A Young Woman playing a Harpsichord to a Young Man

Jan Steenprobably 1659

The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery, London
London, United Kingdom

In contrast to Steen's characteristic scenes of dissolute households and festive abandon, this painting shows an interior within a stone arch in the manner of Dou and the Leiden 'fijnschilders' (Fine Painters). A girl playing the virginals, or as here, a harpsichord, was one of the most popular subjects with Dutch 17th-century painters, and as in Metsu's roughly contemporary painting, 'A Man and a Woman seated by a Virginal' in the National Gallery, the instrument is inscribed with popular quotations from the Bible. The inscription reads: ACTA VIRUM / PROBANT (actions prove the man), which may be a witty and ironic comment on this scene of rather passive flirtation. On the inner side of the instrument one can read: 'Soli Deo Gloria' (Glory to God alone).

The picture was probably painted in 1659.


  • Title: A Young Woman playing a Harpsichord to a Young Man
  • Creator: Jan Steen
  • Date Created: probably 1659
  • Physical Dimensions: 42.3 x 33 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on oak
  • School: Dutch
  • More Info: Explore the National Gallery’s paintings online
  • Inventory number: NG856
  • Artist Dates: 1626 - 1679
  • Artist Biography: Jan Steen was born at Leiden, where he mainly worked, with periods in Haarlem, Utrecht and The Hague. He is famous for his witty moralising scenes of domestic life, which are well represented in the National Gallery's large group of paintings by the artist. He was a lifelong Catholic, and also produced religious and mythological paintings. His father was a brewer and leased a brewery for Steen at Delft (1654-7). In 1672 he was licensed to keep an inn at Leiden. Jan Steen attended Leiden University in 1646; his paintings often contain literary or theatrical references.
  • Acquisition Credit: Bought, 1871

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