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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“The Music Lesson'” by Johannes Vermeer

"Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman", 'The Music Lesson' by Johannes Vermeer

“Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman” by Johannes Vermeer

“Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman” or ‘The Music Lesson’ by Johannes Vermeer depicts a painting of a young female pupil during a music lesson with a gentleman. Their relationship is no precise or clear from this painting. The composition uses perspective to draw the eye towards the figures who are 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 violin 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, the inscription on the lid of the virginal reads:

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

Johannes Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675) was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful painter in his lifetime. However, he was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death.

There are only thirty-four paintings by Vermeer, and they are challenging to date. Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes, and most of his pictures 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 portrays 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. Art historians mainly overlooked Vermeer’s works 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.

Facts about Vermeer

  • Johannes Vermeer lived all his life in the city of Delft in the Netherlands.
  • The dates of his birth and death are undocumented. Historians use the dates of Vermeer’s baptism and burial to make estimates.
  • Vermeer’s wife gave birth to 15 children.
  • Vermeer apprenticeship remains a mystery, and it is assumed that Vermeer had no formal training. He appears to have been self-taught.
  • His artistic achievements went mostly unnoticed throughout his life, and in the centuries that immediately followed.
  • His mother-in-law was a wealthy woman and was able to support Vermeer and his family, but financial stresses hounded him his entire life.
  • When Vermeer died, he left his family in debt.
  • His art was not well-known outside of Delft during his lifetime.
  • There are only 36 authenticated paintings by Vermeer in the world. One has been stolen, and its whereabouts are unknown.
  • Most of Vermeer’s paintings have the same setting, the home where he lived.
  • It’s believed that Vermeer used a camera obscura to help him study the effects of light.
  • In the late 1930s and early ’40s, a copycat artist forged and sold works he marketed as newly discovered Vermeers. These forgeries made it even more difficult to authenticate Vermeer’s paintings.

Reflections

  • Johannes Vermeer made only 45 paintings in his life, of which 35 still exist today.
  • Is he the master of Dutch light?

Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman

Johannes Vermeer

Exploring the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Collection

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 “Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world, our own, we see it multiplied and as many original artists as there are, so many worlds are at our disposal, differing more widely from each other than those which roll around the infinite and which, whether their name be Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us their unique rays many centuries after the hearth from which they emanate is extinguished.”
– Marcel Proust

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

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