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This wedge of curtain, in reality a costly hand-woven tapestry, bears a certain resemblance to the ones seen in Vermeer's Art of Painting. A detail of the curtain of the Allegory of Faith that shows two vertically aligned medallions, one with a fleur-de-lys and another above with a simple, four-lobed flower form, is comparable to the same detail in the present work, suggesting that the artist may have used the same tapestry more than once.
As in the other pictures by Vermeer, the curtain functions as a so-called repoussoir devise, which serves to heighten the illusion of three-dimensional space by placing a large figure or object in the immediate right-hand foreground.
While the curtain does introduce a note of sensuality in the rectilinear scheme of the composition, it fails to create a measurable sensation of depth. The floral pattern gives the impression of a detached exercise of brushwork unrelated to the form and substance of the weightless curtain. Even the presence of the hallmark pointillés, or spherical dots of light-colored paint meant to imitate an optical effect of the camera obscura, seem to be scattered randomly with scarce conviction.
In fact, this painting is frequently indicated as one of the artist's final pictures and not a few writers perceive signs of artistic decline, which was presumably brought on by economic and personal hardships due to the war with France. Vermeer died a few years after he presumably depicted the present work and left his beloved wife Catharina with 11 children and enormous financial debt.
This low-life brothel picture by Dirck van Baburen most likely belonged to Vermeer's mother-in-law, Maria Thins, who had patrician connections in Delft and a discreet art collection of the so-called Utrecht Caravaggists.
It portrays a young female lutenist, who is a prostitute, a bearded man, who is the client and an older woman, who is a procuress. The latter points to her opened hand soliciting payment. Although these ribald low-life subjects had lost some of their appeal in the late 17th century, Vermeer seems to have appreciated Van Baburen's pictures not only as a way of introducing comments on the scenes which were represented in his own paintings, but for their technical mastery as well. Van Baburen's Procuress has led some critics to interpret the seated musician's gaze as an invitation to profane love, but is more likely that her virginal, often employed as a symbol of harmony, had associations with a more elevated form of love. Thus, the presence of the Van Baburen establishes a thematic contrast between the uncontrolled libido of the bordello scene and the virginal music associated with harmony and moderation.
Van Baburen's painting is now housed in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and is the only object which materially links us to Vermeer's world other than his surviving 37 paintings. It also appeared in Vermeer's earlier Concert and seems to have a similar thematic function as in the present work even though the golden Italianate frame has replaced the somber ebony one of the Concert version.
This blue curtain is presumably made of a light, semi-transparent material. What might be taken for dark blue fringe along its lower border is created by the form of the window frame behind it. If this is true, either the light that filters through the upper part of the curtain is very weak, or the rather summary rendering of the passage gives rise to the idea that it is one of the many passages that Vermeer did not bring to completion. A blue curtain appears in the artist's earlier The Glass of Wine.
To the left of the curtain, it is possible to make out a slight shift in tone on the lower part of the shadowed side wall which in a recent examination of the picture has been revealed to be a pentimento created by dark picture frame which once hung on that part of the wall, but was painted out by the painter.
The young musician wears a formal silk multi-colored garment called a tabbaard, a combination of a stiffened gown and a matching bodice called a tabbaardslijft. These bodices were heavily boned making them very uncomfortable and were thus worn only on formal occasions.
Even to the untrained eye, the mass of unruly folds of the blue gown appears to be painted quite crudely and can hardly compare with the delicately rendered silk gown in this work's counterpart, A Lady Standing at a Virginal.
Noting the lack of refinement of the gown's blue overskirt, some writers perceive a decline in Vermeer's artistic powers. However, since the same painting features various passages of exquisite painting technique, such as the leaning viola da gamba and the marbleized surface of the virginal, it was possilby left unfinished.
The lids on the virginal of A Lady Seated at a Virginal and the Lady Standing at a Virginal both display pastoral landscapes which were frequently associated with the beauty of women or idyllic lovemaking. Although they appear quite normal as regards to their perspective geometry, in truth they are most unusual.
