Girl interrupted at her music

Girl interrupted at her music

c. 1658-1661

Oil on canvas. 15 1/2 x 17 1/2 in. (39.3 x 44.4 cm.)

The Frick Collection, New York

“The girl has been distracted and turns to look with a slightly quizzical expression.One wonders what has caused the interruption and why is has not yet disturbed her companion. She and the man are holding a sheet of paper, presumably a letter or a sheet of music. Once again, Vermeer presents an enigmatic scene leaving it ambiguous whether the man is the girl’s teacher or lover. The viewer is offered a privileged moment to look into the girl’s eyes, just before her companion turns to see who has entered the room. Music was often associated with love, and lying on the table are a cittern and an open music score, together with a blue and white Delftware pitcher and a single glass of red wine. On the rear wall is a full-length painting of Cupid, which is probably intended as a reminder that perfect love should be reserved for a single lover. The paint surface of ‘Girl Interrupted at her Music’ is in worn condition and the birdcage hanging on the wall near the window may be a later addition by another artist.” Vermeer, Martin Bailey, 1995


Martin Bailey. Girl interrupted at her music. 1995. Essential Vermeer. Access 7 th March 2009.



From the very first moment I liked this picture. The reason? I think it is one of all the collection of Vermeer in which faces and expressions (or feelings) are better represented.

At a first glance, the part of the picture that attracts our attention is not the paper she holds in her hands (as it is supossed to be, because it is where light falls), but her face. She looks like an innocent and naive young girl. Her eyes represent curiosity and a little bit of surprise. Meanwhile, the man, that it is supossed to be her teacher, remains unaware of what seems to have attracted the girl’s attention. Although the man’s face is shaded off, it is still very well portrayed and expresses peace and even -I have the impression- that it also provides confidence, as he seems to be a very understanding and sensitive man.

It is also interesting, as I have said before the points of light that come from the left window. They are (classified from more, to less intensity): the paper, the head and headscarf of the girl, the instrument and the kind of vase, the details of the carving in the wood of the chair, and finally, the left side of the clothes of both the girl and the man. Meanwhile, the shadows can be seen in front of the picture’s observer- just behind the man- and the bottom, left part of the picture. Darkness is very important in Vermeer’s picture, because it helps him to push into the background some details that he does not want to stand out; such as the glass of wine or the picture of Cupid. Also what seems to be a birdcage.

I also like the way clothes are depicted, because with a combination of shadows and light, movement is very well done. It is to mention the colour red of the dress, a colour that Vermeer used in the dresses of some of the women he painted, like the ones of “the girl with a wine glass” or “the glass of wine” (which are the most similar ones to my picture, taking into account the position of the people, the room, and the elements).

So it is a picture that although it seems simple, if we stop to look at it carefully, we can see a lot of interesting details that makes it special.

Author: Ana Carrera


  1. This painting of a “Girl Interrupted at Her Music” is true in the sense of discontinued musical activity, but her music-playing had ceased prior to the interruption of the “viewer” that her look acknowledges. The picture indicates a history, which necessitates a narrative. The girl has moved from her perched seating on a pillowed chair, from which music was formed on a cittern that is now discarded along with it’s written pages. A single half-full, half-empty wineglass and decanter mixes a cocktail of intrigue in our minds. Why is she now in the man’s chair and space. Perhaps, the “viewer” is not seen, but only heard, as the man shows no sign of recognition of the girl’s concern. Wouldn’t he also be aware of one who had entered? The Cupid, behind them, if painted fully by Vermeer, would have appeared to see the viewer as well, if we remember the same image in “Lady Standing at the Virginals”. Vermeer seems to have decided against this direct gaze and opted for it’s symbolic force alone. The cage, in it’s emblematic meaning, shows perched birds as being happy in their captivity and symbolize love’s willingness to depose freedom for a lover’s cell. A writer’s pen has denied vermeer’s brush in the addition of this cage, but it fits the actions of the story. The girl, seated again, is touched by the man’s fingers beneath a page devoid of music, as the seduction of the uninhibited winebibber is well under way. As with the skirts of other of Vermeer’s paintings and other “Dou”-ist painters, they are piled up behind as would have seemed necessary for practical friction on the elevated pillow in her inebriation. Dou seems a precedant to Vermeer and especially his tipsy “Lady seated at the Virginals”, who reveals her condition in her neck that is cocked awkwardly, as she turns her head. The dress there shows sign of the same compromise, as the subtler version with this girl. The beautiful red gown in the “Girl with the Wineglass” and her relation to the chairback is precious humour!

  2. Thank you for your comment!! It’s nice to read your opinion about Vermeer’s paintings. You seem to like his art very much. Thank you

  3. Gracias, You are kind to say so. Perhaps, you and I, and Vermeer, and Terborch will sit at the same table someday!

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