Jan Havicksz. Steen, Adolf and Catharina Croeser, Known as ‘The Burgomaster of Delft and his Daughter’, 1655. Oil on canvas, 82.5cm × 68.5cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
What a curious way to choose to be depicted: not as a wealthy merchant in the act of giving money to a poor woman, but instead as a wealthy merchant looking disdainfully at the less fortunate. Maybe he’s in the act of pulling something from his wallet, who knows, and I guess that’s not the point. But it’s an interesting portrayal of what is most likely a more realistic depiction of the sitter’s character, instead of the usual idealized Christian charity theme that we often see.
But then again, maybe not…
Here’s what the Rijksmuseum
has to say about this double portrait:
Legs wide apart and his right arm akimbo, Croeser sits on the stoop of his house on the Oude Delft canal in Delft. His thirteen-year-old daughter Catharina looks straight out at us. Jan Steen included a narrative element in this portrait: a poor woman and child beg for alms from the wealthy grain merchant. In 1657, just two years after this portrait was made, Croeser stood surety for Steen, who was seriously in debt.
So, there we go. There’s no use in passing judgement based on what you see on canvas, although as art historians, it’s sometimes the only thing we have to go on. But I guess it’s complexities like these that are around to keep us on our toes!