A Woman playing a Lute to Two Men

Gerard ter Borchabout 1667-8

The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery, London

This anecdotal scene depicts a young woman playing a lute in the company of two men. The instrument is a two-headed lute, a popular modification of the standard lute to accommodate additional bass strings. One of the men holds a music book and seems to mark the beat of the music with his upraised hand.

The association between music and love is a frequent subject in Dutch genre painting. Here, as in many of ter Borch's pictures, the relationship between the figures is deliberately ambiguous. The viewer is invited to decide whether this is just a happy domestic scene, or possibly a scene taking place in brothel.

Though influenced by the work of Gabriel Metsu, the painting is more elaborate in composition and psychological resonance than comparable paintings by that artist. Judging from the style and the fashionable clothes, this painting is probably a relatively late work by ter Borch, dating from the late 1660s.

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  • Title: A Woman playing a Lute to Two Men
  • Creator: Gerard ter Borch
  • Date Created: about 1667-8
  • Physical Dimensions: 67.6 x 57.8 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • School: Dutch
  • Inventory number: NG864
  • Artist Biography: Gerard ter Borch specialised in painting miniature portraits in the 1640s, and later established a new type of small full-length portrait. He also depicted genre scenes. Both portraits and genre scenes are meticulously painted, with particular attention paid to the quality of the costumes, the textures of satins and silks. Ter Borch was the son of a painter who had lived in Italy, Gerard ter Borch the Elder (1584 - 1662). He was born in Zwolle and was first trained by his father. Early in his career he was in Amsterdam and Haarlem, and he then travelled widely in Europe. He attended the conference that led to the Treaty of Münster in 1648, portrayed in the Gallery's 'The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster'. Ter Borch settled in Deventer in 1654 and developed an individual style of genre painting. These works often showed figures in domestic interiors making music, reading or writing letters, and drinking. His most important pupil was Caspar Netscher.
  • Acquisition Credit: Bought, 1871


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