The Little Alms Collector
The subject of this work was only recently identified satisfactorily as a Pentecostal procession.
The potted plant, a cardamine pratensis, whose flower a young child sitting on a railing offers to the alms collector, is the key to this painting. This common meadow plant, which was unlikely to be depicted as an ornamental plant, is called pinksterbloem in Dutch. The same name, which means “May flower”, is given to the little girl at the head of the processions organised by Catholics on this festival day.
The hesitation over what title to give to this work stems from the fact that Steen produced a parody of the traditional procession. The little girl dressed as a bride and crowned with flowers who walked the streets collecting alms is replaced by a young boy wearing a cap with a paper flower pinned to it.
All Steen’s virtuosity can be seen in this picture: his conveying of the particular textures of the different materials; the refinement of the vivid, rich, intense colours; and the composition organised according to a complex network of geometric lines.