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  • Jan Steen
A School for Boys and Girls
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A School for Boys and Girls about 1670

On Display Scottish National Gallery

This is the largest of several schoolroom scenes by Steen. The composition is loosely based on Raphael’s fresco of ‘The School of Athens’ in the Vatican, depicting the greatest scholars of antiquity. Basing this unruly scene on the famous gathering of greats, Steen made a visual joke, which is also echoed in the incidental detail. The adults seem oblivious to the unruly behaviour of their pupils. At the right is an owl, traditional symbol of wisdom and attribute of the goddess Athena. Here a boy offers it a pair of spectacles alluding to the Dutch proverb ‘What use are glasses or light if the owl does not want to see?’ This could apply to both pupils and teachers.

Glossary Open

Antiquity

A general term for the civilisations of Ancient Greece and Rome. Also used as a general term to describe something very old.

Composition

The arrangement of different elements in a work of art.

Fresco

A wall painting applied to fresh, wet plaster so that the coloured pigment is absorbed into the surface of the wall.

Antiquity, Composition, Fresco

Details

  • Acc. No. NG 2421
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Size 81.70 x 108.60 cm (framed: 135.26 x 109.22 x 15.24 cm)
  • Credit Purchased by Private Treaty with the aid of the National Heritage Memorial Fund 1984