Picture of the month

Johannes Vermeer, ‘A Young Woman standing at a Virginal’,
about 1670–2 

Delft painter Vermeer's quiet domestic scene is laced with allusions to love and wealth. 

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

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

An elegant young woman stands, her hands poised to start playing a virginal (a smaller version of the harpsichord). She meets the viewer’s gaze with a confident, possibly amused, look.

Sunlight streams in through the window on the left, accenting the folds of the young woman's white satin gown, the gilt picture frame, and the blue velvet chair – the empty seat calls to mind an absent sitter, making us question who the young woman’s outward gaze may be directed toward.

The work is typical of Vermeer who specialised in interior scenes depicting wealthy sitters engaged in quiet and private activities. He also injected narrative or allegorical significance into his domestic interiors.

Here, the young woman is surrounded by allusions to love. In 17th-century Holland, music-making was often interpreted as a sign of love as it symbolised harmony between two lovers. The painting of Cupid holding up a playing card is based on one from a popular pattern book and has been related to an emblem of fidelity to one lover. Both the landscape painting on the wall and landscape painted on the virginal may also draw comparisons between female innocence and natural beauty.

Johannes Vermeer
about 1670-2