Battle Between Carnival and Lent

Creation date
oil on panel
16 x 21-3/4 in.
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
Accession number
Currently On View In
William C. Griffith Jr. and Carolyn C. Griffith Gallery - H215

This wild brawl pits a mob of peasants, armed with food and cooking implements, against a similarly equipped pack of monks and priests. Peasants brandish skewered chickens and a sausage against a monk who swings 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 popular celebrations that heralded the start of Lent.

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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.