The Merry Family,
Painted by Jan Steen (1626-1679),
Painted in 1668
Oil on canvas
© Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God
The mother and the brothers of Jesus came looking for him, but they could not get to him because of the crowd. He was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you.’ But he said in answer, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.’
Reflection on the painting
This short readings packs a punch! It seems Jesus is being harsh towards his mother and brothers. But is he? They say that blood is thicker than water. We have a special relationship with all members of our families. Even if we are not equally close to all of them, we know that if one of them is ill we will always rally around them. In general we are more willing to go the extra mile for family members. Jesus also must have had a special relationship with his family, in particular with his mother and father. Yet in today’s gospel reading he identifies with a different kind of family. In fact, he started a new family for us: the Christian family. And both our natural family and the Christian family are invited to flow into one another and feed one another.
In painting family is important too, and a whole tradition of painting families developed over the ages. Whilst in Roman times families were sometimes portrayed, on the whole it was rare. It is really during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that family portraits gained prominence. Wealthy patrons commissioned artists to paint portraits of their families, showcasing their status and social standing, often even painted surrounding Our Lady or Saints to give the family extra prominence. In the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age, there was a significant shift in family painting. Artists like Johannes Vermeer or Rembrandt portrayed intimate and everyday family scenes. These paintings provided a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people, capturing moments of domesticity and familial love. Jan Steen offered the his own amusing slant on portrait painting, with a moralising touch.
In our painting from 1668 by Jan Steen, titled The Merry Family, we see a joyful household in a rather messy living room. The father is singing at the top of his lungs while raising a glass; the mother and grandmother chime in; and the children are either blowing into a wind instrument (virtue) or smoking a long pipe (sin). The note hanging from the mantelpiece gives away the moral of the story: ‘As the old sing, so shall the young twitter.’ What will become of the children if their parents set the wrong example?
Share this Gospel Reading
Did you like this Gospel reading and art reflection?
Join in the discussion about this artwork & Gospel reading
Readings related to Luke 8:19-21
Join our community
In addition to receiving our Daily Gospel Reading and Art Reflection, signing up for a free membership allows you to: