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The Old Folks Sing, The Young Folks Chirp

Jacob Jordaens
  • Object number 677
  • Date 1638
  • Dimensions 118 × 189 cm
  • Medium Oil on canvas
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Schilderij Zoals de ouden zongen, piepen de jongen van Jacob Jordaens

Jordaens family concert

This marvellous painting, The Old Folks Sing, The Young Folks Chirp, shows Jordaens at his best. A proud mother sits at the centre, surrounded by her family, who sing and play music. Grandpa beats time, songbook in hand, while Grandma on the right peers through her spectacles to read the words of the tune. Father presses a bagpipe under his arm and plays the instrument with gusto. The little ones join in too: the blushing baby on his mother’s lap blows a toy whistle with little bells attached, and his older brother plays a recorder. Even the dog has pricked up his ears and is absorbed in the music. Unless it has just smelled something good to eat on the table...

Self-portrait by Jordaens?

Did Jordaens include some familiar faces in this canvas? It seems likely. The elderly man, for instance, looks very much like Adam van Noort, the artist’s teacher and father-in-law. We are less sure about the other figures in The Old Folks Sing, The Young Folks Chirp. Some have suggested that the bagpipe player is Jordaens himself, even though he looks quite different from his various self-portraits.

Painting a proverb

‘The Old Folks Sing, The Young Folks Chirp’ is an old saying. It basically means that older people set the example and younger people follow it. The Antwerp Baroque painter Jacob Jordaens was very fond of the theme. In the course of his long and productive career, he painted and drew the proverb several times. This 1638 work is the earliest known version. It shows the old people setting a good example, surrounded by relatives playing music.

Refined nuances

The Old Folks Sing, The Young Folks Chirp is a very important work artistically. The subtle shades of light and colour in particular are evidence that an experienced artist is at work. In earlier paintings, Jordaens used harder forms and more intense lighting contrasts, both of which are applied in a softer way here. All the figures in the shallow room form an orderly ensemble. Jordaens made study drawings for some of his characters. several of which have survived.

Genre paintings in the Baroque era

This everyday scene is a genre painting: a work depicting a slice of ordinary life. The foundations of worldly genre pieces were laid in the 16th century and they remained popular in the 17th century too. Especially with the well-to-do bourgeoisie who, alongside the Church and the nobility, played an important part in cultural life. Entertaining scenes with a moral message were particularly well-liked. So Jordaens will certainly have satisfied the tastes of this time with this convivial family concert.

Jordaens, Antwerp painting school

Jacob Jordaens was the third great master of the Antwerp Baroque after Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, and he left behind a substantial body of work. He worked for wealthy middle-class clients and for the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Jordaens also received major commissions from royal and aristocratic circles. All this meant he was an international celebrity even during his own lifetime.