Vermeer’s paintings are full of musical instruments and people making music. In the case of The Music Lesson, the instrument is the virginal (espineta, in Spanish), an instrument greatly admired by the Dutch upper class during the mid-seventeenth century.
The music written for the virginal was measured in rhythms, and nuances of timing were carefully conceived and executed. The lyrics often accompanying the music were about human and spiritual love and about the comfort (solace) that one can obtain from it. The role the instruments played for their listeners was usually summarized in a sentence. In the case of this virginal appearing in The Music Lesson, the sentence is:
Mvsica letitiae co[me]s medicina dolor[vm] (Music: companion of joy, balm for sorrow).
The instrument on the focus of Vermeer’s painting seems to be an Antwerp, made by the famous intrument maker Andreas Rucker. This particular virginal look like one of Rocker’s best creations. These instruments were usually made for rich families to buy them in order to scale some positions in society by teaching their children how to play this virginal.
This instrument was even considered to reinforce the relations between men and women because it was an excuse for pilite contact between the sexes. Artists of the time used the concept of the music lesson to depict the sensuality as well the social acceptability of a woman playing such an instrument.
We have now the opportunity to see and listen to a different interpretation of this famous painting. The musician and music teacher Ernst Stolz has recorded Dutch and other European baroque and Renaissance music for us to listen to it. Enjoy this choice of music!!