May 23, 2011
Many scholars have been intrigued by Vermeer’s use of maps or globes in many of his paintings. Here you have a list of some of the paintings of Vermeer in which appear a map or a globe:
1. Officer and laughing girl
2. Woman in blue reading a letter
3. Young woman with a water pitcher
4. A lady with a lute
5. The art of painting
6. The love letter
7. The astronomer
8. The geographer
9. The allegory of faith
April 21, 2011
As we have seen in the different presentations that we have done with Claire Firth in class, there so many paintings in which we can se the music instrument called a virginal. However, Vermeer´s intention was not just to introduce this element just to suggest the idea of music, but also to emphasize some other ideas that are hidden behind the use of this element. So, that is what I will try to explain in this article, the importance of the virginal and its symbolism in the picture that I am working on, The Music Lesson.
At the very begining of the 17th century, the virginal was an instrument greatly admired by the Dutch rich people . The Iyrical tones that resonated from its keyboard underscored the refinement that accompanied the increase of wealth and influence enjoyed by this society. The music and the lyrics written for the virginal, were much about human and spiritual love: the lyrics that often accompanied the music extolled love, and the solace that could be gained from it. The sentiments the music expressed and the role they played within the upper echelons of Dutch society frequently were inscribed on the instruments themselves. The text on the lid of the virginal in The Music Lesson reads: “Mvsica letitiae co[me]s medicina dolor[vm]” (Music: companion of joy, balm for sorrow):
Of the many paintings from the period the virginal, none captures as well as Vermeer’s the balance and harmony of its music or the elegance and refinement of the world to which it belonged. Every object in Vermeer’s interiors is carefully identified as the notes in a song by Huygens.
Description of the instrument:
The virginal is like a large wardrobe with elaborately painted decorative elements covering its various surfaces mark it as one of Vermeer´s finest productions. That Vermeer gave such prominence to the virginal and that a family expended the vast sum that such an outstanding instrument would indicate the importance of this instrument in Dutch society.
To judge from the number of depictions of maidens seated or standing at such instruments from the 1650s and 1660s by Frans van Mieris, Jan Steen, Gerard ter Borch, Gerard Dou, Gabriel Metsu, and Vermeer, a young woman’s proficiency in this art was greatly esteemed in Vermeer´s times.Not only that, but a music teacher was often retained to instruct the young woman. Once having mastered the art she would perform, proficiency at the virginal, also served a social function, for it facilitated polite contact between men and women.
Artists were fascinated with the nature of that contact, and exploited the theme of the music lesson or concert as a vehicle for depicting the sensuality as well as the social acceptability of a woman playing such an instrument. Sometimes, as in Jan Steen’s Harpsichord Lesson in the Wallace Collection, the music master’s attentions to the attractive pupil are seen as lecherous, but usually a spirit of sensual harmony pervades the scene that is not out of keeping with the elevated ideals inscribed on the instruments.In Steen’s Music Master, c. 1659, for example, the man’s attentive attitude conveys an ease and familiarity with the woman, yet nothing in his demeanor or in her upright posture suggests that they are disrespectful of the elevated sentiments plainly visible on the cover of the harpsichord: “Soli Deo Gloria.” Indeed, rather than a music master, it seems more probable that the man is a suitor who, moved by the woman’s beauty and that of her music, feels in perfect harmony with his beloved.
A comparable feeling of harmony pervades Vermeer’s Girl Interrupted at Her Music from the early 1660s, where an attentive gentleman assists a young woman with her sheet music. A painting of Cupid on the wall affirms that there is a feeling of love between them. Similarly, the man who is in The Music Lesson is almost certainly not a music master, and his presence must be explained in another way: He is an aristocratic gentleman, perhaps a cavalier, dressed in a black costume that is accented by a white collar.
Music was used as a metaphore that suggested the harmony of these souls in love and the presence of the bass viol on the floor in Vermeer’s Music Lesson may serve a similar thematic function. As Cats explained in his text:
”the emblem “Qvid Non Sentit Amor” means that the resonances of one lute echo onto the other just as two hearts can exist in total harmony even if they are separated”.
As a conclusion I have decide to include this video in which a piece of music written for a virginal is reconstructed:
-Artchive: An excerpt from the excellent book “Vermeer & the Art of Painting”, by Arthur K. and Wheelock, Jr.Retrieved on April 21, 2011 from http://www.artchive.com/vermeer/vermeer2.html
- Youtube: Jan Vermeer at work while listening to virginal music. Retrieved on April 21, 2011 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1n1JQlaWcA]
April 21, 2011
The Music Lesson has been estimated to be painted between 1662 and 1665. the medium of the work is oil on canvas and the painting measures 74.6 x 64.1 centimeters. Not only that, but the painting that I have chosen could be found in the Royal Collection. However, what is the Royal Collection?
