The Satyr and the Peasant Family
(Jacob Jordaens)


The subject of The Satyr and the Peasant Family was among the favourite profane themes of Jacob Jordaens’ early career. On several occasions Jordaens adapted Aesop, Fables, LXXIV, to his purposes: the absurdity of the peasant who, having breathed on his hands to warn them, then blows on his porridge to cool it, excites the visiting satyr’s shocked protest. The moral is beware of people who ‘blow hot and cold’. Jacob Jordaens’ easiest known treatment was painted on a much smaller scale c. 1616. That treatment was important for Jan Liss, who was in Antwerp 1616-19.

Next in date appears to be The Satyr and the Peasant Family, Caravaggesque in the vigorous and distinctively Flemish idiom of Jordaens. We may date it by style and circumstance. Jacob Jordaens modelled the mother and the child on his wife and their first born, Elizabeth, who had been baptized on 26 June 1617. The child appears to be aged about three. The composition is set in the interior of a farmhouse, illuminated from an unseen source at the left, with a subtly rich play of chiaroscuro not only on the features and gestures of the figures human and pagan, but also on the splendidly realized still-life hung on the wall. The lighting system contrasts with the well known reinterpretation of the composition, which follows almost immediately (Kassel, Staatliche Gemaeldegalerie). The Kassel painting (canvas 172 x 194 cm) sets the scene on a hill out of doors, the figures sunlit, slightly more from the front (this is most obvious in the young peasant standing at the back), and also more harshly. Whereas the palette in the present, hitherto unpublished composition is close to that used by Caravaggio, blue, buff, white, grey brown and subdued red; this is especially evident in the less agitated draperies of the mother, the child and the peasant. Jacob Jordaens attended directly to Caravaggio’s Madonna of the Rosary Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, reputedly brought to Antwerp by Louis Finsonius, who was to die in the city in 1617.

Other differences between the present composition and the Kassel variant are no less obvious, even in reproduction. In the latter there is no wall on which to hang a basket and jugs, no kitchen floor on which to scatter corms of garlic. The child’s head is not covered with a white kerchief. The white tablecloth is differently folded. The satyr’s loins are loosely girt, as his brow is bound, with a lea~ spray. The colours of the dress of the mother and her barehead child are entirely different. What are apparent only in front of the present painting, or by infra-red photography, are numerous pentimenti: in the crown of the straw hat; in the outlines of the satyr’s leg and right arm; in the mother’s drapery; and, most significantly, in the shift of the young peasant’s head at the back considerably leftward from a situation beside the satyr’s. That shift establishes beyond doubt the present painting’s priority over the variant at Kassel. Thus unconsciously, in this instance at least, Jacob Jordaens followed the habit of Caravaggio in working out a composition on the canvas without recourse to pen and wash trials on paper.

Jacob Jordaens certainly experimented with such trials in the course of illustrating his favourite theme: on the verso of a sheet in the Louvre, the recto showing The Holy Family with St John, his Parents and Angels; in a more finished sketch for the painting known in almost identical autograph versions in the museums at Goteborg and Brussels. However in the case of the present painting, and so of the Kassel variant, Jacob Jordaens took pains to study as closely as he could the pose, projected for a single figure, just as he was to study the Male nude seated as the principal figure in The Mocking of Christ (Williamstown, Mass., the Williams College Museum of Art); that of the seated satyr. The large study (in black chalk, heightened with white, 405 x 260mrn.) for The Satyr and the Peasant was sold by Sotheby’s Mak van Waay on 25 April 1983, lot 83, as ‘Studio of Jordaens’ to Houthakker. To the right of a fully realised study of the pose is an abandoned preliminary sketch in the manner of Jacob Jordaens’s early academies in the series now divided between the Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum and the Düsseldorf Kunstmuseum. There is a distinctive chip on the band below the rim of the porridge bowl beside the satyr, to be found neither in the present, nor in the Kassel painting. The curved handle of the ladle, held in either painting by the hand of the boy, whose head appears by the biceps of the satyr, appears unsupported in the drawing. The magnificently drawn head of the satyr in the drawing is angled more to three quarter face. The lower profile of the satyr’s right forearm has been shifted upward to clear the ladle. There are significant differences in the foliage (absent altogether from the satyr’s lap in the present painting) and in the wrinklings of the satyr’s brow and body. In sum it is not to be dismissed as a copy after the paintings .

The motif of the peasant with his bowl of porridge, his wife seated beside him with one arm outstretched, dandling on her lap, the child who wears a kerchief, remained for a decade and a half dear to Jacob Jordaens. It recurs in a painting modified further c.1630-35 to set in an interior the Satyr and the Peasant a picture which belongs to Museum Pushkin in Moscow. A modelletto painted by Jordaens from this (Kunsthalle Bremen. Erwerbungen der letzen Jahren, Bremen, 1951, p. 58, no 23, ill. p. 14), with a rearrangement of the two standing figures, was available to Jacob Neefs (Antwerp 1610-after 1600 Antwerp) to engrave. The print, reversing the composition, is lettered jac. Jordaens invent:/cum privilegio./Jacobus Neefs sculpsit. The Latin verses have been freely rendered: ‘Why, satyr, do you now shun the farmer so ungraciously? Is it because you saw him blow on his hands to warm them, and on his porridge to cool it?’ ‘I abhor this ambiguity of blowing hot and cold.’

63 x 70 7/8 ins. 160 x 180 cm.
Oil on canvas

J. Soloman. Sold by Mrs. Soloman, Christie’s London, 14 July 1930 (lot 115), as Jacob Jordaens, bought Rosenbaum;
Offered in Sweden, 26 February 1968, to Mr Christer Nyström (ALA to the present writer from Solna); Matthiesen Gallery and Michael Simpson Ltd, 1992.

Sotheby’s, New York, 28 January 2008, lot no. 59 private collection, London


Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Collector’s Exhibition 2016, 2016, pp. 4-5

Jacques Jordaens, Homer, Hesiod & Aesop: Myth, Fable & Basic Instincts, Catalogue to be published in 2018, The Matthiesen Gallery, London, 2018.

Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Genre or Daily Life
Netherlandish - Flemish
Jacques Jordaens Homer, Hesiod & Aesop: Myth, Fable & Basic Instincts
It is a discussion of Jacques Jordaens, Hermes at Calypso's table considered to be a masterpiece by Jacques Jordaens.

(Click on image above)
Price band
$1 million - $1.5 million