Adriaen van de Venne’s “Moralizing Scene with an Old Woman and a Man”

Adriaen van de Venne is perhaps one of the more popular Dutch painters from the Baroque era. Although he was not formally trained as an artist, a number of Dutch artists have influenced Adriaen van de Venne’s style. Jan and Peter Brueghel are two of the artists whose styles have influenced van de Venne quite greatly, both employing their painting style and the over-all theme of their chosen subjects.

His experiences as a book illustrator, painter and draftsman, and the time he spent learning art with local artists enabled Adriaen van de Venne to come up with his own signature style, of which the grisaille technique appears most commonly.

His painting, Moralizing Scene with an Old Woman and a Man was painted by Adriaen van de Venne in 1631. The oil on paper painting measures 6 9/16 inches by 4 ½ inches and is quite characteristic of the artist’s later style, specifically the grisaille technique.

The grisaille technique primarily makes use of different shades of gray for a monochromatic, more dramatic effect. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the painting is the use of subtle tones of the only one color to depict the entire scene.

An old woman carrying a cat is seen smoking an older man’s pipe, which he carries close enough for the woman to take a puff. Another old man who is partly hidden behind the old woman is seen tapping her shoulder, while a boy patting a dog is seen behind the old man with the pipe.

Another significant element in the painting is the use of light. The old man with the pipe carries a lamp on his other hand which lights his face quite clearly, as well as his hands and also the old woman’s face. The light that the lamp gives off makes it possible to see the finer details of the painting such as the old man’s thick beard; the old woman’s wrinkled face and also their soiled hands.

The crescent moon on the upper left corner of the painting also makes wise use of light in the painting itself, adding more flair and making the otherwise dull night more dramatic. Art enthusiasts believe that Adriaen van de Venne’s Moralizing Scene with an Old Woman and a Man is one of his works which makes the best use of light to highlight the features of the subjects on his painting.

True to Adriaen van de Venne’s certain quality of painting scenes that depict normal people in their daily routine in a satirical, often symbolic light to warn against a number of unpleasant behavior. The particular painting might be suggestive of this particular characteristic; however, one cannot derive an absolute notion as to what the painting specifically depicts.

Only inferences may be derived from the said painting as to which “immorality” it may warn people against, owing to the seemingly innocent act of the old woman smoking an old man’s pipe. Perhaps it talks about the immoral behavior that both the old man and woman exhibit especially during the period it was painted.

The old woman smoking the pipe may suggest her unfounded extravagance, while the old man offering his pipe may suggest his unclear intentions for the woman. The man tapping the woman in the background may perhaps be suggesting that the woman should not be smoking from somebody else’s pipe in the first place while the child petting the dog provides a great contrast with the immoral behavior going on in the foreground.

Personally the grisaille technique is not one of my favorite painting styles because of its subdued and monochromatic colors; however, having this particular painting of Adriaen van de Venne hung as part of my collection will surely be a delight because it will always serve as a reminder and a warning of the immorality that exists in society.

The artist’s real intentions behind the painting may no longer be discovered but how one looks at it and interprets it may hold different significant meanings for different people.

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