlem, 1630) and Roemer Visscher’s Pipe Smoker (Sinnepoppen, Amsterdam, 1614, etchings by Claes Jansz. Visscher) as vanitas imagery related to Leyster’s oeuvre. Hofrichter, Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter, pp. 25-26.

[33] Further undermining the interpretation of Leyster’s picture as a vanitas, early models for van de Velde prints lack the verses associated with death that are only found in the later printed edition. The original images seem to have first circulated privately as drawings among those same elite friends. One might point to the highly refined drawing of the Bagpiper signed and dated by van de Velde [1630, Kupferstichkabinett, Dresden].  Indeed, the printer’s botched numbering system in the later book reproductions provides evidence that the printed series may not necessarily hold the same meaning as the original drawings. Van Thiel, pp. 182-200, especially pp. 182, 187-189.

[34] Van Thiel, p. 194.

[35] Willeford, pp. 86-93.

[36]Other examples include “Death and the Miserly Fool” and “Death and the Poor Fool,” where death rides a donkey backwards, using a bone for a crop; both found in Brant, Ship of Fools published by Bergman de Olpe (Basel, 1494).

[37] Woodcut, 1538. Hans Holbein the Younger, Dance of Death.  A complete facsimile of the original 1538 ed. of Les simulachres & historiees faces de la mort. With a new introduction by Werner L. Gundersheimer (New York, 1971).

[38] Willeford, Ch. 8, esp. p. 131-133.  E. Welsford, The Fool: His Social and Literary History (Gloucester, MA, 1966); Gifford, 339. Smith, “Portrait and Counter-Portrait,” p.500, and n.112.

[39] Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World (Bloomington, 1984), p. 25.  See also: Willeford, pp. 86-93.

[40] Louis Peter Grijp, “De Zingende Klucht van Lijsje Flepkous,” Accessed 11/13/2007.  See also: John Alexander, “The Dutch Connection: On the Social Origins of the Pickelhering,” Neophilologus 87 (2003): pp. 597-604.  And, M. A. Katritzky, “’Some tymes J have a shillinge aday, and some tymes nothinge, so that J leve in great poverty’: British Actors in the Paintings of Frans Hals,” Others and Outcasts in Early Modern Europe: Picturing the Social Margins, ed. Tom Nichols (Ashgate, 2007), pp. 197-214.

[41] Frederick B. Jonassen, “The Meaning of Falstaff’s Allusion to the Jack-a-Lent in The Merry Wives of Windsor,” (Chapel Hill, 1991), pp. 46-68.

[42] M. A. Katritzky has linked the Commedia dell’Arte, Carnival, Lent and the Land of Cockaigne in Marten de Vos’ drawing of the Fat Kitchen, stating that in that composition a gaunt figure of Lent arrives to threaten the gluttonous celebration. The Art of Commedia: A Study in the Commedia Dell’Arte, 1560-1620 with Special Reference to the Visual Records (New York, 2006), p. 160.

[43] Interestingly, the same is true of related skeletons in Molenaer’s images of Carousing Peasants (oil on panel, Jagdschloss Grunewald, Berlin), and his two versions of The Merry Company (1631, David Koetser, Zürich) (copy, Sotheby’s, New York, 27 January 2006, lot no. 238).

[44] 118 cm x 164 cm, oil on panel, 1559, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

[45] Pieter van der Heyden [after Bruegel], engraving, 1563.

[46] The literature on comic-versus-satirical readings of peasant depictions is vast. One should start with the debate between Hessel Miedema and Svetlana Alpers. Svetlana Alpers, “Bruegel’s Festive Peasants,”Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, vol. 6, no. 3/4 (1972 – 1973), pp. 163-176. Alpers, “Realism as a Comic Mode: Low-Life Painting Seen through Bredero’s Eyes,” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, vol. 8, no. 3 (1975 – 1976), pp. 115-144. Hessel Miedema, “Realism and the Comic Mode: The Peasant,” Simiolus, vol. 9, (1977), pp. 205-219; Alpers, “Taking Pictures Seriously: A Reply to Hessel Miedema,” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art,vol. 10, no. 1 (1978 – 1979), pp. 46-50; Miedema, “Feestende boeren-lachende dorpers: Bij twee recente aanwinsten van het Rijksprentenkabinet,” Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, vol. 29 (1981), pp. 191-213. Also, Herman Pleij, who claims that many of these forms are part of a civic culture distancing itself from below. Pleij, “Urban Elites in Search of a Culture: The Brussels Snow Festival of 1511,” New Literary History, vol. 21, no. 3, New Historicisms, New Histories, and Others (Spring, 1990), pp. 629-647.

