The subject of "As the old ones sing, so pipe the young ones", was one of the most popular in Jordaen's oeuvre. His first interpretation is of 1638 in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Antwerp (R.A. d'Hulst, Jacob Jordaens, 1982, p.167, fig. 137), which was engraved by Schelte à Bolswert (Holl. 293), followed by various versions, both by himself and by his studio in the following decades. The present picture is to be dated in the 1660's and is a variant of the picture signed and dated 1661, recorded in the collection of R. V. de Ramée, Roquebrune/Cap Martin, 1965 (photo in the RKD).
By using a well known proverb as subject matter, Jordaens followed Pieter Brueghel I, who was the first to paint a visual encyclopedia of proverbs in the picture of 1559 in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. As explained by M. Sullivan, "Brueghel's Proverbs: Art and Audience in the Northern Renaissance" in Art Journal, 1991, pp.431/66, Brueghel was influenced by Erasmus, for whom proverbs was a legitimate field of humanist study. Other writers followed, for instance Jacob Cats in his Spieghel van den Ouden en den Nieuwen Tijdt, 1632, where proverbs are treated and their moralizing meaning explained along Calvinist thinking at the time. As such "As the old ones sing, so pipe the young ones" is explained in that parents should set a proper example to their children. Jordaens, who turned to Protestantism late in his life, but who had married the daughter of the Protestant painter Adam van Noort, was certainly inspired by Cats, when taking up the present subject.
As pointed out by K. Nelson, "Jacob Jordaens: Family Portraits" in Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 1989, p.112, Jordaens chose to depict the subject as a family reunion, using members of his own family as models for the main protagonists. Thus the figure of the grandfather in the centre, can be identified as the artist's father-in-law, Adam van Noort, for which there is the preliminary drawing in the Boymans-Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam. Thus, Jordaens illustrated the subject literally: the old generation sing, and the younger ones play the flute. He substitutes the word piepen (=pipe) to pypen (=playing the flute). Thus Jordaens creates an atmosphere of good hearted and joyous festivity, in which the moralizing ideas are layered within the scene. The glasses of the grandfather, the parrot and the jester are important elements in transmitting the implications of the proverb.