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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fashioning identity : the Jan de Wasser prints and the Burgher class Vanhaelen, Engeline Christine


In the mid-seventeenth century, printers in the city of Amsterdam began to publish and disseminate prints which depicted, with images and words, the fictional story of Jan de Wasser. Jan de Wasser is a hen-pecked husband: his wife Griet wears the pants in their household, and forces Jan to carry out numerous domestic tasks. In this way, Jan takes on the prescribed role of the seventeenth-century Dutch housewife. The Jan de Wasser prints became extremely popular with the Dutch public: numerous printers put out their own versions of the story, and the prints maintained their popularity until the beginning of the twentieth century. This thesis seeks to explore the complex relationship between the Jan de Wasser prints and their mainly middle class Dutch audience, within the social and cultural context of seventeenth-century Amsterdam. Taking the prints themselves as a starting point for this study, I have analyzed the forms of the prints: their layout, images and texts, for insights as to how they would have been understood by a seventeenth-century public. The Jan de Wasser prints draw on previous cultural traditions and transform these traditions by investing them with domestic and didactic meanings. As the prints were issued by different printers, they were edited, reworked and injected with new uses and new meanings. Because of their production, contradictory meanings coexist within the forms. The themes of the prints link them to concepts of marriage, women's roles, the education of children and the importance of the home and family which were being reworked in the late seventeenth century. This thesis will examine connections between the Jan de Wasser prints and shifting understandings of the importance of domestic life in defining both the individual and the nation. The contradictory meanings inherent in the prints reveal the struggle involved in redefining these issues. While they present the reader with the dominant ideologies of the day, the prints also retain vestiges of previous ways of life. In the final analysis, the conflicting meanings of the Jan de Wasser prints allow for various readings and uses of the prints. The cultural consumption of the prints indicates a range of subject positions which were possible in the social and cultural context of seventeenth-century Amsterdam. Thus the Jan de Wasser prints played an important role in constructing middleclass identity at this historical moment.

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