Frans Hals is often called 'the master of the laugh'. More than any other painter in the Golden Age he was able to bring a vitality to his portraits that made it appear as if his models could just step out of the past into the present. Hals was one of the few painters in the seventeenth century who dared portray his figures - often common folk - with a hearty laugh and bared teeth. Merriment and jokes are prominent features in his genre paintings; artists in the Golden Age frequently used it in their work. Now - centuries later - the visual jokes are harder to fathom. A great deal of new research into the field has been carried out, particularly in the last twenty years, and we are beginning to get an idea of the full extent of seventeenth-century humour.