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The scene stands within the tradition of peasant satire that originated in the southern Netherlands in the sixteenth century, aiming to expose the vices of mankind. Here the mother attempting to feed her child recalls the seventeenth-century Dutch proverb ‘Open wide when someone offers you pap, or else later you will receive nothing’. The moral outcome of the tale is underlined by the disordered poverty of the interior, with mussel shells littering the floor and a group of idle men drinking and chatting in the background.
oil on oak panel
34.1 x 39.7 cm
acquired by Francis Charles Seymour-Conway, 3rd Marquess of Hertford by 1829; bequeathed to the nation by Lady Wallace, 1897