The Music Lesson

(De muziekles)
c. 1662–1664
Oil on canvas
73.3 x 64.5 cm. (28 7/8 x 25 3/8 in.)
The Royal Collection, The Windsor Castle
inv. 109
there are 12 hotspots in the image below
The Music Lesson, Johannes Vermeer

Comparing the girl with her reflection we can notice that the back of her head, directly seen, is more conventionally perceived, more recognizable, perhaps more touching, her reflected face, its detail dissolved, its humanity suspended in light, has a deeper kind of completeness. The face is reflected not only in the mirror but also in the painter's temperament. For the first time we have the sense that he has use, however oblique, for the whole of human appearance.

Lawrence Gowing, Vermeer, 1952

Facsimile of the signature of Johannes Vermeer's Music Lesson
			Johannes Vermeer
signed lower picture frame at right IVMeer (IVM in monogram)

Albert Blankert, Vermeer: 1632–1675, 1975

c. 1662–1664
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Vermeer: The Complete Works, New York, 1997

c. 1662–1663
Walter Liedtke, Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, New York, 2008

c. 1662–1665
Wayne Franits, Vermeer, 2015

The plain-weave linen support has a thread count of 15 x 14 per cm². The original tacking edges have been removed. Cusping occurs on all sides, more pronounced along top and bottom edges. The canvas has been lined.

The light brownish gray ground contains lead white, chalk, and a little umber, with aggregates of lead white particles. The paint is thinly and smoothly applied although some texture is present, as on the nearest edge of the bass viol, which stands out due to curling impasto.

The bottom half of the painting has a strong blue cast. The dark tiles in the foreground are blue while those further back in the composition are dark gray and contain no blue pigment. The shadow of the carpet on the table in the right foreground is dominated by a bright blue, which may be discolored. A pinhole with which Vermeer marked the vanishing point of the composition is visible in the paint layer.

* 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.)


Johannes Vermeer's Music Lesson with frame
image thanks to Mike Buffington

  • (?) Pieter Claesz. van Ruijven, Delft (d. 1674);
  • (?) his widow, Maria de Knuijt, Delft (d. 1681);
  • (?) their daughter, Magdalena van Ruijven, Delft (d. 1682);
  • (?) her widower, Jacob Abrahamsz Dissius (d. 1695);
  • Dissius sale, Amsterdam, 16 May, 1696, no. 6;
  • Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, Amsterdam/The Hague (1718), Venice (1741);
  • his widow, Angela Carriera, Venice (1741–-1742);
  • Joseph Smith, Venice and Mogliano (1742–1762);
  • King Georg III, Windsor Castle, as by Frans van Mieris, (1762 acquired with the Smith Collection);
  • since 1762 Royal Collection, Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace (inv. 109).
  • London 1876
    Exhibition of Works by Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of British School
    Royal Academy of Arts
    no. 211
  • London 1895
    Catalogue of the Loan Collection of Pictures
    Art Gallery of the Corporation of London
    92–93, no. 127, as "The Music Master, and Pupil," lent by Her Magesty the Queen
  • London 1929
    Exhibition of Dutch Art, 1450–1900
    Royal Academy of Arts
    144, no. 305 and pl. 78
  • London January 4–March 9, 1929
    Dutch Art. An Illustrated Souvenir of the Exhibition of Dutch Art at Burlington House, London
    Burlington House
    89, no. 107 and ill.
  • London 1946
    Catalogue of Exhibition of the King's Pictures
    Royal Academy of Arts
    108, no. 305
  • The Hague August 6–September 26, 1948
    Masterpieces of the Dutch School from the Collection of H.M. the King of England on the Occasion of 50-year Reign of Queen Wilhelmin
    30, no. 10 and ill.
  • London November, 1952–March, 1953
    Dutch Pictures, 1450–1750
    Royal Academy of Arts
    1: no. 515, 2: ill. 45
  • London July–September, 1971
    Dutch Pictures from the Royal Collection. The Queen's Gallery
    Buckingham Palace
    19 and 74, no. 10
  • Philadelphia March18–May 13, 1984
    Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting
    Philadelphia Museum of Art
    344–345, no. 119 and ill. 109
  • Berlin June 8–August 12, 1984
    Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting
    Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz
    344–345, no. 119 and ill. 109
  • Washington D.C. November 12, 1995–February 11, 1996
    Johannes Vermeer
    National Gallery of Art
    128–133, no. 8 and ill.
  • The Hague March 1–June 2, 1996
    Johannes Vermeer. Royal Cabinet of Paintings
    128–133, no. 8 and ill.
  • London February 11–October 30, 2005
    Enchanting the Eye: Dutch Painters of the Golden Age
    The Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace
  • London March, 2011
    Masterpiece a Month: Presiding Genius
    Johannes Vermeer–"A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman" (The Music Lesson)
    The Dulwich Picture Gallery
  • Cambridge October 5, 2011–January 21, 2012
    Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence
    The Fitzwilliam Museum
    204, no. 26 and ill.
  • London June 26–September 8, 2013
    Vermeer and Music: Love and Leisure in the Dutch Golden Age
    National Gallery
    62, no. 21 and ill.
  • London November 13, 2015–February 14, 2016
    Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer. An Exhibition from the British Royal Collection
    The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace
  • Edinburgh March 4–July 24, 2016
    Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer: An Exhibition from the British Royal Collection
    The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse
  • The Hague September 29, 2016–January 8, 2017
    Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer: An Exhibition from the British Royal Collection
Johannes Vermeer's Music Lesson in scale
vermeer's life

