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Gerard ter Borch, A Woman playing a Lute to Two Men

Key facts
Full title A Woman playing a Lute to Two Men
Artist Gerard ter Borch
Artist dates 1617 - 1681
Date made about 1667-8
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 67.6 × 57.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1871
Inventory number NG864
Location Room 16
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Woman playing a Lute to Two Men
Gerard ter Borch

Scenes of small groups of people making music were common in seventeenth-century Dutch painting. They reflected a popular social activity among sophisticated families and as such might symbolise the harmony of family life or friendship groups. But such parties were also an accepted way for young men and women to meet and were therefore often associated with erotic encounters.

In this painting, the relationship between the three characters has been left uncertain. They're not obviously flirting and their body language is neutral, but a couple of subtle clues might tempt us towards a particular conclusion. There is a bed in the background – perhaps this is also on the minds of the protagonists – and the ace of spades suggests a game of cards, which was often associated with seduction. It’s only a hint, but it is enough to set our minds wondering about what is going on behind the inscrutable expressions of the musicians.

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