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The Dentist (work of art)

Artwork Info

23 1/8 x 31 9/16 inches (58.7 x 80.2 centimeters)


Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina

Object Number
Dutch European
European to 1910

Key Ideas about this Work of Art

  • This is a genre painting. It depicts a scene from everyday life.
  • This scene makes fun of the dental profession. When the painting was created, dentists were known for pulling teeth unnecessarily and charging money to do it. The patient appears to be at the mercy of a greedy, unqualified dentist. 
  • The artist, Jan Miense Molenaer, was a Dutch Golden Age genre painter. 
  • During the Dutch Golden Age, most of the Dutch population was Protestant. Molenaer’s audience would likely have been amused by the patient’s trust in his rosary (a string of beads used especially by Roman Catholics and Buddhists to count prayers).

Learn More

Genre painting is a style of painting that depicts scenes from everyday life. Sometimes genre paintings depict calm interiors, as seen in the works of Johannes Vermeer. In other examples (like this one), genre paintings criticize or joke about an aspect of daily life. The art of genre paintings was developed during the Dutch Golden Age. Many of the paintings created during that era reflect the cultural, economic, and scientific domination of the Dutch.

In this comical scene, the artist portrays an attentive dentist, a smiling woman, and a patient writhing in pain while gripping a rosary. The dentist is shown wearing clothing that is overly theatrical, exposing him as a fraud. Part of the amusement of this work is the patient’s clutching of the rosary. As a result of the Reformation, the Dutch population was largely Protestant. They would have considered the patient’s trust in his rosary beads to be foolish.

Jan Miense Molenaer was a Dutch Golden Age genre painter. He is considered to be a predecessor to Dutch painter Jan Steen. Both artists created works that were intended to show the amusement of common situations. 

Molenaer shared a studio with his wife, Judith Leyster, who was also an artist. She painted genre scenes, still lifes, and portraits. 

Additional Resources

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Resources for Students:


  • An oil painting depicting three figures in a room. A dentist holds the face of a patient and uses a tooth-pulling tool. The patient is seated and holds a rosary in one hand. A smiling woman is standing beside the dentist and the patient.

    The Dentist