When the landscape is reconstructed as if it were viewed frontally, it appears incorrectly stretched out. The architect Philip Steadman observed that such images appear to be related to those anamorphic landscapes that only look realistic when seen very obliquely. They are, in Steadman's opinion, like those puzzle pictures often concealing politically subversive or pornographic subjects, which became popular from the 17th century, such as the skull in Holbein's The Ambassadors, which is one of the best-known examples. The explanation for these anamorphoses might be that Vermeer traced the virginal or studied their images as would appear on the screen of a camera obscura and found them disturbingly foreshortened. He therefore decided to fill in the painted lid ignoring the steep perspective of the instrument. Indeed, viewers are generally undisturbed by this mild deception: before Steadman made his observation, no one had ever remarked on it.
The sheet of music is so highly stylized that only a few notes can be made out. Analogous works by Vermeer's colleagues often show sheet music so meticulously rendered that the score can be read.
It is not known if Vermeer was a practicing musician or even the level of his knowledge of music matters, but documents reveal that his grandfather was a musician and had owned more than one musical instrument.
The viola da gamba, or viol, makes four minor, but iconographically significant, appearances in Vermeer's musical theme paintings: The Music Lesson, the Woman with a Lute, the Concert and Lady Seated at a Virginal. Never once does he portray it being played. In all four paintings it remains quietly unattended, perhaps meant to suggest the unseen presence of someone who will gather it up and make music.
Together with the lute, the viola da gamba is probably the most frequently represented instrument throughout the centuries, whether in painting, sculpture or miniature. Its deep resonance and unusual stature were typically associated with the male while the virginal with the female.
Here, the instrument has particular prominence, and from a technical point of view, it is a tour de force of observation and pictorial synthesis. Its complicated shape is particularly challenging to render correctly especially when viewed from an oblique angle as the case in the present work. Even though this painting fails to compete with other late works, it nonetheless contains some finely painted passages worthy of the artist's best works. For those who are familiar with the personal tragedy of Vermeer's final years when this work was being completed, it cannot help but resonate with pathos.
Although none of the sitters of Vermeer's paintings have ever been identified, some seem to reappear, and art writers often suspect that they were members of the artist's family circle. Curiously, then seated musician in the present work bears a slight resemblance to the young musician in Gerrit Dou's composition of some years earlier which no doubt provided Vermeer with the direct inspiration for the present work. Although Vermeer's girl smiles benignly towards the viewer, it is difficult to comprehend her thoughts and emotions. While her face is modeled with daring simplicity and extraordinary delicacy, the shape of her lips and eyes is so conventionally that the resulting doll-like countenance may induce the observer to search elsewhere in the painting for deeper satisfaction.
Even though Vermeer's late works have been judged negatively, they contain some of the most exquisite details that he painted. Vermeer critics have singled out the daring calligraphic brushwork used to portray the fake marbling of the virginal' side panel, a feat of technical economy.
Vermeer first laid down two rectangles of unmodulated color, the upper a warm brown and the lower a gray below. Once dry, two or three mixtures of fluid gray were applied with quick, spontaneous brushwork to draw the marble's veins. The application of paint is so free that it recalls the almost anarchic spontaneity of Jakuchu's ink drawings of birds and vegetables, but at the same time it evokes the visual impression of veined marble. One author has compared the effect to Jackson Pollock's drip paintings.
The puffy linen sleeve of the young musician's elegant attire is the most striking passages of the present work. Even though the tuck and fold of the candid white fabric are not clearly defined, its "feel" is perfectly rendered—as writers have put it, suggested rather than described. The bold yet controlled brushwork is worthy of the best 20th-century abstract painter. The white paint, the ubiquitous lead white, is laid on fluidly with a pointed brush. In Vermeer's time, the Dutch were renowned producers of lead white, the only stable white pigment available to oil painters.
Prepared artificially since the earliest historical times and used until the 19th century, lead white is warm and semi-opaque. It possesses outstanding brushing qualities and mixes well with every color on the artist's palette. As the name lead white suggests, it is a by-product of lead, and whatever the form of manufacture used, the purity of the color depends on the purity of the lead. Purifying processes greatly increase the cost of the product.
Lead white has always been one of the most important pigments in many painting techniques. In the 1620s, the Dutch greatly increased the availability of lead white and lowered the costs with the development of the so-called "stack process" which had already been described in ancient sources by Theophrastus, Pliny the Elder and Vitruvius.
