More about The Feast of the Bean King

Sr. Contributor

The Bean King is one of at least six paintings Jordaens painted on the subject of a Netherlandish feast called the Day of the Three Kings (or Magi).

Held on January 6th, the day is meant to pay homage to the wise men who came to worship Christ. But like all holidays, it’s really just an excuse to get drunk and eat a lot of food.

The Bean King references the man who gets the bean in his slice of cake. Not the most exciting prize on the surface, but consider that the bean represents the Star of Bethlehem AND the appearance of Christ himself and that little bean becomes something Jack would definitely trade for his cow. Personally I don’t need the promise of religious meaning, I’d be happy enough with the bean’s party purpose; he who finds the bean in his cake decides when and how much everyone drinks. The King also gets to choose a Queen and a Court, all of whom must drink and shout “The King drinks!” whenever the King takes a sip. Judging by this party the King has been very demanding of his subjects.

The compositions of Jordaens several interpretations of this tradition vary little. The major distinction between the pieces lies in the moral phrases Jordaens includes in their backgrounds. In this painting he features the Latin proverb: “No-one resembles the fool more than the drunkard.” The lady on the right with her nipple showing and the dude vomiting on the left can attest to the truth of this statement. Still, despite the temperate text and moralizing message, I’d be more than happy to join this party.