A Woman playing a Lute to Two Men

This anecdotal scene depicts a young woman playing a lute in the company of two men. The instrument is a two-headed lute, a popular modification of the standard lute to accommodate additional bass strings. One of the men holds a music book and seems to mark the beat of the music with his upraised hand.

The association between music and love is a frequent subject in Dutch genre painting. Here, as in many of ter Borch's pictures, the relationship between the figures is deliberately ambiguous. The viewer is invited to decide whether this is just a happy domestic scene, or possibly a scene taking place in brothel.

Though influenced by the work of Gabriel Metsu, the painting is more elaborate in composition and psychological resonance than comparable paintings by that artist. Judging from the style and the fashionable clothes, this painting is probably a relatively late work by ter Borch, dating from the late 1660s.

Key facts

Artist dates
1617 - 1681
Full title
A Woman playing a Lute to Two Men
Date made
about 1667-8
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
67.6 x 57.8 cm
Acquisition credit
Bought, 1871
Inventory number
Location in Gallery