In the Dutch stack process strips of lead were first rolled up into spirals and placed in closed earthenware jars containing acetic acid. These pots were then buried under tanner's bark or dung; the heat evolved by fermentation aids in the formation of white lead through an increase of carbonic acid. Very soon a thin coat of the basic lead carbonate forms. This product was scraped off, dried and washed to free it from any impurities.
Often, this lead corrosion product on the plates took the form of thick, curling crusts or scalloped flakes, earning the trade name of schulp white, or flake white which was held as the best quality available. A cheaper mixture of lead white extended with chalk, very common in the Dutch industry, may be the product known as lootwit. Lootwit served for less demanding applications, for example in grounds, and was used also for underpaint or layers in which translucency was required. The addition of chalk to lead white reduces its opacity when used in oil. Lead white is extremely poisonous and must be handled with care.
The young girl's arms have been remarked on by different writers. Some perceive evidence of technical decline. For example, the art historian Albert Blankert unceremoniously dubbed them "pig trotters." Others, however, note one of the peculiar trademarks of Vermeer's concept of painting, the so-called "optic way," a term coined by Vermeer writer Lawrence Gowing.
Gowing advanced that the basis of the artist's mature style was his commitment to optical fidelity, perhaps bolstered by the use of the camera obscura, a sort of precursor of the modern photographic camera. In Gowing's words, the artist's brand of description "is always exactly adequate, always completely and effortlessly in terms of light. Vermeer seems almost not to care, or not even to know, what it is that he is painting. What do men call this wedge of light? A nose? A finger? What do we know of its shape? To Vermeer none of this matters, the conceptual world of names and knowledge is forgotten, nothing concerns him but what is visible, the tone, the wedge of light."
Along the same lines, Kenneth Clark was puzzled by Vermeer's "uncannily true sense of tone'" deployed with an "almost inhuman detachment." It is this truth to tonality—not any minute attention to detail—that gives the paintings the "photographic" quality that has fascinated photographers since the mid-19th century and filmmakers in the 20th century.
Vermeer writers have variously explained the unsettling facture of the huge, Italianate frame that adorns The Procuress by Dirck van Baburen. Vermeer's rendering fails to convey the gleam or color of a gilt frame. The details of its intricate carving have been so radically abstracted that the underlying motif is undecipherable. Fascinating as they may be, the bits and pieces of ochre paint conjure up more the "dots" and "dashes" of Morse code than a finely carved frame.
Some writers prefer not to judge the object's treatment as faulty or incomplete but as an intentional stylistic device. However, even if in his final pictures Vermeer deliberately did abstract form to a surprising degree, the brilliantly handled frames in The Guitar Player and the probable pendant of the present work (Lady Standing at a Virginal) leave little doubt that the frame in question may not reflect Vermeer's initial intentions.
While it is true that on close inspection the frames of The Guitar Player and the Lady Standing at a Virginals are executed with an analogous shorthand of flecks and dabs of thick and thin paint, their optical and material qualities are exalted rather than concealed. One has the sensation that no amount of accuracy or descriptive detail could evoke the sensation of a shiny gilt frame more than these. By comparison, the frame of the Lady Seated at a Virginal conveys a sort of bizarre lifelessness.
The questionable quality of the frame, however, can be easily explained by the fact that the picture was not completely finished. Various passages in this work evidence technical weakness: the muddy yellowish gown and greenish-blue silk overskirt. Both passages appear blocked in with minimal attention. Other passages, instead, the viola da gamba, for example, are highly abstracted yet astoundingly successful in conveying its form, color, texture and the sensation of natural light. The disparity between the highly finished areas and the crudity of others leaves no doubt either that the painting is either unfinished or not is in an optimal state of conservation.
(Click here to access all of Vermeer's paintings in their frames).
Vermeer writers have variously explained the unsettling facture of the huge, Italianate frame that adorns The Procuress by Dirck van Baburen. Seen from reproduction or from life, Vermeer's rendering fails to convey the gleam or color of a gilt frame. The details of its intricate carving have been so radically abstracted that the underlying motif is undecipherable. Fascinating as they may be, the bits and pieces of ochre paint conjure up more the "dots" and "dashes" of Morse code than a finely carved frame.
Some writers prefer not to judge the object's treatment as faulty or incomplete but as an intentional stylistic device. However, even if in his final pictures Vermeer deliberately did abstract form to a surprising degree, the frames in The Guitar Player and the probable pendant of the present work (Lady Standing at a Virginal) leave little doubt that the frame in question may not reflect Vermeer's initial intentions.
