Blakely and Westermann Reflection

Jan Miense Molenaer’s painting, “Family Visiting a School”, illustrates a dynamic scene dominated by youthful chaos. The unruly children command the majority of the painting; however, their childishness is contrasted by the middle-class family entering the room. This juxtaposition demonstrates how the Dutch used serious and comic modes to represent Dutch values such as education. Mariet Westermann remarks on serious and comic modes: “Serious versions usually present positive ideals that may (but need not) be closer to the experience of their middle-class viewers, and comic images offer negative versions of proper social situations” (Westermann 122). The family is depicted in a serious fashion, while the rest of the school is comically portrayed. Education was an important Dutch national identity, and in the Calvinism, parents were specifically responsible for their children’s religious upbringing. Thus, the refined family serves as a model for parents. Discipline and poise, two important values, are shown in the family’s attitude. The viewer is inspired to act in an upright manner, as misbehavior is characterized as “lower-class”.  

On the other side of the painting, the teacher is unsuccessfully attempting to reprimand the students with corporal punishment. The children are depicted wildly as they are running amuck. To discourage the behavior seen in the painting, the Dutch created numerous creatures to scare children from participating in disruptive behavior like running. If Blakely were analyzing this painting, she would surely connect it to Dutch folklore creatures such as Zwarte Hans (Black Hans) or Zwarte Hand (Black Hand). These creatures were said to punish naughty children, and their entire image was crafted with the intention of instilling fear. The use of the word black in these characters’ names was no accident as the color black was associated with darkness and sometimes even the Devil. It can be argued that this sinister association with the color black translated into Dutch reality. Blakely remarks on this: “[…] some looking in the real world for human types with which to associate the black monsters in the world of the imagination are drawn to comparisons using black people” (Blakely 63).

Ultimately, the two authors’ viewpoints present a unique way to understand this painting and Dutch identity. Westermann draws on Dutch values such as education and poise, while Blakely uses folklore to explain discipline and how folklore influences reality.

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One thought on “Blakely and Westermann Reflection

  1. I really liked how you connected both pieces of writing by describing how Blakely would analyze the painting depicted in Westermann’s book. It’s horrifying to hear about when you mentioned how they used the word black to describe characters in an attempt to scare children, but sadly this was the brutal reality of Dutch culture. It is evident through the image that posture and manners are very important in Dutch society, and seeing how it was contrasted with the word “black” to scare the children if they were misbehaving is extremely derogatory. Hearing stories like these show how ingrained racism was in Dutch culture. I think innuendos like these also play a large factor in how racism was taught and how ignorance is so common, specifically in children. In my post I talked about the lack of education on slavery which also similarly contributes to this ignorance, as citizens often see slavery as an outside matter, not something that happened in their own country.

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