The King Drinks
Be the first to vote…

Arty Fact

gstecyk's picture


Look familiar? The composition of this painting by Jacob Jordaens probably reminds you of those 21st birthday photos you never want your boss to see. 

This 17th-century slice of Dutch life depicts the January 6 feast of Epiphany, from those bygone glory days when Christian holidays were synonymous with drunken fun. Take a hint, modern Christians…a little hooch never hurts when you're trying to convince people your religion is the way to go. 


Traditionally, the person who finds a bean in his pie gets to be King for the night. Here, the King is also fittingly the oldest male of the family.  Nothing like boozy good times with Grandpa! The king also gets to assign roles to other people.  Could this be why the buxom lasses are laughing merrily on either side of him, while the fat children are bored, feeding the dogs?  Methinks it could.


As the senior party animal of the group raises his glass, the surrounding people shout, “The King drinks!” Modern translation: “Chug, chug, chug, chug!”  Meanwhile, the drunkard down in front is vomiting, the baby is pissing on his mothers lap, and general debauchery ensues.


Jordaens himself was a sober-living protestant, and the painting is intended more as a satire than a celebration of binge drinking.  The teetotaling artist painted at least six versions of this scene with mottos in the top center including, “Where there is a free meal it is good to be a guest” (critiquing freeloaders), and “Nothing seems more like a madman than a drunkard.”  Jordaens used his own father-in-law, fellow painter and former teacher Adam van Noort, as the model for the lampooned King, suggesting less than dutiful affection for the old man.


In spite of Jordaens’ puritanical attempts to dissuade us from the evils of drink, forbidden fruit remains the sweetest.  This is a party we’d like to attend…just don’t tag us on Facebook.  What happens in ye olde Antwerp, stays in ye olde Antwerp.