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Gabriel Metsu, A Man and a Woman seated by a Virginal

Key facts
Full title A Man and a Woman seated by a Virginal
Artist Gabriel Metsu
Artist dates 1629 - 1667
Date made about 1665
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 38.4 × 32.2 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1871
Inventory number NG839
Location Room 16
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Man and a Woman seated by a Virginal
Gabriel Metsu

A young couple seem about to strike up a duet. The woman, seated at the keyboard of a virginal, hands her partner a musical score, presumably the part for the violin on the table next to him. Scenes of music making among young people were common in seventeenth-century Dutch painting, and they would certainly have been understood as references to romantic love and – often – a setting for potential debauchery.

Here Metsu seems to be drawing a parallel between the wine glass proffered by the young man and the one held by the figure in the picture on the wall. This refers to another painting by Metsu, one showing drunken celebration on the Christian festival of Twelfth Night. So he might be suggesting that this scene of musical innocence could, fuelled by alcohol, lead to something less chaste. The biblical texts on the virginal seem to be a warning against this.

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