[47] C. G. Stridbeck, “Combat between Carnival and Lent’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder: An Allegorical Picture of the Sixteenth Century,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 19, no. 1/2 (Jan. – Jun., 1956), pp. 96-109. Weller seems to read Molenaer’s Battle as a condemnation of Catholic religious festivities as well as a reflection of political and religious struggles between the Dutch Republic and Spain. Weller, pp. 118-120.

[48] The continuing philosophical and cultural ambivalence towards foolishness is evident in contemporary emblemata from the Dutch moralist Jacob Cats’ Spiegel van den Ouden ende Nieuwen Tyt (Mirror of Old and New Times, 1632)  which  argues for latitude in the moral education of children, allowing them leeway to experiment and make mistakes. These include emblems such as “Men moet een paer narreschoenen verslijten, eer men recht wijs wordt” (One has to wear out a pair of fool’s shoes, before becoming really wise) and “Vroeg rijp, vroeg rot; vroeg wijs, vroeg zot” (Early ripe, early rotten; early wise, early misgotten). On these emblems, see Welu, cat. 5, p. 154; Benjamin B. Roberts and Leendert F. Groenendijk, “Wearing out a pair of fool’s shoes”: Sexual Advice for Youth in Holland’s Golden Age,” Journal of the History of Sexuality, 13/2 (April 2004): p. 152.

[49] The farcical role of the innkeeper-Fool would not have been lost on his wife, Leyster, whose father owned a brewery in Haarlem at one point around 1618.  See: Welu, p. 15.

[50] These popular clubs, made up a broad swath of society (including artisans, tradesmen, artists, rich merchants, people from the juridical and medical professions, teachers, government officials and some the elites [even the nobility]), wrote amateur poetry, satire and street farces based upon local events and often performed publicly, competing for prizes amongst one another. See: van Dixhoorn, Lustige Geesten, and The Reach, passim.

[51] Pierre Louis Ducharte, The Italian Comedy (New York, 1966). Cited in:  Accessed 6/4/2009.

[52] Dennis Weller has suggested that these tussling figures allude to the conflict between the Dutch and Spanish at this time. Weller, Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age, p. 120.

[53] S.J. Gudlaugsson, The Comedians in the Work of Jan Steen and his Contemporaries (Soest, 1975), pp. 30-32.

[54] Erasmus, Praise of Folly (New York, 1971), pp. 164-173.

[55] For an overview of the Twelfth Night theme in Dutch art, see: Anke van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, “The Celebration of Twelfth Night in Netherlandish Art,” Simiolus, 22/1 (1993–1994): pp. 65–96.

[56] The same arm-grabbing motif of a boy in pain is found in Molenaer’s Dwarf Casting Stones at Boys, 108 x 126 cm, oil on canvas, 1646, on loan to the Dordrechts Museum, Dordrecht.

[57] This trend is discussed in: Donald Perret, “The Sottie, the Sots, and the Fols (France: 1420-1571),” in Vicki K. Janik (ed.), Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art and History (Westport, CT, 1998), p. 415.

[58] Larry Silver has proposed this reading for round images in: Larry Silver, “God in the Details: Bosch and Judgment(s),” Art Bulletin, 83/4 (2001), p. 648, n. 34.

[59] Art historians often compare the swilling figure with emblems of Gluttony. This is discussed in Weller, Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age, p. 123.

[60] As cultural historians have demonstrated, such celebrations form the roots of European Carnival traditions that offer a fleeting realm of communitas—the temporary leveling of social stations for the purpose of reconciliation.  See: Kimberlee A. Cloutier-Blazzard, “The Wise Man Has Two Tongues: Images of The Satyr and the Peasant by Jordaens and Steen,” in Laura Cruz and Willem Frijhoff (eds), Myth in History, History in Myth (Leiden, 2009), pp. 87-115.

[61] Sullivan, Bruegel’s Peasants, passim.  Walter S. Gibson, Pieter Bruegel and the Art of Laughter (Berkeley, 2006), pp. 117-18, and passim.