Vermeer's income in the 1660s was probably higher than in the 1670s. In the1660s, sales of paintings and especially his mother-in-law's (Maria Thins) substantial financial contributions together probably ranged from 850 to 1,500 guilders a year. A mason earned about 500 guilders.

Vermeer is elected for the first time headsman of the Guild of Saint Luke in Delft at the age of 30 for a two year term. However, by this time many artists resident in Delft had left for the more prosperous Amsterdam and so his election may have had less significance than once believed. He was the youngest artist to become headmaster since the guild was organized in 1611.

Many of the luxury items seen in Vermeer's interiors such as the virginal seen in The Music Lesson were economically out of reach of the artist. They may have been lent to him by affluent men of culture or clients such as Diego Duarte, a rich Antwerp banker, in whose important art collection was cited "a young lady playing a clavecin, with accessories, by Vermeer." The virginal seen in Vermeer's Music Lesson was built by Johannes Ruckers. These rare instruments were sold at about 300 guiders, about half the cost of Gerrit Dou, a Frans van Mieris. An averge Dutch house might cost 1,000 guilders. In Delft, hese instruments were owned by the official town musician Scholl.

dutch painting

Pieter Saendredam (b. 1597) dies in Haarlem.

Despite its decline, Delft remained and important city of passage for artists passing from Haarlem, Utrecht and Amsterdam. It contained a number of fine art collections. Ferries parted many times a day to the nearby The Hague and Amsterdam was less than a days away on an inexpensive horse-towed barge.

european painting & architecture André Le Nôtre designs park and gardens of Versailles Louis XIV begins to build palace of Versailles; he makes Charles Lebrun his chief artistic adviser.
music Composer Henry Lawes dies at London October 21 at age 66.

science & philosophy

New Amsterdam colonist John Bowne is arrested for permitting Quakers to hold meetings in his Flushing house, completed last year at what will become 37–01 Bowne Street, Queens (see Mathematician-physicist-philosopher-theologian Blaise Pascal dies at the Jansenist Port-Royal monastery in Paris August 19 at age 39.

Publication of a world atlas in eleven parts by Joan Blaeu in Amsterdam.

Remonstrance, 1657). Bowne is convicted of having violated Governor Peter Stuyvesant's ban on Quaker assemblies. He is jailed and banished, but when he reaches Holland and appeals to the Dutch West India Company, it acquits him of all charges, frees him, and rebukes Governor Stuyvesant, thereby establishing the right to free practice of religious worship.

