About this artwork

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.

Updated before 2020

  • artist:
  • title:
    A School for Boys and Girls
  • date created:
    About 1670
  • materials:
    Oil on canvas
  • measurements:
    81.70 x 108.60 cm (framed: 109.00 x 135.00 x 14.60 cm)
  • object type:
  • credit line:
    Purchased by Private Treaty with the aid of the National Heritage Memorial Fund 1984
  • accession number:
    NG 2421
  • gallery:
  • subject:
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Jan Steen

Jan Steen