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Gabriel Metsu, A Woman seated at a Table and a Man tuning a Violin

Key facts
Full title A Woman seated at a Table and a Man tuning a Violin
Artist Gabriel Metsu
Artist dates 1629 - 1667
Date made about 1658
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 43 × 37.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1871
Inventory number NG838
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Woman seated at a Table and a Man tuning a Violin
Gabriel Metsu

Metsu has highlighted the woman seated at the table – light from the high window falls on her bright red bodice – to confirm her as the centre of our attention.

Her companion or teacher tunes his violin in the background, catching our eye with an inscrutable stare. It isn’t clear whether the viola da gamba, the instrument which lies on the table, belongs to her, or whether a third musician is about to join them.

The role of the violinist is at the heart of how this painting would have been interpreted 400 years ago. The image of a man tuning his instrument in preparation for a duet was often understood as having sexual overtones, or at least hinting at romantic interest.

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