Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure

This event was held from 26 June 2013 to 8 September 2013

Date and time

26 June – 8 September 2013

Sainsbury Wing Exhibition


Admission charge

'The charm of Vermeer is at once obvious and elusive'
Craig Raine, New Statesman 

'If music be the food of art, play on'
Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times 

Featuring the Academy of Ancient Music as Resident Ensemble

Explore the musical pastimes of the 17th-century Netherlands through this exhibition combining the art of Vermeer and his contemporaries with rare musical instruments, songbooks and live music.

For the first time the National Gallery’s two paintings by Vermeer, A Young Woman standing at a Virginal and A Young Woman seated at a Virginal are brought together with Vermeer’s Guitar Player, which is currently on exceptional loan from the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House.

Music was one of the most popular themes in Dutch painting, and carried many diverse associations. In portraits, a musical instrument or songbook might suggest the education or social position of the sitter; in scenes of everyday life, it might act as a metaphor for harmony, or a symbol of transience. 

The exhibition displays 17th-century virginals (a type of harpsichord), guitars and lutes alongside the paintings to offer unique insights into the painters’ choice of instruments, and the difference between the real instruments and the way in which the painters chose to represent them. 

View an accessible version of this slideshow


Exhibition insight
Watch a trailer for 'Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure'
1 min 33 secs

Betsy Wieseman: Dutch depictions of musical subjects give us a glimpse of what life was like in the 17th century – how they loved music! There was music in the taverns; there was music in the church…

Richard Egar: The nouveau riche, all the rich traders, were having musical parties at their houses – it was a way of meeting each other and having a good time

Paula Chateauneuf: People thought that the guitar was the devil’s instrument and that the devil was, sort of, coming through guitar music and influencing youth

Betsy Wieseman: Vermeer’s musical subjects are indicative of him as a complete artist – he is allowing space for the sound of the music and for us to activate all of our senses, not just sight but sound as well

Exhibition Cinema

Two short films, 'Vermeer: Painter of Music' and 'Music and Painting in the Dutch Golden Age' are being shown at regular intervals throughout the day in the exhibition cinema - last showing 5.30pm (Friday 8.30pm).

The films are also available to view online.


Live Music

Complementing the exhibition, members of the Academy of Ancient Music play 17th-century music in the exhibition space at intervals on Thursdays (from 11am), Fridays (from 3pm) and Saturdays (from 11am).

Along with the audio guide and exhibition films, the live music has been designed to enrich the serene ambience created in paintings by Vermeer and other masters of the Dutch Golden Age.

There is a limited capacity in the performance area and exhibition tickets do not guarantee access. Please note there will be no live music on Saturday 20th July.

Join the conversation

Supported by The Hata Stichting Foundation, The Blavatnik Family Foundation, Susan and John Singer, The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Sir Vernon and Lady Ellis.

Image above: Detail from Johannes Vermeer, The Guitar Player, about 1672. On loan from English Heritage, The Iveagh Bequest (Kenwood), © English Heritage