[62] Aside from the aforementioned Shrovetide print by Crispijn de Passe (see n. 25) with Bacchic references in its text, another example is the undated Egg Dance engraving after the Antwerp artist Marten de Vos. (Mariët Westermann, The Amusements of Jan Steen (Zwolle, 1997), p. 140, figure 64.) Marten de Vos (born 1531– died 1603) was a member of the Violieren chamber of rhetoric in Antwerp.  Nota bene that this chamber (in English: Gillyflowers) was founded as part of the Guild of St Luke in 1480. Elizabeth Honig, Painting and the Market in Early Modern Antwerp (New Haven, CT, 1998), p. 55.  De Vos is known to have painted pictures for dining rooms of rich patrons, perhaps as conversation pieces at convivial humanist banquets. Gibson, Pieter Bruegel, p. 108 and p. 209, n.15.

[63] Early Christian leaders recognized the parallels between the tenets of Christianity and the social inversion found in Saturnalia: during both Christmas and Easter, Christ eschewed the elevated role of “epic” or “tragic” hero, and existed more as the humble, inversionary character of the Mock King, or comic Fool, who punctures human pretension.  Moreover, the roots of all European feast imagery lie in the ancient Greek symposium. Early modern humanists composed related literary banquets to propose utopian world, similar in function to Carnival.  Michel Jeanneret, A Feast of Words (Chicago, 1991), p. 4.

[64] These festivals were increasingly proscribed by law and new paradigms of social and religious conformity, Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, 1477-1806 (Oxford, 1995), especially pp. 417-419.

[65] See note 9. Also, one Amsterdam preacher, Petrus Wittewrongel, consistently railed against so-called “papal high-days” with their gluttony, debauch, drunkenness, and surfeit meals, specifically naming the feasts of St. Martin’s, Twelfth Night and other “Bacchus Feasts.” [Wittewrongel, Oeconomia christiana ofte christlicke huys-houdinghe (Amsterdam, 1655), p. 489: “Wat een gulsigheyt, van brassernije en dronckenschap, wat een overdaedt in de maltijden.”) Quoted in van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, “Celebration of Twelfth Night,” pp. 65-96 and n. 137.] [Wittewrongel, Oeconomia Christiana ofte christelicke huys-houdinghe, 2 vols. (Amsterdam, 1661), vol. 2, p. 1086: “Wy en willen dan sulcke vrolicke by-eenkomsten, neit t’eenemael uyt de Christilicke Familen gheweert hebben.” Quoted in van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, “Celebration of Twelfth Night,” p. 95 and n. 139.]

[66] Peter Burke proposed that the suppression of traditional European festive celebrations was accomplished by reformers with a small ‘r’, Protestant and Catholic alike. Peter Burke, “The Triumph of Lent,” in Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, revised reprint (Brookfield, VT, 1996), pp. 207-243.

[67] In a somewhat controversial manner, Jonathan Israel cites the zealous nature of Counter-Reformation ‘cultural renewal’ in his research on the period of the Twelve Years Truce (1609-1621) in Flanders. Israel, Dutch Republic, pp. 414-20.

[68] The essay was first published in Latin in 1618 and in Dutch in 1630. van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, “Celebration of Twelfth Night,” p. 76, n. 53.

[69] Scriverius co-authored with Ampzing the Beschrijvinge ende lof der stad Haerlem in Holland: in Rym bearbeyd (Description and praise of the city Haarlem in Holland in poetry, 1628). Hals’s paintings of the two men include Petrus Scriverius, 22.2 x 16.5 cm, oil on panel, 1626, Metropolitan Museum, New York; and Samuel Ampzing, 16.2 x 12.3 cm, oil on copper, circa 1630, Private Collection.

[70] Daniel Heinsius was referred to as “Theocritus from Ghent.”

[71] For example, Seneca, in his Epistles (47.10), or Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations (Book II, part 1).

[72] The art historian P.J.J. van Thiel describes the images in Ampzing’s book as satirical sketches of beggars and drunkards but this is far from certain. Because Ampzing was a member of a circle of liberal Dutch humanists, he may well have found the ambiguous drawings used for The Mirror provocative conversation pieces at convivial humanist gatherings. P. J. J. van Thiel, “For instruction and betterment,”  pp. 182-200, especially pp. 182, 187-189.

[73] Perret, “Sottie,” p. 415.

