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

Satyr and Peasant

Oil on canvas, 188,5 x 168 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

The theme is taken from a fable by the ancient Greek author Aesop. In the right foreground a satyr gets up brusquely from a table to which he has been invited by a peasant family, and admonishes his host, sitting to the left, for cooling his hot porridge by blowing on it, whereas earlier he had warmed his cold hands with the same breath when travelling home with the satyr. The peasant "blows both hot and cold". This still popular expression means that someone does not take a clear position and is therefore unreliable.

The earnestness of this moralising message appears, however, to be lost on this country group. The satyr's approach is greeted rather with astonishment. The plump young farmer's wife stops eating, but looks like she still does not understand clearly what is going on. Her child is uninterested by the satyr and looks at the viewer rascally. From inside the shadowed canopy of her wicker chair the grandmother bends her wrinkled head, in pointed contrast to the flushed head of the young peasant woman in the same pose beneath her. To the left the composition is rounded off by a fresh, softly smiling milkmaid. The lumbering dog under the table and the cock proudly enthroned on top of grandmother's chair seem equally unperturbed. The very low horizon, just visible under the peasant's chair, makes the country people tower above the viewer, lending them an imposing monumentality which one would normally expect with high-born people. As simple people they take, with a certain dignity, their appointed place in the social order.

Jordaens' lifelike characterisation of the peasants, full of insight into human nature, and their closeness to nature expressed in their unpolished manners must have strongly seduced the city-dwellers commissioning these tableaux, who considered themselves as more civilised. In a later version, also in the Brussels museum, the fable appears to turn into a good-humoured joke. There the warm palette and the rich texture have made way for the more even reproduction of colours and materials that are typical of the artist's later work. Jordaens' oeuvre contains various other paintings on this theme, including one in the Göteborg museum that literally repeats the Brussels canvas.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.