The picture celebrates the arrival of a newborn baby and was painted in 1675, the year in which the artist himself married and became a father for the first time. However, the subject was traditional and popular in the 1660s, to judge from paintings by Gabriel Metsu, Jan Steen, Eglon van der Neer, and others. In slightly later years, the theme flourished in art and literature, for example with paintings by Naiveu of about 1700 such as The Lying-in Room
(Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden) and plays such as Thomas Asselijn's Kraem-bedt
(Birthbed) of 1683. The Amsterdam genre painter Cornelis Troost (1696–1750) followed Naiveu in presenting the scene as if it were set on a stage. The present picture's composition, the more theatrical look of the painting in Leiden, and Naiveu's other representations of theatrical subjects underscore the connection with popular plays.
Compared with Metsu's description of the same social ritual (The Met, 17.190.20
, or "lying-in visit"—Naiveu characteristically takes a more literal approach. The convalescent mistress of the house is attended by an old nurse-midwife, who serves a bowl of porridge. A visiting lady, elegantly attired, holds the tightly swaddled infant on her lap. A pot of hot coals has been placed in the foot warmer. The luxurious fabrics covering the wicker cradle, the table, the bed, and the mother herself were special features of a kraamkamer
, or birthing room, which was usually set up temporarily in a town house.
The covered glass goblet on the table contains kandeel
, a drink usually made with wine, sugar, cinnamon, and other spices. A cinnamon stick, lemon slices, and probably egg white (on the bottom) complete the concoction, which was intended for guests. On the plate is a little bowl of bread or pastry filled with muisjes
(little mice), sugar-coated caraway seeds or cinnamon sticks made as treats for children. Another bowl of muisjes
delights the little girl.
The Steen-like vignette in the background shows the new father smoking a pipe and celebrating with four male companions. A maid hands around another goblet of kandeel
while the father is toasted with a glass of wine. As in Metsu's picture of the same subject, a large stormy seascape reminds one of life's uncertainty. The sculpted cupid that swings aloft at top center is an uncommon motif in this context but probably refers to the newborn.
[2017; adapted from Liedtke 2007]