The painting of the Dutch Golden Age is one of the most outstanding periods throughout the history of art, following characteristics similar to the rest of the European Baroque during this time, the area of the Netherlands managed to distance itself from the general tone of art by linking to a more realistic theme, with domestic and profane themes of everyday life that reflected the splendor of the time. In this context, there are many canvases that we can find with scenes referring to domestic and profane environments: home interiors, scenes in the city or professions. It is precisely within this last group of professions where we find a set of paintings of great artistic and cultural interest, these are the canvases referring to the teachers or professors in which the education of the time is evident.
If any artist stood out for his paintings on education from this historical period, it was precisely Jan Havicksz Steen, better known simply as Jan Steen (1626 – 1679) he was one of the most representative painters of the genre scenes of Dutch painting but on many occasions –as happened to many other painters- his works were overshadowed by the brushes of one of the great painters of all time, Rembrandt. In spite of everything, Steen's painting is correct in the use of technique andAs we have already pointed out, its theme allows us to discover very outstanding aspects of Dutch society. Born in Leiden, it seems that the artist was able to train in the workshop of Nicolaes Knupfer and later became an assistant to Jan van Goyen, who would end up being his father-in-law when he married one of his daughters.
Steen made different canvases with this same theme, although here we will focus on a horizontal format painting made in oil on canvas that is currently kept in the National Gallery in London. Painted in the last time of the artist, in the year 1670, we find ourselves before a Catholic school in which a great hubbub and commotion reigns, with boys everywhere.
In the center of the composition appear not one, but two teachers – although it seems that this is not enough to maintain order in the classroom- and while one of the two teachers works busily explaining something to the students who crowd around their table, the other leans back in his chair oblivious to the commotion. It seems that the masters of the Steen canvas have been identified with two well-known pedagogues of the time, Ratichius and Comenius.
As for the students, the first thing that strikes us is the fact that the school is mixed integrating boys and girls in the same space. In the foreground are the youngest children playing and doing some activities on the floor – some even appear asleep – while in the background the older ones have tables and work material.