Battle Between Carnival and Lent

Jan Miense Molenaer (Dutch, about 1610-1668)

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This wild brawl pits a mob of peasants at left, armed with food and cooking implements, against a similarly equipped pack of monks and priests on the right. Peasants brandish skewered chickens and a sausage against a monk swinging a bundle of dried codfish. These rowdy combatants personify Carnival and Lent. Mock battles between them—symbolizing the struggle between excess and abstinence—often formed part of the popular Carnival celebrations that preceded the start of Lent, traditionally a time of penitence and fasting in the Christian liturgical calendar.
Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Jan Miense Molenaer is best known as a genre painter who excelled in the depiction of comic subjects such as The Battle between Carnival and Lent, a wild brawl pitting excess against abstinence. The popular celebrations that heralded the forty days of Lent, when it was customary to abstain from eating meat, often featured mock battles between these traditional enemies.

In Molenaer's painting, Carnival is personified by Dutch peasants who wield a large sausage, skewered birds, a beer tankard, and assorted cooking implements as weapons. Lent is embodied by a mob of clerics, including a monk who swings a bundle of dried codfish. This work, which was originally paired with a similarly rude portrayal of a Twelfth Night celebration, criticizes the prevailing atmosphere of immorality and overindulgence associated with certain Roman Catholic feasts. The painting can also be understood as a political commentary referring to the ongoing struggle between Protestant Holland and the Catholic, Spanish-ruled southern Netherlands. The Spanish occupation of the south is suggested by the soldier in the foreground, who chokes a Dutch boy.

(Jack Kilgore & Co., New York).
(Otto Naumann, New York), in 1997.{1}
(Hall & Knight, Ltd., London and New York), by 1998;{2}
Purchased by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, in 1998 (1998.96).
{1} See entry in the exhibition catalogue Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Golden Age (Raleigh: North Carolina Museum of Art, 2002), cat. no. 18.
{2} See invoice from Hall & Knight dated 2 June 1998, in the IMA Historical File (1998.96).

Object Information

Jan Miense Molenaer (Dutch, about 1610-1668)
creation date
about 1633-1634
oil on panel
16 x 21-3/4 in. (panel)
22-1/2 x 28-1/4 x 1-1/2 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Purchased in honor of A. Ian Fraser, with additional funding provided by the David L. Chambers, Jr. Fund for Dutch and Flemish Art, the Dr. V.K. Stoelting Art Fund, and Mrs. Jane W. Myers
Public Domain
European Painting and Sculpture Before 1800

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