As sing the old, so pipe the young, by Dutch painter Jan Steen around 1663 to 1665 is a genre painting with many renditions by many artists. Jan Steen made thirteen renditions of it himself, the exemplar considered to be this later painting, from 1668-70, featuring a baptismal celebration.
The theme is that the foibles of the old are echoed by subsequent generations, either through nature or nurture. In the baptismal painting, Jan features himself teaching a young boy to smoke a pipe. You may have noticed the company in both paintings are similar, it is believed that Jan used his own family in these paintings, including the pet dog.
There are so many wonderful details in these paintings…But what I want to focus on is the baby (who could’ve guessed) and specifically, its clothes.
The baby is holding up a loop of ribbon in which the baby’s gold and crystal teether is attached, which looks very similar to this (pictured) Dutch teether rattle, from the estate of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe auctioned at Sotheby’s.
On top of the usual baby bonnet, there is a falling cap, or “valhoed” used to protect the head of an early walker and the gown features leading-strings that could be used as a baby leash, like this sketch captured by Rembrandt in 1646.
Children in this era were not typically allowed to crawl around on the floor, it wasn’t safe or practical, and the long skirts would have prevented it. Once babies were toddling, instead of baby proofing, baby clothes were used to protect and guide the baby while they mastered walking.
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