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The Worship of the Golden Calf (work of art)

Artwork Info

circa 1672–1675
Jan Steen
70 1/4 x 61 1/4 inches (178.4 x 155.6 centimeters)


Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina, 1952, and dedicated in memory of Noelle Ocon, Senior Conservator of Paintings (1997–2020), by the NCMA Board of Trustees, 2020

Object Number
Dutch European
European to 1910

Key Ideas about this Work of Art

  • This painting depicts a 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.
  • Jan Steen was a Dutch artist in the 17th century. He is known for his visual storytelling abilities. He often painted lively and chaotic scenes with a playful attitude. He often included an image of himself in his paintings. In The Worship of the Golden Calf, he is the man shown playing the triangle at center. 
  • Jan 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.

Learn More

While Moses was away on Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the Ten Commandments from God, his brother, Aaron, complied with the wishes of the Israelites and fashioned a golden idol for them to worship. Jan Steen, the most talented Dutch storyteller, painted the celebrations that followed.

Among the revelers is the painter himself, who amuses the woman in the center foreground by playing the triangle. An atmosphere of luxury, excess, and the exotic fills the foreground, as Steen carefully describes fine satin fabrics, musical instruments, silver platters and beakers, flowers, ripe fruit, and a parrot.

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  • An oil painting depicting many people interacting with one another in a lively outdoor scene. The figures in the center are dancing in a circle around a pillar with a golden calf on it. The figures in the foreground are talking, eating, drinking, and playing music. In the background a man stands on a mountain with his hands in the air.

    The Worship of the Golden Calf