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At first glance 'Celebrating the Birth' appears simply to commemorate the presentation of a new-born child to its father. However, the husband, who should in the normal course of events be congratulated and fêted, is in fact being mercilessly mocked. All the main characters in the scene seem to be aware of his cuckolded status and ready to exploit his gullibility. His age and unfortunate predicament are made more risible through his juxtaposition with the cheeky young man, a self-portrait of Steen himself, who holds up the two-fingered sign of the cuckold. Cruelly highlighting the husband’s impotency, Steen litters the scene with sexual imagery and visual puns, including the hanging sausage and the broken eggshells: ‘cracking eggs into a pan’ was a euphemism for sexual intercourse at the time.

The Wallace Collection

London

Title

Celebrating the Birth

Date

1664

Medium

oil on canvas

Measurements

H 87.7 x W 107 cm

Accession number

P111

Acquisition method

acquired by Sir Richard Wallace, 1872; bequeathed to the nation by Lady Wallace, 1897

Work type

Painting

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The Wallace Collection

Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, Greater London W1U 3BN England

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