Trivium Art History
Judith Leyster
Jolly Toper, 1629 — Judith Leyster,

Jolly Toper

Judith Leyster, 1629

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89 cm85 cm

To the modern eye, Judith Leyster's Jolly Toper is a strange painting. While Leyster painted many happy people at the bottle, this jovial fellow stands out. His face is enlarged and knowing, he's a caricature with tiny arms — an inside joke. 

And sure enough, in the Netherlanders, in the 17th century, he was a joke. Our Jolly Toper was better known as Peeckelhaeringh, a Dutch word for 'Pickled Herring'. Peeckelhaeringh was an immensely popular jester, whose drunken antics were the themes of comedy plays. The Toper's gesture, raising his jug to show that his drink is empty, was known as a Kannenkijker, 'Jug-Looker' — a symbol that the show was over, time to go home and sleep it off.

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