The mischievous smiles of three children light up a dreary room with bare walls and little furniture; the barrel suggests it may be the back room of an inn. Their clothes are shabby and torn, but each has a sparkle in the eye and they look at home in their surroundings.
The boy in the red jacket has his bare feet on a woman’s foot warmer empty of coals. Molenaer may have been suggesting that the woman of this family is absent or too busy to sit about in comfort. The empty cage and the broken neck of the large earthenware bottle add to the unruly and slightly enigmatic nature of the scene.
But Molenaer was not only interested in giving us a picture with a story waiting to be teased out. He loved detail, and has painted a reflection of the armour the girl wears in the spoon she holds in her left hand.
The mischievous smiles of three children light up a dreary room with bare walls and little furniture – the barrel suggests it may be the back room of an inn. Their clothes are shabby and torn, but each has a sparkle in the eye and they look at home in their surroundings as they raise a din with their music.
With his use of smooth brushwork and eye for detail, Molenaer has given us a picture with a story waiting to be teased out. The boy with the violin plays with abandon but not too much accuracy, perhaps. His stockings have holes and tumble round his shins, showing a knobbly knee. His coat hangs open carelessly but it has all its buttons. His white ruff is clean but hangs limp. He’s tucked a clay pipe into his jaunty hat. At the time, tobacco was frowned on in the well-run family, but the clues the artist lays in the painting suggest that this family has difficulties.
The boy in the bright red jacket plays the rommelpot, a home-made instrument that made a deep throbbing noise when you rubbed the stick up and down between fingers and thumb. His trousers look like hand-me-downs – too big for him and held up with cord below the knees – and in his hat he sports a hen’s leg, the badge of a company of arquebusiers (infantry soldiers). Behind him is a stick for playing kolf, the forerunner of golf played on the ice in Dutch winters. With his rosy cheeks, he seems like a boy who might spend a lot of time outdoors.
The little girl adds to the noise with her spoons, attacking an old morion helmet (the Dutch fought many wars in the seventeenth century). Her apron is torn, and the gathers hastily cobbled together. Her hair strays from under her little cap. She wears the gorget, or neck plate, from the old armour, rust round its rim. With his love of detail, Molenaer has even painted a reflection of the armour in the bowl of the spoon in the child’s left hand.
The worn-down shoes of the boy in red are thrown aside and he sits with his grubby, bare feet on a woman’s foot warmer, empty of coals. Molenaer may have been suggesting that the woman of this family is too busy to sit about in comfort. The empty cage and the broken neck of the large earthenware bottle standing on two well-thumbed books add to the unruly and slightly enigmatic nature of the scene. Molenaer painted pictures that were deliberately open to interpretation for a public that enjoyed such puzzles.
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