Blaise Pascal proposes the introduction of a public transport system in Paris. Coaches would travel along predetermined routes and take passengers for a small fee. The first coach goes into service during the following year.

Founding of the Academia Leopoldina in Vienna

The Royal Society receives charter from Charles II.

Holland and France form an alliance against possible attack by England.

vermeer's life

In the early and mid-1660s Vermeer paints a series of extraordinary pictures of single women in the corner of a room absorbed in their activity. Even their most striking passages of observation are always subordinated to the impression made by the whole composition.

A French diplomat and art connoisseur Balthasar de Monconys visits Vermeer in Delft. In his diary he notes that he was unable to see any paintings there and had to visit the house of a baker where he saw a painting with a single figure.

De Monconys comes initially as a tourist, evidently unaware of Vermeer's presence. A few weeks later, he went to pay his respects in The Hague to Constantijn Huygens, an important art connoisseur and theorist of Dutch culture. De Monconys admired his art collection and described it in detail. However, one can only imagine how amazed Huygens must have been to hear that the Frenchman had been in Delft, without visiting Vermeer. It seems a reasonable assumption that Huygens urged de Monconys to meet with the Delft painter, given the Frenchman's predilection for fine art. Not long afterward, de Monconys did indeed visit with Vermeer at his house, and wrote the following account in his diary journal, which was published in 1665, the year of his death: "In Delft I saw the painter Verme(e)r who did not have any of his works: but we did see one at a baker's, for which six hundred livres had been paid, although it contained but a single figure, for which six pistoles would have been too high a price." Simply put, de Monconys thought the painting he saw was worth less than a tenth of the price mentioned.

c. 1663 a son named Johannes, named after himself, is born to Vermeer.

dutch painting

Rembrandt depicts himself as a bit player in his painting The Raising of the Cross.

Jan Steen paints The Drawing Lesson.

Pieter de Hooch: At the Linen Closet.

Adriaen van de Velde paints Cattle near a Building.

Pieter de Hooch, who had moved away from Delft to Amsterdam to seek more patronage, returns to Delft at least once in this year.

european painting & architecture

Bernini: Scala Regia, Vatican, Rome

Building of Castle Nymphenburg, near Munich.

Nicolas Poussin paints The Four Seasons.

France's minister of finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert appoints painter Charles Le Brun director of the Gobelins, which will grow under Le Brun's direction from a small tapestry manufactory into a vast enterprise that supplies all of the royal houses. The Academy of Painting and Sculpture is reorganized, with Le Brun as its director.


Mar 7, Tomaso Antonio Vitali, composer, is born.

Pascal: L'Equilibre des liqueurs (posth.)


The Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres (the Academy of the Humanities) is founded in Paris.

John Milton marries Elizabeth Minshull.

science & philosophy

Isaac Newton discovers the binomial theorem.

Physicist Otto von Guericke invents the first electric generator. It produces static electricity by applying friction against a revolving ball of sulfur, and Guericke will show in 1672 that the electricity can cause the surface of the sulfur ball to glow.


Dutch forces hold the best pepper ports of India's Malabar Coast, giving them a virtual stranglehold on the spice trade once controlled by Portugal.

A Third Navigation Act adopted by Parliament July 27 forbids English colonists to trade with other European countries. European goods bound for America must be unloaded at English ports and reshipped, even though English export duties and profits to middlemen may make prices prohibitive in America.

vermeer's life

In a death inventory of the English sculptor Jean Larson, who lived in the Hague, is listed "a head by Vermeer." Some critics believe it may have bee the Girl with a Pearl Earring.

In the early to mid-1660s Vermeer refined all the qualities of his mature style. In his orderly designs, Vermeer gave new life to familiar patterns of contemporary genre painting by closely studying the subtleties of appearance.

dutch painting

Pieter de Hooch paints Young Woman Weighing Gold

Jan Steen: paints The Christening Feast.

