NATIONAL GALLERY, VERMEER LADY STANDING AT A VIRGINAL

Audio File length: 2.32
Author: STEFANO ZUFFI E DAVIDE TORTORELLA
English / USA Language: English / USA

I'd like to tell you about Lady Standing at a Virginal, a work by one of the greatest Dutch painters of the 17th century, Jan Vermeer. His paintings were created slowly with meticulous care and are very rare: there are only thirty-five worldwide. Jan Vermeer was born in Delft in South Holland, and is famous for his domestic interior scenes which often depict young women carrying out tasks serenely, captured during private and solitary moments.

The canvas depicts a girl standing near a keyboard instrument that was often played by women. The girl is wearing an elegant dress with a blue corset, yellow puff sleeves, and finishes decorated with beads and ribbons. Her hair is pulled up into a bun with some curls falling freely across her forehead.

Look all around the room she stands in, paying attention to the details of the furnishings. The black and white marble tile floor and the skirting board made of blue and white tiles indicate that it is the home of a wealthy person. Early daylight enters from the window on the left, illuminating every detail with extreme precision. You can see two paintings on the back wall: a landscape in a golden frame and a Cupid holding a playing card in his hand. The latter has been interpreted as a symbol of love and fidelity to a single lover. Indeed, the young woman looks beyond the frame of the painting while playing the instrument as if she's waiting for someone, perhaps the person who was sitting on the chair in the foreground... But it also seems like she's looking beyond the painting towards you, the observer, as if to engage you in a silent and mysterious dialogue.

Moreover, you should keep in mind that the subject of music was related to erotic themes, and was often represented in Dutch painting of that period. It was considered a "food of love", and was a pastime for the bourgeois classes, representing both harmony and a sense of the transience of existence. If you are in the mood for comparisons, after admiring this painting go and look for another by Vermeer here at the National Gallery where a young woman is portrayed at the same instrument, this time sitting.

 

FUN FACT: another famous Vermeer painting entitled Girl with a Pearl Earring even inspired a novel and then became a movie!

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