Celebrating in the Golden Age

  • HAARLEM, Netherlands
  • /
  • June 20, 2011

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"Celebrating in the Golden Age" will be at the Frans Halls Museum, Nov. 11, 2011 to May 6, 2012.

This winter it’s party time at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, Holland. Celebrating in the Golden Age showcases a highly popular subject in seventeenth-century art. Painters like Jan Steen and Frans Hals portrayed countless merry-making folk and lively companies, from peasant fairs and carnival celebrations to lavish al fresco parties, processions and civic guard banquets. The exhibition in the Frans Hals Museum will feature circa 50 paintings, including masterpieces from its own collection and loans from such leading institutions as the Metropolitan Museum (New York) and the Gemäldegalerie (Berlin). Celebrating in the Golden Age runs from  November 11, 2011 to May 6, 2012.

The exhibition presents the first ever overview of painted partying in the Golden Age. Alongside many enchanting paintings by important seventeenth-century artists, visitors will see a wide range of narrative scenes conveying what is often a sly or humorous view of the standards and values of the time. All kinds of celebrations will be on show—elegant garden parties, fairs, banquets and peasant weddings, carnivals, masquerades, family gatherings on St Nicholas Eve, Twelfth Night and May festivities. 

Exploration of artistic limits
Celebrations were a popular subject for painters in the Golden Age. These themes sold well and they also gave painters the opportunity to explore their artistic limits. The growing popularity of the subject was due in no small measure to Jan Steen, the supreme painter of festivities in the seventeenth century. He pictured more types of celebration than any other artist, and excelled in telling expressions and humorous compositions.  Seven of his works will be on display in the exhibition.

Portrait of a licentious lifestyle
Not every kind of seventeenth-century festivity was recorded in paintings; for instance we know of no pictures of birthday parties or Christmas celebrations. Other occasions, such as the Feast of St Nicholas, are extremely rare. Another striking aspect is that there are plenty of peasant weddings, but virtually no paintings of the weddings of the upper classes. It would seem that painters preferred celebrations that were accompanied by a certain degree of bawdiness.  

Paintings from Haarlem will occupy an important place in the exhibition. The ‘gallant company’, a picture type introduced by David Vinckboons in Amsterdam, flourished in Haarlem thanks to artists like Esaias van de Velde, Dirck Hals and Willem Buytewech.  In his innovative group portraits of the local civic guards, Haarlem’s most famous painter, Frans Hals, pictured the officers at their celebrations with vivid likenesses, lively gestures and expressive features. Jan Steen painted many of his best works in Haarlem.

Whereas bad manners and comic situations would have been obvious at a glance to a seventeenth-century public, nowadays we need some background knowledge to help us understand the paintings. The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue with an introductory essay by Dr Anna Tummers (curator of the Frans Hals Museum and creator of the exhibition). Dr Thijs Weststeijn (a researcher at the University of Amsterdam who specializes in seventeenth-century art theory and philosophy) will describe seventeenth-century views on painting parties and the role of alcohol, bawdiness and humour. The joint essay by Herman Roodenburg (Professor of Historical Anthropology and European Ethnology at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam) and Mickaël Bouffard-Veilleux (professional dancer and dance historian) will examine how seventeenth-century painters posed their figures and got them to dance, and to what extent this compares with what was seen as ‘appropriate’ at the time for the different social classes. In her article Marieke de Winkel, costume specialist, will discuss seventeenth-century dress and what we can deduce from the costumes in these works. (Approximately 16o pages, full- colour, Dutch and English editions, NAI Publishers, price around €27.50).

Events and audio tour
There will be numerous activities and events surrounding the exhibition, from lectures to family days, boat trips and workshops. An audio tour in two languages (Dutch and English) will be included in the price of admission.

The exhibition is made possible by the financial support of the VSB Fonds, SNS REAAL Fonds, Dr Marijnus Johannes van Toorn & Louise Scholten Stichting, Stichting Zabawas, J.C. Ruigrok Stichting, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds and ABN AMRO bank. The museum is supported by the BankGiro Loterij. 



Celebrating in the Golden Age


11-11-2011 till 5-6-2012


Frans Hals Museum
Groot Heiligland 62
Haarlem, The Netherlands



T +31 (0 )23 511 57 75

Opening hours

Tuesday – Saturday 11.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.;
Sundays and holidays 12.00 – 5.00 p.m.
Closed on 25 December and 1 January

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