Frans Hals, one of the most fashionable portraitists of his time and now in his late sixties, paints two of his most significant group portraits, the Regents and Regentesses of the Old Men's Alshouse at Haarlem. Owing to his dire poverty he will be given a small allowance by the town of Haarlem.

european painting & architecture

Nicola Poussin paints Apollo and Daphne

John Vanbrugh, Eng. architect and dramatist, is born.

Christopher Wren: Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford.

Francisco de Zurbaran, Spanish painter, dies.


The French horn becomes an orchestral instrument.

Oratorio: Christmas Oratorio by Heinrich Schütz at Dresden.


William Shakespeare - the second impression of the Third Folio, which added seven plays to the thirty-six of the First Folio and the Second: Pericles, Prince of Tyre and six works from the Shakespeare Apocrypha.

Thomas Killigrew and the King's Company stage Killigrew's The Parson's Wedding with an all-female cast. Killigrew attempts a similar all-female production of his play Thomaso, though the project is never realized.

science & philosophy

Robert Hooke discovers the Great Red Spot (an extremely persistent storm) on Jupiter and uses it to determine the period of Jupiter's rotation, which is astonishingly less than ten hours despite Jupiter's great size.

Giovanni Alfonso Borelli, calculates the orbit of a comet and finds that it is a parabola (not a circle, ellipse, or line as expected in various earlier theories).

Descartes' Traité de l'homme et de la formation de foetus (treatise on man and the formation of the fetus), printed posthumously, describes animals as purely mechanical beings; that is, there is no "vital force" that makes animals different from other material objects.

Christiaan Huygens proposes that the length of a pendulum with a period of one second should be the standard unit for length.


Aug 29, Adriaen Pieck/Gerrit de Ferry patented a wooden firespout in Amsterdam.

New Amsterdam handed over by Peter Stuyvesant to the English, who renames the city New York

Amsterdam passes a regulation banning the sale of "rotten, spoiled, or defective spinach, cucumbers, and carrots, ears of corn, radishes, or other fruits [vegetables] because pride could not be taken in or from such things."

Slavery is introduced into the Caribbean island of Montserrat and will not be abolished until 1834.

The Black Death kills 24,000 in old Amsterdam while the English are taking Nieuw Amsterdam. The plague spreads to Brussels and throughout much of Flanders, and in December it kills two Frenchmen in London's Drury Lane. Men who put the dead into the deadcarts keep their pipes lit in the belief, now widespread, that tobacco smokers will somehow be spared.

Samuel Pepys buys forks for his household, but most Englishmen continue to eat with their fingers and will continue to do so until early in the next century lest they be considered effete or, in the opinion of some clergymen, even sacrilegious. A man going out to dinner has for centuries brought his own spoon and knife, the spoon being folded into the pocket and the knife carried in a scabbard attached to the belt; more men now carry folding forks as well.

The Kronenbourg Brewery founded in Alsace will continue into the 21st century to produce beer.

The Chess Players, Cornelis de Man

The Chess Players
Cornelis de Man
Oil on canvas, 97.5 x 85 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary

The quintessential, pristine Dutch interior of The Music Lesson scarcely reflects Vermeer's personal circumstances and may have been largely contrived. It is a well known fact that the luxury objects such as carpets, marble flooring, silver trays and musical instruments all which appear in the same room were seldom found in any but the wealthiest homes. Oppositely, none of common household objects listed in the artist's posthumous inventory such as cradles, beds and shabby furniture ever upset Vermeer's perfect compositions. Genre interior artists like Vermeer were selective in what they painted.

In general, the density of furnishings in Dutch homes must have been much higher than what ever appeared in Vermeer's paintings (see image left). Vermeer's uncluttered and perfectly ordered spaces were deliberately set up and painted in order to convey an idea of harmony and peace of refined and elegant living that would have appealed to the married couples who hung them in their homes. They are closer to cinematic mise-en-scène than to snapshots of real-life circumstances.

