A happy young couple make music in an elegant panelled room with costly furniture. An open door, marble columns on either side, reveals a glimpse of a room beyond, where a fine gauze curtain hangs at a window. The young man sits at his ease, his long fingers plucking the strings of the theorbo – an ancient instrument, now rarely played. The young woman plays the cittern, an instrument that’s easier to master.
Molenaer displays his great skills in painting the many rich textures. He also sets puzzles, putting in objects that could be, and often were, read as symbols in his time. The red stocking and discarded shoe could mean virtue thrown away and suggest a clandestine meeting. But the dog may stand for fidelity and the closed jug for the virtue of the young woman, suggesting that the music they play is a song of true love.
A happy young couple make music in an elegant, panelled room with costly furniture. An open door, marble columns on either side, reveals a glimpse of a room beyond, where a fine gauze curtain hangs at a window. The young man sits at his ease, his long fingers plucking the strings of the theorbo – an ancient instrument, now rarely played. The young woman plays the cittern, an instrument that’s easier to master.
The book of music balanced precariously on the woman’s knee reveals a pentimento, a visible trace of earlier painting beneath a layer of paint. The book may have been added almost as an afterthought; the folds in the woman’s apron can now be seen through it. The cello in the background seems also to be an afterthought, almost hanging in midair, the hat perched on top cutting across the face of the servant in the shadows.
Molenaer displays his great skills in painting textures: the sleek coat of the dog, the gleam on the pewter jug and the intricate carving of the stool it stands on, and the fragile fretwork on the instruments. But most of all he enjoys the fabrics worn by the young couple: the man’s starched cuff, his richly decorated, ribboned sleeve and even the wrinkles of his stocking contrast with the delicate lace of the woman’s cap and collar, the soft lawn of her white cape and the green-pink sheen of her taffeta skirt. In her hair is a long, silver pin with a tiny jewel at the tip.
She places a foot on a foot warmer full of hot coals, a homely object that, in Dutch painting at this time, sometimes symbolised the passion with which a suitor pursues his intended bride. Molenaer, like many other genre painters, leaves his audience to draw their own conclusions – or better still, to choose one of several meanings. The servant brings a plump chicken – a bridal feast, an intimate supper or even symbolic of the young woman herself. The woman has discarded a shoe and wears a red stocking, and both were sometimes used as a sign of promiscuity. The footstool could be interpreted as fuelling the owner’s desires since it heats not just the feet but under the skirts as well.
The sensitively painted faces of the three characters make the picture even more intriguing: the young man looks happy but the girl’s expression is enigmatic, and the maid may or may not approve of events. But the little dog could stand for fidelity, and the closed lid of the jug for the unsullied virtue of the young woman, perhaps meaning that the music they play is a song of true love.
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