7. Merry Company on a Terrace

Merry Company on a Terrace. Photo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in public domain.

This painting by the Dutch painter Jan Steen represents a party on a terrace, presumably of a tavern. A jokey, sexy tone dominates, as is made clear by the joker sticking his tongue out at the waitress in the background in a lascivious way: her response is merely to dodge his tongue and laugh at his antics.

The raciness in the foreground is just a little more subtle. The woman in the center of the foreground (the mistress of the tavern?) looks directly and slyly at the viewer. Her blouse, with pink roses (the flower of love at that time) pinned to it, is open, and her breasts are heaving into view. The drained wine glass that she holds casually in her right hand also seems suggestive — as perhaps does her gesture of lifting her apron to the side. Note also that she is casually resting her elbow on the thigh of the lute-boy to her left — and his lute juts out of his lap at a very suggestive angle. Works like this in Dutch painting are often seen as conveying a moral warning, but it’s hard to tell what the warning is here: the painter seems to revel instead in the scene of implied debauchery.