Woman with Children in an Interior


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Sr. Contributor

A thoroughly Dutch lesson for mothers and daughters in breast milk magic, with a poop joke.

De Hooch was a big player in domestic interior genre scenes. Mammary portraits were both one of his special moves and a huge part of the market for the 17th century Dutch crowd. The Low Countries were going through a societal revolution in how people lived, worked, and related to each other. And de Hooch was cashing in on paintings that showed the Dutch how to act in these new times.

Children were at the center of the biggest changes. As the home area became a domestic sphere entirely separate from the family business, the most important task for mothers became raising upright citizens. Teaching them how to live like good little Dutchfolk that would carry on Dutch traditions to the next Dutch generation. And that's where this painting comes into play. Because the Dutch knew the secret to good kids was in the breast milk.

Breast milk was understood as blood (discolored from storage in the tit) that acted as a conduit transferring the mother's personal attributes into the child. A good Dutch mama breastfeeding her baby was literally making the baby a good little Dutch person. This weird fixation on making sure children were Dutch-ified stemmed from the recent cessation of the Eighty Years War. The war ended with kicking the Spanish out of the Low Countries, and focusing on the next generation, unifying the Dutch with a concurrent sense of national identity and continuity from the old times. De Hooch hits this message home with the little girl and the pooch. At first glance, she's feeding the dog, but she's also imitating the mother. Getting ready to breastfeed her own children when the time comes. The painting shows that she gets it, and that you should, too, dammit!

In the wake of war, it was a pretty heavy subject. But de Hooch knew how to make it palatable: shart humor. In the tiles around the fireplace, there's a depiction of a kakkertje. Or, quite simply, a dude squatting for a deuce. If you want a brown eyeful of the cheeky joke, just look at the fourth tile down in the left column


"Mommy, Hendrick is eating my boiled herring again!