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6 Paintings That Tell A Lot About the Past

Many famous paintings hide much more in themselves than you expect to see. On their canvases, artists manage to reliably show the events of the past, ancient traditions and people’s way of life. 

We know famous paintings that tell more about people’s lives in the past than history books.

“The Tulip Folly” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Nowadays tulips are one of the symbols of the Netherlands. They were brought into the country only in the middle of the 16th century, and the early stage in the development of tulip growing was associated with an unreasonable rise in prices, and later this led to a crisis. It got to the point that, having sold several rare bulbs, the merchant could save up for a house in Amsterdam.

In 1636-1637, tulips were worth unthinkable money, and they were trampled to stabilize prices after a sharp market collapse. The supply exceeded demand, which is why the cost of bulbs fell dozens of times.

“The Feast of Saint Nicholas” by Jan Steen

In this lively and positive picture, you can see many details of everyday life and features of the celebration of St. Nicholas Day. At night, the children left their shoes near the fireplace, and in the morning they found gifts and treats in them. But one boy is crying: he behaved badly, and there are rods in his shoe.

The eldest son points the younger to the chimney through which Saint Nicholas brings gifts. Jan Steen also painted many traditional presents: cockerels on a stick, gingerbread, nuts, oranges and a loaf. One of the boys received as a gift a ball and a golf club, which was used to play on the frozen canals in winter.

“Till Death Do Us Part” by Edmund Blair Leighton

The painting with the characteristic title “Till Death Do Us Part” seems to depict an ordinary wedding, and its title is the oath of the newlyweds. But once you look at the difference in the ages of the spouses and the faces of the guests, it becomes clear that this is a marriage of convenience.

In the past, this was pervasive. As a rule, the bride’s parents chose a wealthier husband for her, and often it turned out to be an elderly man who had managed to accumulate capital.

“The Hunters in the Snow”, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

In the 16th century, Europe experienced the second phase of the Little Ice Age, one of the coldest times in history. And in the 1560s, when this Pieter painted the picture, there was a noticeable decrease in temperature, which also affected food supplies. In the center of the plot are exhausted hunters who carry modest prey. To the left, the peasants lit a fire to smoke the pork carcass, which traditionally took place in December.

Due to severe frosts, the rivers froze so much that people opened trading floors on them. And, of course, ice skating became the main winter pastime. You can see a number of games that locals are passionate about: the icestock (the progenitor of curling) and the ball and club competition, similar to modern hockey.

“Nameless and Friendless” by Emily Mary Osborn

The work of English artist Emily Mary Osborn chronicles the difficult life of women in Victorian England. According to the plot, a young girl tries to sell her painting in a local shop, but is faced with obvious neglect. This is evident from her drooping gaze, hand movements and the fact that the lady was not even asked to sit down.

According to the girl’s mourning dress, one can assume that she has recently become an orphan. Now she independently needs to provide for herself and her younger brother, and the sale of paintings is the only possible source of income. But no matter how good the work is, it is unlikely that the artist will get anything for it. At the same time, the interested look of a young man on a stepladder hints that the picture deserves attention.

“The Potato Eaters” by Vincent Van Gogh

The Potato Eaters is one of the early works of Van Gogh, which allows you to learn more about the lives of ordinary people. The scene was copied from the De Groot family’s everyday dinner. They worked all day in the field, and before going to bed they gathered at the table, eating potatoes.

Gray tones emphasize the poverty of the environment. One of the men is sitting in outerwear, which means that the room is cold. The coarse features of the faces that look like potatoes are also no coincidence. This is how the artist shows the main component of the life of a simple family: they are only busy with planting potatoes, digging them out, and then eating.