Thus, Vermeer might qualify as a metteur en scène, "putter on scene," (the French title given to a film director), who carefully arranges the sets, props, actors, costumes, and lighting on his set.

Jacob Cats, Quid Non Sentit Amor

Jacob Cats
"Quid Non Sentit Amor"
Proteus, ofte, Minne-beelden verandert in sinne-beelden
National Gallery of Art Library, Washington D.C.

The relationship between music and love as a pictorial theme was frequently explored by Dutch 17th-century painters with varying shades of meaning. In The Music Lesson, Vermeer alludes metaphorically to the harmony of two souls in love, suggested by the unattended bass viol on the floor before the couple. The juxtaposition of the two instruments, the virginal and the bass viol, may refer to an emblem by Jacob Cats, "Quid Non Sentit Amor" that describes how the sound of one instrument resonates on the other just as two hearts can exist harmoniously even if separated.

Jesuit Church on the Oude Langendijk, Abraham Rademaker

The Jesuit Church on the Oude Langendijk in Delft
Abraham Rademaker
Brush and gray ink, 132 x 202 mm.
Gemeentearchief, Delft

Although much has been theorized about Vermeer's working methods in conjunction with the room(s) in which he worked, we do not know in how many different rooms he worked in, or even the house in which his studio was located. However, informed specialists believe that Vermeer worked in at least three different environments during his twenty-year career. What is certain is that he did not work in the modest circumstances in which artists such as Rembrandt and Adriaen van Ostade enjoyed portraying themselves.

It has been reasonably hypothesized that Vermeer worked in his the same house as his living quarters. From 1660, we know that Vermeer was living with his mother-in-law, Maria Thins on Oude Langendijk, directly across his father's inn Mechelen on the Market Square in the center of Delft. Vermeer's biographer John Michael Montias believed that the Thins house is pictured on an 18th-century drawing by Abraham Rademaker of a Jesuit church on Oude Langendijk (the Thins/Vermeer house is the furthest one to the right but may also be one or two houses over to the right, just outside the drawing). The drawing shows us a series of modest houses, each one having a ground floor, an upstairs floor, some with an extra floor and an attic.

The Music Lesson provides most probably a very good idea of how Vermeer's studio was structured.

Title page of Sinne- en minnebeelden, Jacon Cats

Title page of Sinne- en minnebeelden
Jacob Cats
Asmterdam (1627)
Gemeentearchief, Delft

Art historians believe that emblematic literature constitutes one of the prime resources for comprehending the hidden meaning in Dutch genre painting. In the present work, an emblem by Jacob Cats, "Quid Non Sentit Amor," has often been called into play.

Although Cats was hardly known outside of Holland. Among his own people for nearly two centuries he enjoyed an enormous popularity: his countrymen showed their affection by nicknaming him "Father Cats." The antiquated character of his matter and diction, have, however, come to be regarded as difficulties in the way of study, and today he is more renowned than read.

Cats took his doctor's degree in law at Orléans, practiced at The Hague, and, after visits to Oxford and Cambridge, settled in Zeeland, where he accumulated wealth by land reclamation. Becoming a magistrate, he was successively pensionary of Middelburg and Dordrecht and, from 1636 to 1651, grand pensionary of Holland. He took part in diplomatic missions to England in 1627 to Charles I and in 1651–1652, unsuccessfully, to Cromwell. His background gave him an international outlook, and he was in sympathy with many of the English Puritan writers.

His first book, Sinne- en minnebeelden (1618; "Portraits of Morality and Love"), contained engravings with text in Dutch, Latin, and French. Each picture has a threefold interpretation, expressing what were for Cats the three elements of human life: love, society, and religion. Perhaps his most famous emblem book is Spiegel van den ouden ende nieuwen tijdt (1632; "Mirror of Old and New Times"), many quotations from which have become household sayings. It is written in a more homely style than his earlier works, in popular rather than classical Dutch. Two other works, Houwelyk (1625; "Marriage") and Trou-ringh (1637; "Wedding Ring") are rhymed dissertations on marriage and conjugal fidelity. In one of his last books, Ouderdom, buyten-leven ne hof-gedachten (1655; "Old Age, Country Life, and Garden Thoughts"), Cats wrote movingly about old age.

