The Joy of Museums

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“Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman”, ‘The Music Lesson’ by Johannes Vermeer

Jan Vermeer van Delft 014

“Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman” or ‘The Music Lesson’ by Johannes Vermeer depicts a painting of young female pupil during a music lesson with a gentleman. Their relationship is no certain or clear from this painting. The composition uses perspective to draw the eye towards the back of the room where the figures are situated in front of the virginal. The virginal is a keyboard instrument of the harpsichord family and was popular in Europe during the late Renaissance and early Baroque period.

The composition is dominated by the covered table, the chair and the bass viol in the foreground. The light through the windows fills the room, casting soft, subtle shadows. The composition includes a mirror on the wall where the blurred reflections include the young woman’s face, part of the table and the legs of an artist’s easel. Adding to the mystery of the relationship between the figures, the inscription on the lid of the virginal reads:

‘Music is a companion in pleasure and a balm in sorrow.’ 

There are only thirty-four paintings by Vermeer and they are challenging to date. Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes and most of his paintings are set in the rooms of his house in Delft. There are similar furniture and decorations in various arrangements in his domestic scenes and his art often portray the same people.  He was not wealthy, as he left his family in debt after his death. He produced relatively few paintings compared to his contemporaries. Vermeer’s works were mainly overlooked by art historians for several centuries after his death. However, his reputation has skyrocketed in the last few hundred years and he is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

Essential Facts:

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Artist:                            Johannes Vermeer
  • Born:                             1632 – Delft, Dutch Republic
  • Died:                              1675 (aged 43) -Delft, Dutch Republic
  • Nationality:                  Dutch
  • Movement                    Dutch Golden Age, Baroque
  • Notable works:


“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.” Leonardo da Vinci



Photo Credit: 1) Johannes Vermeer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons