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7 / Domestic Life

Dutch Family in an Interior
Dutch Family in an Interior
Artist / Origin Jan Olis (Dutch, ca.1610–76)
Region: Europe
Date 1634
Material Oil on panel
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 15 in. (38.4 cm.), W: 19 ½ in. (49.9 cm.)
Location Ferens Art Gallery, Hull City Museums and Art Galleries, Kingston Upon Hull, UK
Credit Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library

expert perspective

Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr.Curator of Northern Baroque Painting, National Gallery of Art

Additional Resources

Franits, Wayne. Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting: Its Stylistic and Thematic Evolution. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Hollander, Martha. An Entrance for the Eyes: Space and Meaning in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002.

Loughman, John, and John Michael Montias. Public and Private Spaces: Works of Art in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Houses. Zwolle: B.V. Waanders Uitgeverji, 2001.

Schama, Simon. The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York: Vintage, 1997.

Westermann, Mariët. A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic, 1585–1718. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

Westermann, Mariët, et al. Art & Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2003.

Dutch Family in an Interior

» Jan Olis (Dutch, ca.1610–76)

Five figures are gathered around a table in room that is sparely furnished and modestly decorated.

A plain cloth covers the table and four paintings hang high on the walls. Among the figures is a woman standing to the left who appears to be dressed as a servant. At the table sit a couple dressed in sober, but rich, black garb, and a man in a broad-brimmed hat. A child stands by the seated woman. Several elements—a glass containing a red liquid on the table, a decorated vessel held by the maid, and a white object that may be a sheet of crumpled paper on the floor—appear to be additions intended to show the artist’s virtuosity.

This work by Jan Olis may be a portrait, but it might also be a genre scene depicting everyday life. Olis specialized in genre scenes, which emerged as an independent category of painting in the Dutch Republic in the early seventeenth century. Both portraiture and genre scenes were popular among citizens of the newly independent nation at least in part, scholars assert, because they were vehicles through which the Dutch could define communal identity and shared social ideals.

Both portraits and genre scenes were often set in domestic interiors. Although the portraits, for obvious reasons, tend to depict tasteful, orderly households in which family members abide by their expected social roles, genre paintings might present homes in which either virtue or vice prevails, offering a model or a lesson, respectively. Olis’s image depicts a household (real or invented) in which Dutch values, moderation principal among them, are embraced. The figures appear to take pride in their own appearance and that of their home. At the same time, the self-presentation and surroundings are neither pretentious nor ostentatious.

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