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Mauritshuis rediscovers painting by Jan Steen

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Schilderij De bespotting van Simson van Jan Steen

The painting The Mocking of Sampson from our collection is a genuine Jan Steen, experts from the Mauritshuis in The Hague have concluded. The work was long regarded as an 18th-century copy after Steen. Wrongly so, given that the painting style, technique and subject matter are entirely in keeping with the master’s oeuvre. The painting underwent technical examination at the Mauritshuis and was restored by conservators from the museum. Following this treatment, the rediscovered Steen went on display from 15 February 2018 as a highlight of the Jan Steen’s Histories exhibition at the Mauritshuis.

Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis: ‘During the process of selecting the loans for the Jan Steen’s Histories exhibition, our curator Ariane van Suchtelen had a strong suspicion that The Mocking of Samson was not a copy, but had actually been painted by Jan Steen himself. After further research, restoration and technical examination we have come to the conclusion that not only is this painting by the master himself, but that it is still in excellent condition. It’s as if the canvas is fresh out of Jan Steen’s studio.’

Thanks to the Mauritshuis, the KMSKA has been enriched by a genuine Jan Steen!

Manfred Sellink, KMSKA director

Manfred Sellink, director of the KMSKA: 'The KMSKA is closed for extensive renovation work and we have used this opportunity to send our artworks as ambassadors to foreign museums for display. Our long-term cooperation with the Mauritshuis has resulted in exhibitions such as Neighbours: Portraits from Flanders and presentations like Antonello at the Gallery. The restoration of this painting, leading to its attribution to Jan Steen, is a wonderful result of this special partnership. Thanks to the Mauritshuis, the KMSKA has been enriched by a genuine Jan Steen.’

Discovery during restoration

When conservation experts from the Mauritshuis examined the back of the Antwerp painting, they discovered something unusual: it had never been relined. This means that an extra supporting canvas was never glued to the back of the painting – a rarity in 17th-century paintings. Regularly spaced holes were found every 10 cm or so along the edges of the canvas, through which a string had been laced to attach the canvas to a wooden frame. Remnants of that string could still be found in some of the holes. Having been painted, the canvas was removed from the frame and nailed to a stretcher. Unusually, the painting is still mounted on that same stretching frame. The paint surface too is in exceptionally good condition. It is extraordinary for a painting to have survived for centuries in such a pristine state.