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,
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).