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Jan Weenix (Dutch, 1642–1719)

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Attributed to Jan Weenix (Dutch, 1642–1719)
Boy with Toys, Pet Monkey and a Turkey,
late 17th century
Oil on canvas
MSU purchase, funded by the Emma Grace Holmes Endowment, 2004.3.1

Boy with Toys, Pet Monkey and a Turkey

Jan Weenix was born in Amsterdam and received his first instruction as a painter from his father, Jan Baptist Weenix, a popular painter of Italianate landscapes and hearty figures. The younger Weenix followed his father’s style while in Utrecht but after 1675 when he returned to Amsterdam, he became best known for elaborate still-life paintings of dead game, birds, flowers and statuary carefully observed and meticulously rendered. At the beginning of the 18th century, the hunting still-life became increasingly popular for stately wall decoration and Jan’s works became larger, often interpreting allegories.

This painting shares many details with contemporary portraits of children, such as the toys, the ostrich-plumed hat, and garden setting, which was favored for later 17th century portraits. When shown in a pastoral setting, dressed as a shepherd, the child was a study of youthful innocence and harmony. Children were often accompanied by their pet dogs or birds, symbolic of the well-trained animal and consequently, the child’s proper upbringing. Here, however, several details lead to a different and allegorical interpretation: the boy’s fanciful costume and bare feet; the mean looking monkey with bared teeth; and the prominent turkey. While the specific meaning of this painting is not yet clear, it can be generally interpreted as having to do with envy (the turkey who is jealous of the peacock’s colorful plumage), fleeting abundance (flowers and fruits), and perhaps the seasons (grapes and putti making wine in the fall).

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