While it is true that on close inspection the frames of The Guitar Player and the Lady Standing at a Virginals are executed with an analogous shorthand of flecks and dabs of thick and thin paint, their optical and material qualities are exalted rather than concealed. One has the sensation that no amount of accuracy or descriptive detail could evoke the sensation of a gilt frame more than these. By comparison the frame of the Lady Seated at a Virginal conveys a sort of bizarre lifelessness.
The questionable quality of the frame can be easily explained by the fact that the picture was not completely finished. Various passages betray technical weakness: the muddy yellowish gown and greenish-blue silk overskirt. Both passages appear blocked in with minimal attention. Other passages, instead, the viol da gamba for example, are highly abstracted yet astoundingly successful in conveying its form, color, texture and the sensation of natural light.
Of all the paintings by Vermeer, the yellowish skirt is one of the least attractive passages, for both its bizarre calligraphic modeling and mute yellow/brownish color. A recent technical examination of a sample taken from the skirt suggests the presence of a yellow lake pigment. A lake pigment is made by precipitating a dye with an inert binder in order give it bulk for the purpose of painting. Unlike vermilion, ultramarine and other pigments made from ground minerals, lake pigments are derived from organic substances. Lakes are inherently transparent and were ubiquitously used by painters as glazes, that is, thin layers of transparent paint laid over a lower layer of opaque painting meant to alter the lower's depth or color without changing its tonal values. Like many other seventeenth-century Dutch painters, Vermeer used lakes to enrich shadow areas and make dull or dark colors more vivid, despite being light-sensitive and liable to fade.
A common source for yellow lake paint was the weld plant, a plant is rich in luteolin, a flavonoid that produces a bright yellow dye. Dye from weld, which is still used in some parts of the world, serves equally for linen, wool and silk. However, the coloring component could also be obtained from shearings of dyed cloth or other textile waste rather than the raw materials themselves.
The paint cross-section removed from the skirt reveals particles of bone black, red earth and yellow pigments. Today, conservators believe that the unattractive yellow is largely due to overpaint and discolored varnish. The presence of a little bone black combined with the yellow lake would have made the underskirt skirt originally a slightly greenish-yellow, a color which, in the opinion of the conservators, would have blended well with the blue/green overskirt.
In a recent inspection of the painting, an infrared reflectogram revealed a mirror or frame hung on the wall above the virginal's lid, which Vermeer later painted over. It can be barely noticed by a tell-tale diagonal band of slightly darker gray.
Despite their apparent ordinariness, the background walls in Vermeer's interiors play a key role in determining the intensity of incoming light and the predominant atmosphere of the pictured scene. However, creating the illusion of light raking across the surface of a flat plaster wall with paint is one of great technical difficultly, and a few of Vermeer's walls, such as those of The Milkmaid or The Music Lesson, are among the most evocative passages in all of Dutch painting. One has the sensation that Vermeer's colleagues thought of these walls ad necessary fillers and relied largely on simple formulas to paint them while Vermeer based his renditions on intense observation.
In the simplest of terms, to create the illusion of raking light, the painter must vary not only the tonal values (level of brightness from white to black: think of a black and white photograph) but the hues (actual color) of their paint as well. In those pictures that represent strong light streaming through the side window, the parts of the wall closer to the source of light will be lighter and cooler (slightly bluish) while those farther away become proportionately darker and warmer (neutral gray) The deepest shadows must be painted with relatively warm grays.
In the present picture, the visible side window is tightly closed causing the background to be very dim. We can reasonably assume that the light that shines on the viola da gamba and the figure enters an unseen second window closer to the point of view of the painter and, hence, the spectator. Although the light that illuminates the foreground objects is fairly bright it is much weakened by the time it reaches the background wall: at least, this is what Vermeer seems to want to tell us. In any case, the lighting of the picture is barely coherent and the overall effect is one of tired drabness, rather than mystery. Rather than creating a convincing illusion of a pure white wall cast in deep shadow, the mute medium-dark grays fail to create a convincing illusion of a pure white wall cast in deep shadow this passage appears little more than a loosely applied layer of nondescript, drab gray paint.
