Stone unturned: art investigation finds ‘extraordinary’ Jan Steen painting

Restoration work                      © Mauritshuis, Den Haag, Photo: Ivo Hoekstra

The painting may be called The Mocking of Samson, but it is inspiring rather more adulation than derision after being attributed to Golden Age painter Jan Steen.

After an extensive investigation debunking the idea that it was a copy, the artwork has been welcomed to the Dutch master’s oeuvre.

The Mauritshuis in The Hague has announced that the piece, owned by the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA), has been examined, conserved and will feature in its upcoming exhibition, Jan Steen’s Histories.

‘Thrilling’

Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis, said that she believed the reattribution was both rock solid and exciting.

‘During the process of selecting loans for the exhibition, our curator Ariane van Suchtelen had a strong suspicion that The Mocking of Samson was not a copy, but had actually been painted by Jan Steen,’ she said.

‘After further research, restoration and technical examination we have come to the conclusion that not only is this painting by the master himself, but that it is still in excellent condition. It’s as if the canvas is fresh out of Jan Steen’s studio – thrilling!’

The painting has several unusual features, according to the Mauritshuis. It has never been relined with a supporting canvas behind it, which is ‘a rarity in 17th-century paintings’. It is also still attached to its original strainer (stretching bar) with old nails, and has traces of the string first used to lace it to a wooden frame during painting.

‘Once the yellowed layers of varnish had been removed, the paint surface was found to be in exceptionally good condition,’ announced the museum in a press release. ‘It is extraordinary for a painting to have survived for centuries in such a pristine state.’

The piece is on loan to the Dutch gallery as the Antwerp museum is closed for extensive renovations, and will feature in the exhibition – Jan Steen Vertelt – opening on February 15. Its restoration is part of a technical research project on materials used by Steen, conducted in partnership with Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam.