Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This painting depicts a story from Exodus in the Hebrew Bible.
- Jan Steen was a Dutch artist in the 17th century. He is best known for his visual storytelling abilities.
- Steen often included an image of himself in his work. He is the figure shown playing the triangle in this painting.
- Dutch colonization and trade brought wealth to the Netherlands during the time in which this painting was created.
While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the tablets of the Ten Commandments from God, his brother Aaron created a golden idol for the Israelites to worship. The Worship of the Golden Calf depicts this story from Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. The story warns people against the worship of anything other than God. The second of the Ten Commandments claims that this is a sin.
Dutch painter Jan Steen painted lively and chaotic scenes with a playful attitude. He was known as a talented visual storyteller. Steen often portrayed himself in the crowd scenes in his paintings. He is the figure shown playing the triangle in the center foreground of this work. The scene depicts an atmosphere of luxury and excess, including images of fine fabrics, musical instruments, silver platters, exotic flowers, ripe fruit, and a parrot.
Steen was a lifelong Catholic. He lived during a period of religious debate in favor of Protestantism. The Dutch Revolt was a conflict between Catholic Spain and Dutch Protestants that ended in 1648. Dutch colonization and trade brought wealth to the Netherlands during the 17th century. There were many developments in the arts and sciences during this time.
Resources for Teachers
- Read an article that explains the term “Dutch Golden Age.”
- Read an article about the story of the Worship of the Golden Calf.
- Watch a video about the comedic elements in Jan Steen’s painting.
Resources for Students