Jean-Baptiste GREUZE, Epiphany [Le gâteau des rois] 1774
Jean-Baptiste Greuze was one of Europe’s first celebrity painters. He built a reputation on instructive paintings that covered the edifying themes of the education of children, the virtues of a simple, provincial family life, and the heroism of everyday activities. Epiphany depicts a peasant family participating in the annual celebration of the gateau de roi (a Catholic feast held each year on the 6th of January), where the children search for a bean hidden in the king’s cake, the finder of which will become king for the day. Just as the philosophers Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were asking the country’s bourgeoisie to rid themselves of the distractions and trappings of civilisation – to return to nature and a moral, family life – Greuze’s Epiphany makes clear the simple (if completely illusory) pleasures of the honest, peasant family, uncorrupted by the temptations of modern, bourgeois life.