VERMEER, Johannes
(b. 1632, Delft, d. 1675, Delft)

Lady Standing at a Virginal (detail)

c. 1670
Oil on canvas
National Gallery, London

We again encounter on the back wall the Standing Cupid Holding a Card Aloft, with which we are familiar from Girl Asleep at a Table at the Metropolitan Museum, New York. One now ascribes rather convincingly this painting to Caesar van Everdingen. The landscape to the left belongs to Jan Wynants, or his immediate entourage.

"Amor docet musicam" - love teaches one to play music. In all probability the artist is making reference to this aphorism known from the literature of symbols. Above the head of the young woman who is preparing to play the already opened virginal, we see prominently displayed the picture of a curly blond Amor with a bow in his right hand and a love-letter held high in his left. This picture within a picture gives a didactic content to this still-life. Such purposefulness explains the somewhat unnatural attitude of the girl. She looks at the viewer before she begins to play: this is not a pose, however, but an invitation to the viewer to look for the hidden meaning. It is one of the traits of still-life paintings with a moral lesson that one of the figures glances out of the picture, sometimes even making a gesture to indicate that the others are conveying an intellectual or moral point.

The companion painting to this brilliantly lit and coloured Vermeer creation also expresses the connection between music and love. In that picture the girl is sitting at the virginal, and on the wall behind her the viewer sees a typical Utrecht bordello scene, with a woman playing the lute and being embraced by a man wearing a hat with a feather, while the procuress looks on.

Young Amor appears in the background of other Vermeer paintings as well and the image of a musical group is also used, in every case with erotic connotations (The Music Lesson, New York, Frick Collection; The Concert, Boston Museum).