Detail from De Oude Koekvrijer (The Old Cake Suitor) by Lambertus-Antonius Claessens and Lodewyk Gotlieb Portman, after Jan Steen, late 18th-early 19th century. Dayton C. Miller Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.
after Jan Steen, genre painter, 1626-1679
In a Dutch household, a man courts a woman and offers her sweets. The woman sits in a chair in the center of the room and she holds out her hand to receive the offering from the man. The man stands on the right and holds a basket over his left arm and his hat is in the same hand. He bows slightly as he offers the sweets to the woman. Behind the woman on the left is a flutist. A violin lies on the table next to him and a cittern hangs on the wall above him. An old woman stands in the center background and her hand rests on the shoulder of the young woman. There is an open cupboard at the upper left and, through an arched doorway in the center of the room, one sees a view of the next room with its windows of diagonal-paned glass. On the floor in the foreground is an overturned pot with a spoon next to it and a little spaniel barks at the suitor.
The inscriptions on this engraving are in Dutch and in French. A translation of the Dutch text, "J. Steen begint zyne vryaadje met eene hant vol zoets," is "J. Steen begins his courtship with a handful of sweets." The French text, "Les Amours et les Douceurs de J. Steen," means "Loves and Sweets by J. Steen."
This engraving is a copy of a painting, De Oude Koekvrijer (The Old Cake Suitor) of about 1662-64, by Jan Steen (1626-1679). The original painting is now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen. The title used here, The Old Cake Suitor, is that given to the painting in the catalogue raisonné of Jan Steen's work by Karel Braun, Alle tot nu toe bekende schilderijen van Jan Steen. Rotterdam: Lekturama, 1980, cat. no. 163. National Gallery of Art Library, call number: N44.S7B72. There is a reference in this catalogue entry to another painting by Jan Steen on the same subject, Naaistertje met verlegen Koekvrijer (Seamstress with the shy Cake Suitor), cat. no. 193. In this entry, the name of the cake is given as a heiligmaker, meaning "Holy maker," and when a young man presents a woman with this cake, it is understood that he is making a marriage proposal. He does not even have to speak the words of the proposal, it is merely understood.
About the Artists
Lambertus-Antonius Claessens, draughtsman and engraver, 1764-1834
Lambertus-Antonius Claessens was a Flemish draughtsman and engraver who was born in Antwerp in 1764 and he died in Rueil, near Paris, in 1834, according to Bénézit. He began as a landscape painter, then he studied with Francesco Bartolozzi (1727-1815) in London. Claessens worked in Amsterdam and Paris and married the widow of the miniature painter, Pelletier.
Lodewyk Gotlieb Portman or Portmann, engraver, 1772-after 1813
Lodewyk Gotlieb Portman, or Portmann, the other engraver of The Old Cake Suitor, was a Dutch artist who was born in Darmstadt in 1772 and he died in Amsterdam after 1813. According to Bénézit, he was a student of Golpfers in Utrecht. The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress has a series of stipple engravings by Claessens and Portman of seventy-eight leading members of the French Revolution, including Danton, Robespierre, and Marat.
Jan Steen, genre painter, 1626-1679
Jan Steen was a well-known 17th-century Dutch genre painter from Leyden.
- The identity of the cittern on the wall is courtesy of Maurice Byrne, via Robert Bigio, London, 5 July 2007, though he comments that the neck of the instrument is rather wide. [back to article]
- See color image in Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen: Guide des Collections XVIe-XVIIe Siècles, by François Bergot, Marie Pessiot, and Gilles Grandjean. Paris: Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1992, pp. 92-93, under the title Le Marchand d'oublies. LC call number: N2161.A86 1992. [back to article]
- The translation of the text is courtesy of Joost Wellen of Washington, DC, 15 December 2005, who explained further that there is another spelling of the cake, hijlikmaker, which means "marriage maker." Thus, the meaning of its presentation is even more clear. He also explained that the cake is made of honey and spices and some shops in The Netherlands still produce this special cake. [back to article]
- See Bénézit for long biography and list of his works. See also the catalogue of an exhibition, Jan Steen: Painter and Story Teller, by H. Perry Chapman, Wouter Th. Kloek, and Arthur Wheelock, Jr. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1996. LC call number: ND653.S8A4 1996. [back to article]