Well, the Royal Collection is the name given to the amount of literary works, maps, books and textiles that are held by the Queen of England as sovereign for her sucessors and the Nation. Today, this collection is located in St James Palace in London, so that is where we can see nowadays the painting that I am analyzing .
Now, I am going to proceed to discuss the most important elementsthat we find in this picture and to explain their meaning. To do that, I will try to follow an strategic order: I will start from the left of the painting exposing the importance of light in Vermeer´s paintings and explaining why did the author decided to use a marble floor and not another one. Then, I will focus on the main scene of the painting, that is, the girl playing the virginal and the gentleman looking at her, and finally, I will explain the importance that the picture that appears in the upper right side as well as the reasons for which Vermeer decided to include a white jar and a table covered by a wonderful carpet.
Begining with the analysis of the windows, it is important to say how The Music Lesson is the only painting with two series of windows in Vermeer´s collection. Not only thay, but when looking at th we notice that they are big windows, an that was something very characteristic of Dutch buildings, because this kind of window allowed to be too muc light in the room. So, in this case, the windows are used to illuminate the whole scene. Another important thing is that there are not curtains, and that is very strange because in Vermeer´s times, curtains were hung to maintain a sense of privacy and silent dialogue inside the room, but this is not the case. The action is open to the audience.
Paying attention now to the floor, it is important to pointout how it is made by marble. Marble was considered to be a luxurious feature destined only to the very rich people, so, and as some art specialists have said,Vermeer had probably visited some luxurious places, such as the local Deft Town Hall or the palace in Rijswijk, in order to use this type of floor on his paintings.
Turning now to the main scene of the painting, it is important to talk about the virginal: it is a keyboard instrument that when it is closed it looks like a long wardrobe but when it is opened the visual effect that it creates is very striking because of the beauty of the printed papers that decorate all the front of the instrument. Besides, in this case, the virginal is decorated by flowers and sea horses, and it is very original because any patron of this motive has been found yet.
If we pay attention to the girl we see how her hands are hidden from the audience which means that the painter wanted to emphasize less the specific of the woman and her music that the abstract concepts that her music embodies, such as harmony, joy or pleasure. However, and if we focus on the man, we can see how his position is completely different: his pose marks the authority that he has on the girl and his mouth is opened, which indicates that he was probably singing. Not only that, but there has been too much controversy about the role played by this gentleman because as the examination of X-rays has proved, the initial position of the gentleman was closer to the girl, creating an stronger bond between both figures:
The same happened with the viola: it was supposed to be added later on for iconographic motives. Besides, this music instrument is a constant symbol used in Vermeer´s paintings. However, the way in which it is represented is in a passive way, like waiting someone to play it.
Talking now about the picture that appears on the right of the painting, it is important to say how some specialists have identified it as the one painted by Matthias Stomes called Cimon and Pero. There is also a parallel between this picture and The Music Lesson, because if paying attention to the figure of Cimon, we notice how he has chains on his hands. These chains symbolize the limitations of the man, so in the case of Vermeer´s painting it can be interpreted as that the gentleman that stands near the girl playing the virginal is limited just to hear the girl and not to play the music instrument. Not only that, but as it happened in the mythological story of Cimon and Pero, the man was seduced by the beauty of the woman ( his daugher), so there could be also a kind of parallel with The Music Lesson because as some critics think, the cavalier of Vermeer´s painting was in love with the girl.
Finally, and if we pay attention to the right side of the painting we notice the presence of two important elements: the jar and the table. The jar is white ad made of metal; it sis the characteristic model that Italian artists tried to create or develop during the 16th and the 17th centuries inItaly. It is very difficult to see them, but there are too many details on this jar,nd the same happens with the carpet that covers the table. Both elements are decorative elements of extreme luxury and that is because high class people were very much interested in appearances. It means that all these luxurious objects gave these people the opportunity to represent the higher classes of the society and in the same way to put them in the spotlight of the whole society.
As a conclusion, and bearing in mind all the things that have been mentioned before, I have to say that I decided to analyze this painting because although it represents a daily life action, to play music, there must be something hiden behind each of the elements that appears on it. Not only that, but the apparent simplicity of the panting has offered me the opportunity to think about many themes and possible topics for my final creative narrative.
Here you have some of the references that I have used:
-Class notes on Baroque art in Holland: J. Vermeer. Retrieved on April 21, 2011 from http://apuntesdeclasedearte.blogspot.com/2009/06/pintura-barroca-en-holanda-vermeer.html
-Observatorio: una obra de arte diaria. La lección de Música, 1662-1665. Retrieved on april 21, 2011 from http://arte.observatorio.info/2007/12/la-leccion-de-musica-johannes-vermeer-1662/
-The Complete Interactive Vermeer Catalogue: The Music Lesson. Retrieved on April 21, 2011 from http://arte.observatorio.info/2007/12/la-leccion-de-musica-johannes-vermeer-1662/