But it may be that the weakness of the background wall is due to the fact that the painting is not completely finished as more than one specialist has asserted. In fact, on close inspection it can be clearly seen that the brushmarks embedded deep into the paint of the wall to the right of the figure are unusually large and briskly applied, a technique which contrasts with the delicate brush handling of the finished areas, such as the viola da gamba and virginal, rendered in requisite detail and fresh coloring. Perhaps the artist had only roughed in the background areas in an early stage of the painting process to help him judge the tonal and color relationships of the remaining areas of the painting. Painters in Vermeer's time did not work up the entirety of their compositons gradually as painters of today are want to do but develop them in a piecemeal fashion, completing each passage within clearly delimited areas.
Inscribed at left below the upper edge of the virginal: IVMeer (IVM in ligature).
(Click here to access a complete study of Vermeer's signatures.)
Albert Blankert, Vermeer: 1632–1675, 1975
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., (The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer, London, 2000
Walter Liedtke, Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, New York, 2008
Wayne Franits, Vermeer, 2015
(Click here to access a complete study of the dates of Vermeer's paintings).
The fine, plain-weave linen support has a thread count of 14 x 14 per cm². The original tacking edges have been removed. Cusping is visible along top and bottom and very faintly along both sides. The support has been lined. The double ground consists of a pale gray beneath a pale, warm gray buff. The first layer contains lead white, chalk and charcoal black; the second contains lead white, chalk, and a red-brown earth.
The flesh color was painted with green earth over a pink layer; the shadows with two additional layers, a mixture containing green earth followed by a deep red shadow. The blue upholstery was underpainted with a gray-blue layer; the highlights were modeled with a blue, then a pale blue layer and the shadows with gray. The outlines of the tiles at the- bottom of the wall were scratched in the wet paint. A pinhole by which Vermeer marked the vanishing point is visible in the paint layer on the sleeve of the woman's dress.
There is some abrasion in the three paintings within the painting, in the lady's right cheek and the dark blue of her tunic, and in the blue upholstery. The ultramarine pigment in the darker blues of the chair has deteriorated.
* Johannes Vermeer (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art and Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis - Washington and The Hague, 1995, edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.)
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(Click here to access a complete, sortable list of the exhibitions of Vermeer's paintings).
(Click here to access all of Vermeer's paintings in scale).
In 17th-century Netherlands, both the virginal (also called virginals) and the clavichord were referred to as clavecijn, clavesingel or clavecimbael, which understandably leads to confusion. The virginal portrayed in Vermeer's painting is of the muselar type. Because the keyboard is fairly high up, it was not unusual to play standing; the seated lady is not ergonomically sound because her visible elbows are lower than her hands.
The origin of the word virginal is obscure but it is usually linked to the fact that the instrument was played by young women. In the late 16th and early 17th century, muselar virginals were appreciated for their unique sound quality. They were made only in Northern Europe.
The placing of the keyboard to the right enables the playing mechanism to create a rich and full sound by plucking the strings right in the middle of their sounding length but this places the action for the left hand in the exact middle of the highly resonant soundboard. This occasionally results in inevitable clicks, faithfully amplified by the soundboard and make rapid left-hand scales somewhat problematic. In addition to the mechanical noise, the central plucking point in the bass notes makes rapid repetition difficult, because the motion of the still-sounding string interferes with the ability of the plectrum to connect again. A rather prejudiced 18th-century comment goes so far as to say that instruments "which have the keyboard on the right-hand side are good in the right hand, but grunt in the bass like young pigs."
Some virginals were mounted onto a self-fstanding box like the one in the present work. Other Dutch genre painters portrayed the box-like version which was set on a table.
The decorative designs on the tiles in this picture are difficult to make out since the dark blue paint (made of crushed lapis lazuli imported from Afghanistan) which Vermeer used to paint them has lightened considerably (the defect is particularly noticeable under the virginal). However, it would appear that there are two ships and two standing figures, perhaps the fishing Cupid seen in other paintings by Vermeer. This defect is common in paintings of the time and is known as ultramarine sickness. It is now believed that the fading is caused by deterioration of the binding medium rather than the blue pigment itself.
