Jan Steen: Beware of Luxury

Beware of Luxury: Jan Steen

Beware of Luxury is a 1663 painting by the Dutch Golden Age artist Jan Steen. This work is located in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.

Analysis of Steen’s Beware of Luxury

Beware of Luxury by Dutch Golden Age painter Jan Steen contains many figures, mostly personifying a certain moral laxity as a result of idleness or ‘luxury’. The 1663 picture centers on a seated young couple being warned against their lust. All of this is in a room that is strewn with spilled food and other domestic items, signaling moral disorder.

Despite the seemingly joyful atmosphere, there are several indications that all is not well. The family members are shown engaging in vices, such as gluttony and drunkenness. The father’s disheveled appearance and the mother’s weary expression suggest that they have been up all night partying. The boy playing the lute is wearing a wreath of ivy leaves, which symbolizes intoxication. The girl singing holds a wine glass, indicating that she has been drinking as well.

Furthermore, there are several elements in the painting that suggest moral decay. A dog is shown eating a bone on the floor, a symbol of carnal pleasures. The broken glass on the table suggests carelessness and lack of restraint. The painting’s title, Beware of Luxury, warns the viewer of the dangers of excess and indulgence.

Steen’s use of light and color is also noteworthy in this painting. The light source comes from the left, casting deep shadows on the right side of the room. The warm tones of the fire and the candles create a cozy atmosphere, but also a sense of intimacy and secrecy. The use of bright colors, such as the red of the mother’s dress and the gold of the tablecloth, further emphasizes the opulence of the scene.

Beware of Luxury is an example of Steen’s typical style, which often included moral messages and a sense of humor. Through his paintings, Steen highlighted the excesses and moral decay of the wealthy Dutch society of the time. He often used everyday scenes to deliver moral messages, and Beware of Luxury is no exception. The painting serves as a warning against the dangers of indulgence and excess, and the consequences that come with such behavior.

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