Family Audio Tour: The Village School

Oil painting of Dutch school room in seventeenth century with teacher hitting crying child's hand with wooden spoon as other children watch
Jan Steen (1626-1679), The Village School, c.1665. Photo © National Gallery of IrelandCredit

Jan Steen (16261679), The Village School, c.1665

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When I’m looking after the pictures in the galleries, I’m often alone with them, and I could swear that sometimes I hear voices coming from them – this one in particular.

Old man (Dutch accent): 
How many times have I told you? Paper is for writing on, NOT for crumpling up and throwing at your sister!
Child (crying):
It was an accident. I didn’t mean to throw it it… boo hoo

What’s going on here?

This is a school in Holland a long long time ago. In those days, all the children – big and small – learned together in the same class. Some are reading, some are writing, and…

Eoin [interrupting]:
…someone’s being told off! The boy in the front is in trouble. He’s holding out his hand and the teacher’s hitting it with what looks like a wooden spoon. Ouch! What’s he done wrong?

I’d say something to do with that crumpled paper on the floor.

Hm, he looks upset – that teacher looks strict! And silly too, in that funny hat, stripy sleeves and big collar – it’s like a clown’s outfit.

In those days, people made fun of teachers. Can you imagine? And this artist, Jan Steen, deliberately chose these clothes to make the teacher look funny and ridiculous. Steen loved painting pictures that made people laugh!

That girl in the middle’s having fun anyway. I think she’s laughing at the boy being told off.

She’s actually the artist’s daughter, and the boy being told off was his son, as was the older boy behind, with dark hair. This artist liked paintings scenes from every life and often used his family as models.

Maybe I could paint something I see every day for my masterpiece and I could use my family as models .

And you, who from your family would you put in your picture, and what would they be doing? Tell whoever you’re with.

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