The Music Lesson (detail), Johannes Vermeer

Most Flemish virginals had their soundboards painted with flowers, fruit, birds, caterpillars, moths and even cooked prawns, all within blue scalloped borders and intricate blue arabesques. Natural keys were normally covered in bone, and sharps were of oak or, less commonly, chestnut. The case exteriors were usually marbled like the ones in Vermeer's Lady Standing at a Virginal and A Lady Seated at a Virginals. Occasionally, the inside of the lid bore a decorative scene; more often it was covered with block-printed papers embellished with a Latin motto, usually connected with morality or music.

Some typical mottos include:

(Thus passes the glory of the world)

(Sweet music is the solace of labour)

MVSICA DONVM DEI (Music is the gift of God)

The Motto on the virginal in Vermeer's Music Lesson reads:

(Music is the companion of joy, balm for sorrow)

The motto also decorates virginals in paintings by Pieter Codde, Gonzales Coques and Karel Slabbaert as well as harpsichords made in 1624 and 1640 by Andreas Ruckers of Antwerp.

The Music Lesson (diagram), Johannes Vermeer

By the time Vermeer painted The Music Lesson he was in full command of the his medium. He had learned to exploit every stylistic and technical component in order o enhance the meaning of his images, including linear perspective, the most formidable tool for organizing composition and creating the illusion of spatial depth.

Perspective was held in high esteem becasue it enabled the artist to deceive the viewer into believing that the painted scenes were real, one of the prime concerns of Dutch realism. One of the few surviving accounts of Vermeer's art by a contemporary describe his works not as "timless moments" but "perspectives." Perspective was also important because it provided the mathematical basis for painting a fact which could itself elevate its traditional lowly hierarchical status from the Mechanical Arts to the Liberal Arts. This concept must have been of considerable importance to Vermeer, who later dedicated his most ambitions work, Art of Painting, to the edification of the status of the painter.

In ancient times, the Liberal Arts were those considered to be fitting pursuits for free and noble citizens, being above the labor of handicrafts. Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music represented the scientific Liberal Arts because they were based on mathematics. Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric represented the rational side because they dealt with language. Both painting and sculpture on the other hand were classed among the mechanical arts because they required manual labor.

Vermeer used perspective not only to create depth but to clarify his message. In the present work, the orthogonals of the perspectival system converge upon the spiritual heart of the painting, the standing young musician.

Painting conservators have recently discovered that instead of the complicated mathematical calculations necessary to build a coherent perspective on a flat surface of a painting, Vermeer availed himself of an ingenious, yet devilishly simple technique, evidently in common usage among Dutch artists who prized perspective. X-ray examinations of Vermeer's extant paintings have proved that in thirteen works with complicated perspective problems, there is a tiny hole (later filled in with paint) which in every case coincides exactly to the perspective's vanishing point. In this hole was once inserted a pin (most likely to a wood panel temporarily fastened to the back of the canvas) to which a string was attached. By rubbing chalk on the string, the painter could pull it taught and with a snap produce a perfectly straight orthogonal on the surface of the canvas which could then be traced. During the later stages of the painting process, the complicated perspective of the tiles could be easily verified by pulling the string straight just above the surface of the wet canvas.

music icon "A Toye" [1.30 MB]
Giles Farnaby (c. 1563–1640)

from: Ancient Instruments – Tuxedo (various artists)

17th-centruy Flemish virginals

Together with the harpsichord and the virginal (or virginals) has its origin probably in the medieval psaltery with a keyboard applied, to be able to play polyphonic music (i.e. melody with accompanying chords). It is mentioned for the first time c. 1460 in a treatise by Paulus Paulirinus of Prague. Although limited in its tonal resources, the virginal occupied a crucial position in the musical life in the 16th and 17th centuries because it was smaller, simpler and cheaper than the harpsichord, which is rather rarely represented in paintings, drawings etc.

