Most people who are involved in art know how important it is to study the back of a painting as well as its front. It often discloses valuable information regarding the identity of the artist, the subject of the painting, its place of origin, provenance and many other details.
The reverse side of this Jan Steen painting reveals the identity of the people in the picture. An elaborated text written down on the back tells us that they are Arend Oostwaert and his wife Catharina Keyzerswaert. Furthermore, the inscriptions report that the picture was painted ‘over 79 years ago’ and the exact location in Leiden where the couple ran their baker’s shop. As the inscription itself is dated 1738, Steen must have portrayed them around 1658, which is a year after Oostwaert and Keyserswaert got married. It is likely that this extraordinary portrait was painted for that occasion by their fellow-townsman Steen. It may have even been his wedding present, as this type of painting would have been too costly for common people.
Another interesting detail of the inscription is the explicit note that the little boy is not Oostwaert and his wife’s child, but Jan Steen’s then seven-year-old son Thaddeus. He blows the horn, a standard baker’s accessory which was used to let the public know that freshly baked bread was ready for sale. Steen added a subtle allusion: he arranged the small rolls in such a way that they seem to come out of the horn, thus evoking the classic motive of the Cornucopia, horn of plenty.