In the left foreground rests a viola da gamba with the bow placed in between the strings. The virginal has a landscape painted on the inside of the lid (in the manner of the Delft painter Pieter van Asch), and the painting in the background is 'The Procuress' by Dirck van Baburen (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts) or a copy of it.
Whether or not the subject of 'The Procuress' is intended to have a bearing on the meaning of the whole work is not clear. It is probable that a more general association between music and love is intended. A tapestry frames the scene at the upper left, and the skirting in the lower right is decorated with Delft tiles.
This painting has been dated on stylistic grounds to about 1670. It has been suggested that it and 'A Young Woman standing at a Virginal', the National Gallery's other painting by Vermeer, are pendants, because of the similar size, date and related subject matter.
However, their provenances before the 19th century differ, and Vermeer is known to have explored variations on a theme on other occasions. In the 19th century the two paintings were in the collection of the art critic Théophile Thoré, whose articles prompted the rediscovery of Vermeer in 1866.