The main center of virginal production, and keyboard making in general, was undoubtedly Antwerp, with the renowned families of Ruckers and Couchet. Italy was the second center, and since King Henry's VIII's purchase of five virginals it enjoyed considerable appreciation in England. Until the 18th century, the virginal remained in use both as solo instrument, even in private circles of music making, and for accompaniment of the singing voice or melodic instruments, like the viola da gamba.

The virginal usually appears with a rectangular case, although polygon forms in various sizes were built as well. The metal strings run roughly parallel to the keyboard. They are plucked by plectra mounted on jacks. The jacks (one for each key) are arranged in pairs and placed along a line running from the front of the instrument at the left to the back at the right. They pluck in opposite directions, so that the pairs of jacks are separated by closely spaced pairs of strings. Each pair of jacks is usually served by a single slot in the soundboard, together with another slot below in a thin guide above the keys. Leather on the soundboard and lower guide provides a quiet bearing surface for the jacks.

The typical Flemish muselar type (probably invented by Hans Ruckers) has the keyboard to the right side, their strings plucked at a point near the center for virtually their entire range, producing a powerful, flute-like tone. Though since the jacks and keys for the left hand are inevitably placed in the middle of the instrument's soundboard, any mechanical noise from these is amplified and the central plucking point in the bass strings makes repetition difficult because the motion of the still-sounding string interferes with the ability of the plectrum to connect again. Thus the muselar is better suited to chord and melody-music without complex bass parts.

Zy blinckt, en doet al blincken, engraving from P. C. Hooft

"Zy blinckt, en doet al blincken"
engraving from P. C. Hooft
Emblemata Amatoria, 1611

Although not all of Vermeer's paintings make use of symbolism, literary references and background paintings to sharpen the focus of the theme of his compositions, The Music Lesson has been linked to multiple non-pictorial sources.

Vermeer expert Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. cites an emblem entitled "Zyblinckt, en doet al blincken" (it shines and makes everything shine) drawn from P. C. Hooft's Emblemata Amatoria as a very probable connection.

Wheelock writes that "Hooft's emblem contains two vignettes, a Cupid holding a mirror reflecting sunrays in the foreground, and a man standing near a woman playing a keyboard instrument in the background. The accompanying verses explain that just as a mirror reflects the sunlight it receives, so does love reflect its source in the beloved. What love one possesses comes not from oneself, but from the beloved. Although the image of Cupid with the mirror depicts quite literally the message of Hooft's verses, the figures in the background—the man looking with rapt attention at his beloved, whose music has so moved him—expand upon them metaphorically. The compositional relationships between the emblem and The Music Lesson suggest that Vermeer had a similar concept in mind when conceiving his work. Not only do the figures in the background of the emblem bear a striking resemblance to those in The Music Lesson, the emphasis on the mirror in the emblem parallels the prominence given to the woman's reflection in the mirror in Vermeer's painting."

The Music Lesson (detail), Johannes Vermeer

In representational painting there exist two basic kinds of shadows, those attached to the objects and those projected by the objects. Attached shadows lie directly on the objects by whose shape, spatial orientation and distance from the light source they are created. Perceptually, attached shadows and projected shadows are quite different. The attached shadow is sensed as an integral part of the object, so much that in practical experience it is generally not noted. A cast shadow, instead, is read as an imposition or interference by one object on another. One of the foremost difficulties of the painter is to determine the color and paint quality for rendering them both.

A cast shadow not only defines more accurately the position of a given object in space, it creates shapes and forms of their own which may be transformed into compositional elements. Vermeer seems to have been particularly interested in cast shadows and art specialists have noted that their shapes are frequently altered to suit the artist's compositional goals.

In The Music Lesson, a shadow is projected from the window down towards the tiled floor, its flow being slightly interrupted by the left-hand corner of the standing virginal. The resulting diagonal lines play a vital part in bonding the right-hand side of the composition, with its accumulation of objects, and the empty left-hand side.

