HALS, Frans
(b. 1580, Antwerpen, d. 1666, Haarlem)

Shrovetide Revellers

c. 1615
Oil on canvas, 131 x 100 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The British reference to Shrovetide, the period of three days preceding Lent, corresponds with seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch description of the subject as Vastenavond (Eve of Lent, or Shrove Tuesday). Known elsewhere as Mardi Gras, the occasion is celebrated with a carnival devoted to foolish behaviour and popular foods such as pancakes and sausages.

The bearded man in the centre of the painting holds a foxtail in his right hand, while with the left he paws the shoulder of a young blonde. The assumption that the girl is no lady but a young man in drag is supported by the hairstyle, which looks peculiar for a woman of the time. She - or he - appears to sit in her middle-aged admirer's lap. The central figure is flanked by two familiar characters of the comic stage: on the left Pekelharing (Pickled Herring), and, on the right, Hans Worst (John Sausage). These names were assigned to stock figures in satirical comedies.

The painting is one the rare multifigured subject pictures of Hals. In the crowded life-size composition the figures are tightly knit. The heads above the principle Shrovetide revellers are summarily sketched, a former owner found these heads too coarse and had them painted out; they were revealed when the painting was cleaned at the Metropolitan Museum in 1951.