[74] Slive, Frans Hals (Washington), p. 220.

[75] Sutton, Masters, pp. 234-235; Welu, pp. 150-155.

[76] Welu, pp. 152 and 133-34. In the twenty-year period between 1615 and 1635, various Haarlem masters depicted Pickleherring approximately a dozen times—with at least three distinct, recognizable individuals playing the part.

[77] 131.4 x 99.7 cm, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum, New York.

[78] Some examples are Frans Hals, Pickleherring, 75 x 61.5 cm, oil on canvas, circa 1628, Staatliche Museen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel; Frans Hals, Pickleherring, 72 x 57.5 cm, oil on canvas, 1627, Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig; Leyster, Jolly Toper, 88 x 83.7 cm, oil on canvas, 1629, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem; Hendrick Pot, Merry Company, 104 x 148.5 cm, oil on canvas, circa 1628-33, Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

[79] Alexander, “Dutch Connection,” pp. 597-604.

[80] Slive, Frans Hals (1989), p.140.

[81] Walter S. Gibson, “Artists and Rederijkers in the Age of Bruegel,” Art Bulletin, 63/3 (1981):  pp. 426-447.Heppner, “The Popular Theater of the Rederijkers in the Work of Jan Steen and his Contemporaries,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 3/1 (1939-1940), pp. 22-48. Molenaer, too, had ties to the theater as evidenced by his many paintings of scenes from contemporary plays.Weller dates Molenaer’s theatrical motifs to the latter 1630s, though—as I have argued here—this influence seems to have been present at least from the time of his pendants in the mid-1630s. Weller, Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age, cat. 27 and 29, pp. 149, 153-55.

[82] Slive, Frans Hals (Washington), p. 15.

[83] Manifested in Erasmus’s desire to play the laughing philosopher in the introduction to his Praise of Folly. In part, the seriocomical also made its way into the Renaissance through Erasmus’ and Sir Thomas More’s wildly popular co-translation of Lucian’s Dialogues (1506) which helped usher-in a whole generation’s worth of Menippean satire.

[84] Rubens’ allegiance to the Stoic philosopher Seneca perhaps influenced his embrace of the laughing Democritus in his art. Furthermore, The Drunken Silenus by Rubens, visualizes the combination of drunken wisdom both literally and figuratively as the balding, pug-nosed, stumbling teacher of Bacchus is based upon antique sculptures of the revered ancient philosopher Socrates. (oil on canvas, 1618 with additions in 1625, Alte Pinakothek, Munich) This wise Silenus-type manifests in Jordaens’ images of “The Satyr and Peasant” fable as well. See Cloutier-Blazzard, “Wise Man,” passim.

[85] Jan van Bijlert, Democritus and Heraclitus, oil on canvas, circa 1640, Centraal Museum, Utrecht. The laughing Democritus trumps the weeping Heraclitus in Netherlandish culture by far. See: Edgar Wind, “The Christian Democritus,” Journal of the Warburg Institute, 1/2 (1937), pp. 180-182. Further underscoring the long tradition of spirited optimism among like-minded intellectuals in Haarlem, we have the lost example of the artist Cornelis Ketel’s doorway flanked by Democritus and Heraclitus across from Momus and Zoilus, the latter pair representing constructive and nonconstructive criticism.

[86] This information is according to the inventory of Molenaer’s estate. Weller, Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age, p. 187.

[87] As with comic Christianity, the seriocomic concept of wise folly gradually was eclipsed by the hierarchical rhetoric of Cicero and Quintilian that demanded complete segregation between levels of rhetoric. A good survey of the classicizing trend in literature on art: Arno Dolders, “Some Remarks on Lairesse’s ‘Groot Schilderboek’,” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, vol. 15, no. 3/4 (1985), pp. 197-220.  Concerning the phenomenon as it impacted Rederijker culture, see: van Dixhoorn, The Reach, pp. 131-132; and, van Dixhoorn, Lustige Geesten, pp. 333-339.

[88] This was the same terminology he used for the poetic, fantastic inhabitants of the sylvan Haarlemmerhout (Haarlem forest). Decades earlier, in his Batavia (1588), Hadrianus Junius had recommended the Haarlemmerhout’s relaxing paths to students and scholars, but warned them to avoid the “stalls of Silenus” on its corners. Junius cited in F. Allen, Geschiedenis en beschriving van Haarlem, 2 vols (Haarlem, 1973), vol. 2, p. 172.  See also, Elizabeth Alice Honig, “Country Folk and City Business: A Print Series by Jan van de Velde,” Art Bulletin, 78/3 (1996): p. 521 and n. 40.

