National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Dancing Couple Jan Steen (artist)
Dutch, 1625/1626 - 1679
The Dancing Couple, 1663
oil on canvas
overall: 102.5 x 142.5 cm (40 3/8 x 56 1/8 in.) framed: 131.4 x 171.8 cm (51 3/4 x 67 5/8 in.)
Widener Collection
On View
From the Tour: Johannes Vermeer and Dutch Scenes of Daily Life in the 1600s
Object 5 of 8

This chaotic party, gathered under a grape arbor, is so crammed with potential meaning that modern scholars debate what it signified to contemporary viewers. Many of the paired guests fix their attention on the dancers in the center: a staid, well-dressed girl and a robust country lad. Could this be a wedding feast for a mismatched couple?

Caged birds can stand for virginity, but broken eggshells can refer to its loss. Cut flowers and soap bubbles, fragile and short-lived, suggest fleeting time or love. Another possible interpretation centers on the “Five Senses,” including the aroma of tobacco or food and the sound of a violin or flute.

The rowdy behavior and untidy debris in many of Steen’s pictures gave rise to a popular Dutch saying. In Holland today, the humorous phrase “Jan Steen’s Household” describes any merry but messy home.

Steen, a pupil of Adriaen van Ostade, was among the most versatile and prolific of seventeenth-century Dutch painters. Steen, who also ran a brewery and a tavern, included his self-portrait here. He sits at the banquet table and tickles the chin of an elegantly gowned guest.

Full Screen Image
Artist Information
Conservation Notes
Exhibition History

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