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Jan Steen, A Young Woman playing a Harpsichord to a Young Man

Key facts
Full title A Young Woman playing a Harpsichord to a Young Man
Artist Jan Steen
Artist dates 1626 - 1679
Date made probably 1659
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 42.3 × 33 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1871
Inventory number NG856
Location Room 16
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Young Woman playing a Harpsichord to a Young Man
Jan Steen

An elegantly dressed young woman plays a harpsichord for a man leaning on the instrument. Music is often related to love in Dutch paintings, but in contrast to other genre scenes of this kind the couple don‘t appear to be flirting. The young woman is concentrating on her sheet of music.

The Latin inscriptions placed on the instrument provide a witty and ironic commentary. The words ‘SOLI DEO GLORIA’ (’Glory to God alone‘) appear below the keys, implying that the young woman is playing solely for the glory of God. But the inscription on the open lid reads ‘ACTA VIRUM PROBANT’ (’actions prove the man'): the young woman’s admirer is about to take more active steps. Presumably he will soon join the woman in an intimate duet, accompanying her on the theorbo that the pageboy seen through the open door is carrying.

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