[89]  For discussion see: Elisabeth de Bièvre, “Violence and Virtue: History and Art in the City of Haarlem,” Art History, 11/3 (1988): pp. 308, 320, 323.

[90] For a discussion of this popular trend in religious and humanist literature of the period, Johan Verberckmoes, “Puteanus’ Democritus, Sive De Risu,” Acta Puteanaea: Proceedings of the International Colloquium Erycius Puteanus (1574-1646), Leuven-Antwerp, 7-9 Nov. 1996: 399-409.

[91] Erasmus, Colloquies, vol. 1 (1524).  The Colloquies are a collection of fabliaux and adages in humorous symposium form.

[92] P.J.J. van Thiel, “Catholic Elements in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting, Apropos of a Children’s Portrait by Thomas de Keyser,” Simiolus, 20/1 (1990-1991): p. 50. David Cast, “Marten van Heemskerck’s ‘Momus Criticising the Works of the Gods’: A Problem of Erasmian Iconography,” Simiolus, 7/1 (1974), pp. 22-34.

[93] Johan Koppenol, “Het zakboekje van Piero: profiel van een rederijker,”, published January 26, 2004.  Accessed 11/13/2007.

[94] de Sales continues “It must, however, not become mockery, which is aimed at the contempt of one’s neighbor.” François de Sales, Introduction à la vie dévote (1619), Introduction, pt. 3, ch. 27, p. 234.

[95] Robert B, Heilman wrote, “(though often confused in practice) the satiric and the comic are not likely to be confused at the theoretical level … the comic attitude is one of acceptance; satire on the other hand is rejective.” Robert B. Heilman, The Ways of the World: Comedy and Society (Seattle, 1978), p. 26.

[96] Scholars such as Robert B. Heilman, René Girard and Mikhail Bakhtin write of just such a differentiation when they discuss the nuance between comedy and satire as two separate yet related cultural phenomena.

[97] Van Dixhoorn, The Reach, pp. 138-139.

[98] For example, in mid-sixteenth-century Haarlem the artist Marten van Heemskerck worked in concert with the eminent scholars Hadrianus Junius and D.V. Coornhert to create a painted blazoen (blazon) for the Haarlem “Vine Tendrils” (Wijngaardtrancken) chamber of rhetoric, the very same chamber Frans Hals was a member of for many years. Ilja Veldman, Marten van Heemskerck and Dutch Humanism in the Sixteenth Century (Maarsen, 1977). Cited in Eleanor A. Saunders’ “Review of Maarten van Heemskerck and Dutch Humanism in the Sixteenth Century by Ilja M. Veldman,” in Simiolus, 10/1 (1978-1979), pp. 54-56. This is the selfsame organization highlighted in the painting (formerly attributed to Pieter de Molijn) discussed below.

[99] 46 x 43.5 cm, oil on panel, c.1659, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem. Arjan van Dixhoorn generously shared with me his findings for his entry in a forthcoming Frans Hals Museum catalogue. Personal email correspondence, 9/13/2011.

[100] Heppner, “The Popular Theater,” p. 27.  J.F.M. Sterck, Van Rederijkerskamer tot Muyderkring (Amsterdam, 1928), especially p. 97.

[101] Though factionalism was present, Frijhoff argues that the Golden Age Netherlands predominantly was a case of peaceful “co-existence and connivance”; or, a state identified with “interconfessional conviviality.” Frijhoff, Embodied Belief, pp. 39-65.

[102] See Ellen Broersen’s essay, “Judita Leyster: a painter of ‘good, keen sense’,” in Welu, p. 19.

[103] Broersen suggests Catholicism because Molenaer has no extant baptismal records. Ibid., pp. 15-38.

[104] Weller, Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age, p. 10.

