(b. 1593, Antwerpen, d. 1678, Antwerpen)

The Bean King

c. 1655
Oil on canvas, 242 x 300 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Jordaens painted several versions of the subject, representing a popular custom, the feast of the Bean King.

A merry company is gathered round a well-spread table, presided over by an old man with a crown on his head who is king for the day. This was the honour conferred by popular custom on the one who found the bean in the cake baked for this occasion, the feast of Epiphany, when ordinary people played at being the king and his court, as a safety-valve for dissatisfaction with the actual order of things. In the 17th century, this 'Bean Feast,' a celebration dating from the Middle Ages which Jordaens was the first to capture in paint, became a popular genre subject. The king's duties consisted mostly of raising his glass at regular intervals, when everyone else would do the same, with the shout 'The King drinks!' Given the general merriment here, this must already have happened several times.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 5 minutes):
Otto Nicolai: Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (The Merry Wives of Windsor), drinking song