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Johannes Vermeer, 'A Young Woman standing at a Virginal', about 1670-2

Key facts
Full title A Young Woman standing at a Virginal
Artist Johannes Vermeer
Artist dates 1632 - 1675
Date made about 1670-2
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 51.7 × 45.2 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1892
Inventory number NG1383
Location On loan: National Treasures, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK
Collection Main Collection
A Young Woman standing at a Virginal
Johannes Vermeer

The young woman at the keyboard holds our eye with a direct gaze. The empty chair suggests she is expecting someone and the large painting of a naked Cupid, the god of erotic love, on the wall behind her may be a signal that she is waiting for her lover. Scenes of music making were a popular genre in seventeenth-century Holland. They were often associated with romantic encounters, sometimes obviously bawdy ones, sometimes apparently innocent. Here, the style of the Cupid painting derives from a book illustration on the theme of faithful love.

There has been much speculation that this picture and another by Vermeer, A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal (also in the National Gallery), might have been made as a pair. There are many similarities between the two, but also an apparent contrast. One may represent fidelity, the other a venal, mercenary approach to love.

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