[105] Marriage banns for the couple were posted at the Groote Kerk (the Reformed Church) in Haarlem on May 11, 1636; they were married three weeks later in Heemstede, on June 1, 1636.  Their five children were all baptized in the Reformed Church: Joannes, baptized November 17, 1637 at the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam (Leyster’s mother a witness); Jacobus, baptized January 16, 1639 at the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam (witnessed by Leyster’s sister Magdalena); Helena, baptized March 8, 1643, Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam; Eva, baptized  December 2, 1646 at the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam; and, Constantijn, baptized March 15, 1650 in the Groote Kerk, the Reformed Church of Haarlem. Outlined in Hofrichter, Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter, pp. 16-18.

[106] Two of Molenaer’s brothers (Bartholomeus and Nicolaes) married before city magistrates, indicating mixed-denomination marriages. Molenaer stood witness for two of Nicolaes’ children who were baptized Catholic.  Several of Bartholomeus’ grandchildren were baptized Catholic as well.  Welu, p. 21 and note 54.

[107] 203.2 cm x 262.3 cm, oil on canvas, 1639, Saint Odulphus Church, Assendelft. Weller identifies this as both a “major commission for the artist,” as well as Molenaer’s largest work. Weller, Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age, p. 18-19.

[108] Xander van Eck, “The Artist’s Religion: Paintings Commissioned for Clandestine Catholic Churches in the Northern Netherlands, 1600-1800,” Simiolus, 27/1 (1999), pp. 70-94. Such relationships, it seems, could evolve either through one’s evidential support of the Church, or by being directly introduced to patrons by powerful Catholic artists in one’s community.  In Molenaer’s case, as we have seen, he likely had both of those things working in his favor.

[109] Weller, Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age, p. 181-187. The couple also had a “naked child” painting in their studio, possibly a depiction of the Christ Child; though a somewhat ambiguous subject, partial or completely nude children in seventeenth-century Dutch painting were conventional only in portrait depictions of male children or more often in Classical or religious infants, such as Hercules, Ganymede, or Christ. van Thiel, “Catholic Elements,” pp. 47-48, notes 30, 31 and 47; Bedaux and Ekkart, Pride And Joy: Children’s Portraits In The Netherlands, 1500-1700 (New York, 2000), pp. 95-99, 182-183, 289-291; Valerie Hedquist, “Dutch Genre Painting as Religious Art: Gabriel Metsu’s Roman Catholic Imagery,” Art History, 31/2 (2008), p. 162 and n. 26.

[110] Joke Spaans, Haarlem na de Reformatie: stedelijke cultuur en kerkelijk leven, 1577-1620 (the Hague, 1989), 104; van Thiel, “Catholic Elements,” pp. 49-50, notes 46 and 47.

[111] Magistratorial censorship, however, did not deter Catholics from occasionally flexing their celebratory muscle. In note 4, Israel cites: Haarlem City Archives, kerkeraad 10/8. res. 9 June 1665. Israel, p. 637 and p. 637 n. 4.

[112] Even as confessional tolerance grew after 1630, adherents to religious intolerance remained active throughout the seventeenth century. Though by-and-large its effects were minimized in large population centers, elements of the popular resentment of Catholics survived throughout the Netherlands. Willem Frijhoff, “Religious toleration in the United Provinces: from ‘case’ to ‘model’,” in R. Po-Chia Hsia and H.F.K. van Nierop (eds), Calvinism and Religious Toleration in the Dutch Golden Age (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 33-35. Frijhoff, Embodied Belief, pp. 51-52.  This intolerance even existed in the more forbearing city of Haarlem.  In the 1650s, for example, the Catholic Vicar Apostolic at Utrecht made a clear distinction between more tolerant towns in Holland, especially Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and those where official and popular sentiment remained unfriendly towards Catholics, such as Leiden and Haarlem. Archief aartsbisdom Utrecht, xi, pp. 79, 87, 118, 151;  Israel, Dutch Republic, p. 638.

[113] Frijhoff cites good-natured cross-denominational jesting found in Aernout van Overbeke’s jest books, and contemporary broadsheets as evidence. Frijhoff, Embodied Belief, pp. 56-57.

[114] I plan on publishing a fuller discussion of this phenomenon in a future publication.

[115] Koppenol, “Het zakboekje,” p. 1.


Text copyright 2012 Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard

* * *
Cloutier-Blazzard, Kimberlee A. “One Flesh… Two (Wise) Fools: Evidence for Artistic Collaboration Between Judith Leyster and Jan Miense Molenaer in Four Festive Paintings.” Open Inquiry Archive 1, no. 2 (2012).

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