Two young lovers sit on the steps of an inn under an Italian sky, wiling away their time flirting. He gazes up at her as she dips a sweetmeat into his glass of wine, a pearl earring lightly brushing her neck, a feather waving over her fair curls. A young black boy in magnificent uniform, possibly a slave, watches their unrestrained behaviour. He holds a tray containing a half-peeled lemon and an open oyster, often thought to be an aphrodisiac.
The inn seems to have taken over an ancient classical building with a terrace in front of it. The columns of its portico tower up out of sight. On the terrace is a statue inspired by Michelangelo’s Rebellious Slave (Louvre, Paris), which might have appealed to a Dutch collector unable to make the journey to see such a famous masterpiece for himself.
Behind the lovers, two drinkers reel against the wall of the building. One of the men holds up a spectacularly long glass, perhaps hoping that someone will take pity on his thirsty state. More musicians sit on the steps, some playing, some more interested in what’s going on around them. A young woman, possibly another waitress, holds up a board to a customer – his unpaid tab, perhaps. On the terrace, a man teaches his dog to stand on its hind legs and dance, the dog looking far more elegant and in control than its clumsy owner with his stomping foot.
The young Jan Weenix painted the picture while he was still working in collaboration with his father, Jan Baptist Weenix, who had been his teacher. He had also taught Jan’s cousin, Melchior d’Hondecoeter, whose work you can see in the National Gallery (for example, A Cock, Hens and Chicks). Jan Baptist had spent several years in Italy and returned to paint attractive genre scenes in an Italian setting. For a while his son continued to paint similar scenes, in contrast to the more earthy ones Dutch artists were painting at the time, like Jan Steen’s The Interior of an Inn. Steen’s picture is rowdier than Weenix’s, with its charming couple and classical setting; its eroticism is more blatant, the dingy inn less inviting.
Once Jan Weenix had left his father’s studio, he stopped painting scenes of this kind and turned to pictures of dead game and hunting, such as A Deerhound with Dead Game and Implements of the Chase. He became extremely successful, and was made court painter to the German Elector Palatine in Düsseldorf.
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