Female keyboard players were a popular subject in 17th-century Dutch art. Music making was often associated with love and at times with amorous seduction. In verses by Jacob Westerbaen we read: "learn to play the lute, the clavichord. The strings have the power to caress the heart." The virginal, however, had civilized connotations as well because it was habitually played by a woman in the context of family or musical gatherings, thus, being used most often by artists as a symbol of harmony and concord.
The unattended viola da gamba in the foreground further strengthens the association with harmony. The woman, like the male musician in Jacob Cats' well-known emblem "Quid Non Sentit Amor", plays her instrument while a second one lies unused. The emblem's text explains that the resonance of one lute echoes onto the other just as two hearts can resonate in harmony even if they are separated.
The remarkable similarity between this painting and Gerrit Dou's Woman at the Clavichord (c. 1665) demonstrates that Vermeer derived his composition from the work of the Leiden fijnschilder (fine painter), who was one of the most sought after and highly paid artists of the time. The pose, the pulled-back curtain, the viola da gamba and even the girls' faces have a great deal in common.
Artistic borrowing of successful motifs was quite common among Dutch painters who were always strained to produce enough works for the voracious art market. In the 17th century, intellectual property was an unknown concept and everyone could draw on the storerooms of tradition. However, the difference in execution between the two paintings can be easily discerned even at first glance. Dou spared no pain to render each and every detail with the utmost fidelity while Vermeer applies paint broadly. This technique suggests, rather than describes, form, texture and light. Vermeer improved on Dou's composition by moving the viewpoint closer to the subject, drawing the observer into closer contact with the girl who has just turned her head away from her music toward the spectator.
Although genre painters generally worked for the open market, they were not closed to collaboration with elite patrons who sometimes compensated leading artists with considerable sums. The present work may be an example of such practice. In particular, some writers have seen the influence of Diego Duarte on Vermeer's choice of subject.
We know that Duarte, an immensely wealthy Portuguese jeweler, banker, composer, organist and art collector from Antwerp, maintained contact Constantijn Huygens, who, like the sculptor Johan Larson, lived in The Hague. Larson possessed a tronie by Vermeer presumably bought on a trip to Delft in 1660.
However, Duarte's ties with the picture may have to do as much with artistic affinity as friendship. Duarte's father had a clavecin made for Huygens, and Duarte corresponded with Huygens about music. He also was an accomplished organist and composer. It is appropriate that Duarte's Vermeer represented in his inventory number 182 is "a small painting with a lady playing the clavecin, with accessories."
Vermeer's picture was valued at 150 guilders, not a great sum for a picture at the time when Gerrit Dou was able to get ten times that amount for a similarly sized painting.
Although Dutch music was considered rather conventional, a few musicians such as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck composed music of quality. He is noted for his compositions for the flute, virginal and organ. It is tempting to imagine the young girl playing one of Sweelink's delightful pieces such as Malle Symen "Silly Simon," a popular hit of the time.
Vermeer scholars have been unable to decide if this picture was intended as a pendant to the Lady Standing at a Virginal. The two pictures are almost precisely the same size; both represent a stylishly dressed young woman playing a virginal in an elegant setting. If hung side by side, the virginal would be placed back to back and the light airiness of one is complementary to the darkness of the other. This play between complementary values is characteristic of the Dutch pendant, and Dutch painters rarely lost the chance to cleverly investigate the underlying psychological and aesthetic diversities between similar subjects. In particular, the background paintings would seem to reinforce the complimentary nature of the pair. The standing woman is accompanied by a picture of a standing Cupid, which was presumably drawn from a popular emblem book of the time. The emblem encourages faithfulness in love. The seated woman who rests in front of a low-life scene may, instead, alludes to illicit lovemaking.
The theme of Sacred and Profane Love would have inevitably come to mind to an educated 17th-century Dutch viewer, trained to look moral meaning artfully concealed in apparently casual views of daily life. However, the two works differ in technique to such a degree that a few critics have dated the seated lady four years later than her presumed companion. We cannot rule out that they were simply variations on a same theme. In any case, destiny has it that after more than 300 years the two have once again been joined in the National Gallery of London.
Diego Duarte, an immensely wealthy Antwerp jeweler and banker, may have purchased this picture directly from Vermeer. We know that Duarte maintained contact with Holland through Constantijn Huygens, who, like the sculptor Johan Larson, lived in The Hague. Larson possessed a tronie by Vermeer presumably bought on a trip to Delft in 1660.
