There is much more than meets the eye to this Dutch painting from the second half of the 17th century. This apparently innocent representation of a man holding a hen actually stood for a lustful man, a “hennentaster” in Dutch. Its composition goes back to a painting by Hendrick Bloemaert, which was engraved by his half-brother Cornelis II. Both date from circa 1625/1630.
About our painting
This painting represents a not so innocent subject: a “hennentaster” which during the 17th century stood for a horny, grabby man.
Our composition goes back to an engraving by Cornelis Bloemaert II, made in reverse after a painting by Hedrick Bloemaert. That painting was sold at Sotheby’s London in 2016. The British Museum in London holds a good example of the engraving by Cornelis II. It also has the drawing that Hendrick Bloemaert specially made to be engraved by his half-brother Cornelis II. All three date circa 1625 – 1630.
The Pushkin Museum of Moscow has a drawing which, as our painting, must date from the second half of the 17th century.
Under the engraving by Cornelis Bloemaert II stands the following sexually inspired Dutch text:
"Siet hoe den ouden voelt het hoen, / Een droge Queen wil oock wat doen.”
That means “See how the old man feels the chicken, / A dry old infertile woman also wants to do someting.” Indeed, in old Dutch a “queen” does not have the same meaning as in English; it refers to an old infecunt woman.
Originally a so-called “hen-finger” was the wife of a farmer who feels a hen from beyond to see if it is still able to lay eggs. Caring for poultry was seen as women’s work. During the 16th and 17th century our representation of a man groping a hen stood for a voluptuous lecher. Strangely enough by the 18th century a so-called “hen-finger” lost that significance: it then solely stood for an unmanly slipper hero carrying out household jobs for his bossy wife. I shoud mention that this connotation did already exist in previous centuries, but that the other meaning of the excited man obviously was more popular.