About this artwork

This is the largest of several schoolroom scenes by Steen. The composition is loosely based on Raphael’s fresco of ‘The School of Athens’ in the Vatican, depicting the greatest scholars of antiquity. Basing this unruly scene on the famous gathering of greats, Steen made a visual joke, which is also echoed in the incidental detail. The adults seem oblivious to the unruly behaviour of their pupils. At the right is an owl, traditional symbol of wisdom and attribute of the goddess Athena. Here a boy offers it a pair of spectacles alluding to the Dutch proverb ‘What use are glasses or light if the owl does not want to see?’ This could apply to both pupils and teachers.

  • title: A School for Boys and Girls
  • accession number: NG 2421
  • artist: Jan SteenDutch (1625/26 - 1679)
  • gallery: Scottish National Gallery(On Display)
  • object type: Painting
  • subject: Interior Education
  • medium: Oil on canvas
  • date created: About 1670
  • measurements: 81.70 x 108.60 cm (framed: 135.26 x 109.22 x 15.24 cm)
  • credit line: Purchased by Private Treaty with the aid of the National Heritage Memorial Fund 1984

Jan Steen

Jan Steen

Steen is best known for his witty and chaotic scenes of everyday life designed to educate and entertain. They often convey a moral message connected with Dutch proverbs, and his own paintings gave rise to disorderly domestic arrangements being described as a ‘Jan Steen household’. Steen’s delightful depiction of children emphasises their natural exuberance and tendency to misbehave if unchecked. He also painted portraits and biblical and mythological scenes. He was born in Leiden, and lived in various cities in the Netherlands. He was in Haarlem from 1661 until 1670 where he produced some of his finest paintings.