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Nicolaes Berchem, 'A Peasant playing a Hurdy-Gurdy to a Woman and Child', 1658

Key facts
Full title A Peasant playing a Hurdy-Gurdy to a Woman and Child in a Woody Landscape, with Oxen, Sheep and Goats
Artist Nicolaes Berchem
Artist dates 1620 - 1683
Date made 1658
Medium and support Oil on mahogany
Dimensions 34.5 × 38.3 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Inventory number NG1006
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Peasant playing a Hurdy-Gurdy to a Woman and Child
Nicolaes Berchem

Picked out in the glow of a soft evening light, a sleepy toddler lies on his mother’s lap, his eyes half closed, one chubby arm dangling at his side. His mother smiles down at him, the last of the sun catching her wide brow and her white shawl. Beside them a man leans forward with a smile, lulling him to sleep with a tune on his hurdy-gurdy. In his red shirt, big hat and sturdy shoes, the man is likely to be a travelling musician.

Religious images weren't permitted in Dutch Protestant churches, but were appreciated in many families. A painting like this may well have been recognised as alluding to the journey into Egypt made by the holy family – the Virgin Mary, Joseph and Jesus – but it would have been loved for the pastoral serenity of the scene too.

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