With a glance, a lifted hand, the turn of a head, the artist has made a picture that invites interpretation. This was such a popular composition at the time that several copies were made of Caspar Netscher’s original (now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich). This is one of the copies.
Pictures of musicians playing were enjoyed in the seventeenth-century Netherlands. They were in part purely decorative, but often also seem to hold moments of titillation, showing opportunities for flirtation. They may perhaps, because of the musical setting, also represent the harmony of love. Whatever their original purpose, they invite interpretation, story-making and discussion.
With a glance, a lifted hand, a turn of a head, the artist has made a picture that invites interpretation. It was such a popular composition at the time that several copies were made of Caspar Netscher’s original (now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich). This is one of the copies.
The young man on the left plays the theorbo, a long-necked, plucked instrument that’s very difficult to master. He plays with total concentration, eyes closed, his face almost angelic in its serenity. The instrument case, heavy and clumsy in contrast with his delicate features and fine linen shirt, lies at his feet.
At the table there is perhaps less devotion to the music. A second young man leans forward, his hand and eyes raised towards the young woman in brown, who returns his gaze. Is this a glance of secret love or of a singer waiting to be brought in for her moment to perform? Is the young woman in the white satin gown aware of them, or is she, like the theorbo player, immersed in her music? Her mouth is open, her eyes on the book of music on her hand. Are they a musical party at all? It’s been suggested that they wear the costume of travelling musicians, professionals hired to entertain, which puts yet another slant on the picture. These interpretations and others are open to us to make.
Pictures of musicians playing were enjoyed in the seventeenth-century Netherlands. They were in part purely decorative, but often also seem to hold moments of titillation, showing opportunities for flirtation. They may also perhaps represent the harmony of love, as in Jan Olis’s A Musical Party. The images also gave the artist a chance to display his skills in painting detail and particularly texture, like the pile and pattern of the exotic carpet. Whatever their original purpose, they invite interpretation, story-making and discussion.
It’s not known who painted this copy, but he has captured Netscher’s portrayal of the white satin gown of the seated girl. He shows its rich suppleness but also the texture of the bodice, almost cruelly hard, covered with satin but stretched tightly and boned underneath to an armour-like stiffness. The display of her bare shoulders and neck above, and the curls nestling on her cheek, make an alluring contrast. But the eyes of the young man opposite aren't on her: they have wandered elsewhere.
The object of his gaze wears a darker colour; the neck of her gown is cut low. Folded in her arms – perhaps the one symbol in the picture – is a little dog, the only creature in the painting to look directly out at us. Perhaps it is a symbol of fidelity, or is guarding her virtue; perhaps it is simply another chance for the artist to include something tactile and appealing in his picture.
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