In the same painting we find evidence of another phenomenon which reveals the artist's powers of observation and his interest in cast shadows: the double shadow of the ebony-framed mirror. The wider, external shadow is caused by the acute angle of incoming light as it enters from the window nearer to the background wall. But it is partially weakened, and here the double shadow appears, because the light from the middle window shines on part of the original shadow. The same phenomenon appears on the shadows cast by the right-hand lid of the virginal. Similar double shadows can be seen in the Concert and A Lady Standing at a Virginal.

Painters were advised to avoid double shadows since they might confuse the viewer.

Tableau 2, Piet Mondrian

Tableau 2
Piet Mondrian
Oil on canvas, 55.6 x 53.4 cm.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Art connoisseurs have long underlined the remarkable sense of geometry that pervades Vermeer's compositions. In the work of no other European painter do we find an equal prevalence of straight lines, rectangles and triangles. Perhaps for this reason Vermeer's art had been championed by some exponents of the art-for-art's-sake movement which had banished didactic, moral or utilitarian functions from the artist's creed. The American painter Philip Hale wrote: "if ever a man believed in art for art's sake it was he. He anticipated the modern idea of impersonality in art...he makes no comment on the picture. One does not see by his composition what he thought of it all." As late as 1981, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. wrote that although abstract design principles are generally associated with the 20th century, "One cannot approach The Music Lesson without realizing that Vermeer calculated his compositional elements every bit as carefully as did Mondrian.

Curiously, 17th-century art writings make no mention of geometric organization of the painting's surface. As art historian Paul Taylor has written, composition, or ordenitie as it was called, was first foremost a matter choosing and arranging the motif in order that they might together clarify and strengthen the painting's narrative and not its aesthetic or visual balance. Does this mean that Vermeer was not aware of the geometrical order of his compositions?

Although we do not know how aware Vermeer was, geometry had gained importance in philosophical and scientific circles. As Nobert Schneider observed, "One need only to think of the subtitle of Spinoza's Ethics: 'ordine geometrico demonstrata' (arrange according to geometric principles). Spinoza asserts that ethics can be based on a geometric model in which axioms and propositions follow each other with logical necessity. At that time, geometry stood for clarity and demonstrability, values which may have appealed to Vermeer.

The Grand Canal looking North-West from near the Rialto

The Grand Canal looking North-West
from near the Rialto Canaletto

c. 1726–1727
Oil on canvas, 47.9 x 80.0 cm.
The Royal Collection, London

Some time after is was sold at the Dissius auction in 1696, The Music Lesson was acquired by Venetian artist Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini in 1718, whose art collection was later bought by Joseph Smith, the British Consul to the Venetian Republic, patron of artists, collector, connoisseur, banker and a major draw on the British Grand Tour. It has been part of the Royal Collection of Great Britain since 1762, when King George III bought Smith's collection of paintings. When the painting was acquired by the King it was believed to be a work by Frans van Mieris the elder because of a misinterpretation of the signature. It was not correctly attributed to Vermeer until 1866 by Théophile Thoré, though some scholars were skeptical whether it was Vermeer or not.

Smith, who lived like a Venetian aristocrat, played an important role in launching the career of the Italian vedutista Antonion Canaletto. Smith's house was on the Grand Canal, Palazzo Mangilli-Valmaranah. After renting the palace for many years, Smith was finally able to purchase it from the Balbi family in 1740, and he commissioned Visentini to renovate and redesign the structure, adding a Palladian façade. After work was completed in 1751, Smith evidently asked Canaletto (presumably on his return from London in 1755) to repaint this detail of the painting, and the thicker paint with deep incisions is clearly visible. It is impossible not to ask if Vermeer's Music Lesson ever hung on the walls inside that house. Did Canaletto ever see it? And would he have wondered how his norther colleague achieved one his most spectacular perspectives? Both painters paid great attention to correct perspective and perspective as an expressive tool.