(b. 1626, Leiden, d. 1679, Leiden)

Love Sickness

c. 1660
Oil on canvas, 61 x 52 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Amongst the genre scenes that brought Steen popularity and fame, there are almost twenty showing a doctor's visit to a bourgois home. As theatrical as any Commedia dell'arte play, they present scenes full of misunderstandings, secrets, assumptions and indiscretions. The "illnesses" of the patients are generally unforeseen pregnancy or lovesickness. The bed with the painting of lovers hanging over it, and the statue of Amor on the draughtscreen of the door immediately indicate to the spectator what is going on. The basin of coals in the foreground with the burning thread - quack doctors diagnosed pregnancy by "reading" the smoke - and the maid with her suitor at the door are further typical features of this genre. The patient, whose pulse the doctor is counting, has a note in her hand on which the following words are written: "Daar baat gen/medesyn/want het is/minepeyn" ("No medicine can cure the pain of love").

Though hardly a profound insight, these words constitute a moral of the kind that is almost invariably to be found behind these types of Dutch paintings. For all the autonomy of the subject matter, a painting without such a "deeper" meaning would have been inconceivable at the time, and indeed did not actually emerge until the 19th century.