Another fun Dutch painting at the Met. This is clearly a party scene, with lots of drinking, but there are also lots of sexy implications. The tone is set by an unimportant detail: in the back, to the left, a man dressed as a fool is sticking her tongue out at a waitress, and she is laughing. So this is a world in which people joke about sex. But the more interesting part is front and center. It seems clear that the three figures in the front, man, woman, and child, are some kind of unit—probably the bar owner, his wife, and their child.
It is often said indeed that this is a portrait by the artist, Jan Steen—who was a bar owner—and his family. The wife is looking very sexy, however, with her bosom popping out of her bodice, which is decorated with roses, the symbol of love. She is also looking at the viewer with a scampy expression and holding her empty glass upside down, as if to tell us that she is deep in her cups, or maybe given over to pleasure in general. But the key detail, which is presented so casually as to be easily overlooked, is that she is leaning on the knee of the lute boy to her left—whose lute juts out of his lap at a pretty phallic angle. So perhaps she is committing adultery with the lute boy? If so, in any case, her husband seems to be enjoying the joke. An art historian friend has even suggested there is a joke here about penises: the husband has a stout little jug, while the lute boy has a long lute sticking up in the air….