The Quack, 1652; oil on panel, rounded top, 112 x 83 (44 1/8 x 32 3/4), Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam


The Quack

This painting depicts a quack -- a medical charlatan -- hawking his wares to a small crowd on the outskirts of Leiden. Among the onlookers are an elderly woman at the right whose pocket is being picked, a hunter who carries a dead hare hanging from his rifle barrel, a young woman who offers a coin to the quack while her companion peers at her décolleté, and a woman making pancakes who wipes a baby's bottom. A painter portrayed in the window behind the quack suggests that Dou sought to make a comparison between the two men. Both are masters of deception, yet the quack's wares have no value, while the painter's creations edify the mind and please the eye.

The ideas that The Quack represents -- that painting is intended to delight, amuse, deceive, and instruct -- were central to Dou's art. Its large scale and complex subject make it an artistic manifesto of sorts -- one in which Dou displays his virtuosity while commenting explicitly on the role of the artist.

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