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The old Folks sing, the young Folks chirp

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Jacob Jordaens I
Antwerp 1593 - Antwerp 1678
1638
oil on canvas
128 x 192 x 2 cm
Inventory number 677

"Soo d'oude songen soo pepen de ionge" is an age-old Dutch proverb meaning that the young always follow the example set by the old. The saying must have appealed greatly to the Antwerp-based Baroque painter Jacob Jordaens, because he rendered it several times during his long and productive career. This particular example, which he painted and signed in 1638, is the earliest known version.
The radiant mother at the centre of the composition is surrounded by various family members, all of whom are singing and making music together. To the right, grandmother puts on her spectacles in order that she could read the text of the song. Grandfather, with songbook in hand, conducts. Father plays the bagpipes with fervour. And the little ones have also joined in: the rosy-cheeked baby on mother's lap blows its rattle whistle, while its elder brother plays the recorder. Even the dog has pricked its ears to the sound of the music. Or perhaps he has just picked up the scent of food on the table. This wonderful snapshot of a family making music together shows Jordaens at his very best.

Cameo?

The characters in the painting are most probably modelled on acquaintances of Jordaens. The old man, for example, bears a striking resemblance to Adam van Noort, the painter's father-in-law and teacher. There is less certainty about the identity of the others in the painting. It has been suggested that the piper might be Jordaens himself, but the likeness with various self-portraits is not entirely convincing.

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