However, Duarte's ties with the picture may have to do as much with artistic affinity as friendship. Duarte's father had a clavecin made for Huygens, and Duarte corresponded with Huygens about music. He also was an accomplished organist and composer. With such musical interests, it is appropriate that Duarte's Vermeer represented in his inventory number 182 "a small painting with a lady playing the clavecin, with accessories."
The picture was valued at 150 guilders, a substantial but not exceptional sum for a picture at a time when Gerrit Dou was getting ten times that amount for a similarly sized painting.
Almande De Symmerman [236 KB] very likely Almande The Carpenter (anon.) from The Susanne van Soldt Manuscript (1599)
Malle Symen [236 KB] "Silly Simon"
(Jan Pzn. Sweelinck) from The Leningrad Manuscript (1646)
Courante Daphne [236 KB] The popular melody Daphne as a French "Courante" dance (anon.) also from The Leningrad Manuscript (1646)
* all three music files were kindly selected and performed for the Essential Vermeer website by Joop Klaassen, contributor to the Stichting Clavecimbel Genootschap Nederland.
The virginal is a kind of harpsichord. Mr Klaassen's muselar virginals were built by Louis van Emmerik, after the Ruckers virginals of 1611 in "Het Vleeshuis," a museum in Antwerp, Belgium. The muselar virginals have the keyboard on the right, and they have a richer sound than the spinet virginals, which have the keyboard on the left. The virginals in Vermeer's paintings are of the muselar type.
For more information on Vermeer and the virginal, click here.
The Viola da Gamba
The viol, or viola da gamba, has its early ancestors in medieval waisted fiddles and rebecs played like viols: with the instrument held downwards resting on the lap or between the knees and the bow held above the palm.
Iconographic evidence from the Renaissance period suggests that the viol was the result of applying the traditional Aragonese technique of rebec-playing to a new bowed instrument whose size and construction was similar to those of the vihuela de mano (a plucked instrument, similar to the guitar), so that the term "vihuela de arco" for such an instrument seems appropriate.
This bowed instrument quickly spread from Spain to Italy. The Italian instrument makers with their excellent craftsmanship developed the vihuela into the viol form, and the "viole grande" enjoyed lasting popularity at the European courts.
The most famous viol player in the 17th century was undoubtedly Sainte-Colombe who introduced the silver-covered strings and added a seventh low string, as well as his pupil Marin Marais, who even surpassed his master and brought the viol to its highest point of perfection, both with his outstanding virtuoso playing and with his most excellent compositions.
The the viol appeared in many different sizes: "pardessus." treble, alto, small tenor, tenor, bass and violone (contrabass), but only the treble, tenor and bass viols belong to a usual consort.
The distinctive shape of the viol shows characteristic down-sloping shoulders and a narrow upper body. Together with deep ribs, middle bouts, a gently arched belly but a flat back this form became fairly standard during the 17th and 18th centuries. The viol has usually six strings, but the solo bass viol played on the Continent during the Baroque period often had seven (invented by Sainte-Colombe).
The frets, made of stretched gut, are tied around the neck in a special fret knot. There are usually seven frets placed at intervals of a semitone.
The early viol bow is rather convex and is held in an underhand grip which enables the player to control the bow's pressure on the strings at will.
The musicologist Marin Mersenne once considered the viol as the instrument which most perfectly imitated the human voice.
The frets, made of stretched gut, are tied round the neck in a special fret knot. There are usually seven frets placed at intervals of a semitone.
The early viol bow is rather convex and is held in an underhand grip which enables the player to control the bow's pressure on the strings at will.
The musicologist Marin Mersenne once considered the viol as the instrument which most perfectly imitated the human voice.
The records of the venerable Oude Kerk in Delft fixes Vermeer's burial on 15 December 1675. The once prosperous painter left 11 minor children and momentous debts to his wife, Catharina. In an effort to free herself of her creditors, she lamented the lack of financial resources brought on by her husband who had lapsed into "decay and decadence" and went from "being healthy to being dead" in a day. Decadence may have indicated the artist had lapsed into drink, a virtual plague in the Netherlands, or, more likely, a sudden physical decline brought on by a stroke or a heart failure. Although two tomb markers signal the presence of Vermeer's grave in the Delft Oude Kerk, the exact location of the artist's remains has been lost forever.