A Young Woman seated at a Virginal

Johannes Vermeerabout 1670-2

The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery, London
London, United Kingdom

In the left foreground rests a viola da gamba with the bow placed in between the strings. The virginal has a landscape painted on the inside of the lid (in the manner of the Delft painter Pieter van Asch), and the painting in the background is 'The Procuress' by Dirck van Baburen (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts) or a copy of it.

Whether or not the subject of 'The Procuress' is intended to have a bearing on the meaning of the whole work is not clear. It is probable that a more general association between music and love is intended. A tapestry frames the scene at the upper left, and the skirting in the lower right is decorated with Delft tiles.

This painting has been dated on stylistic grounds to about 1670. It has been suggested that it and 'A Young Woman standing at a Virginal', the National Gallery's other painting by Vermeer, are pendants, because of the similar size, date and related subject matter.

However, their provenances before the 19th century differ, and Vermeer is known to have explored variations on a theme on other occasions. In the 19th century the two paintings were in the collection of the art critic Théophile Thoré, whose articles prompted the rediscovery of Vermeer in 1866.


  • Title: A Young Woman seated at a Virginal
  • Creator: Johannes Vermeer
  • Date Created: about 1670-2
  • Physical Dimensions: 51.5 x 45.5 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • School: Dutch
  • More Info: Explore the National Gallery’s paintings online
  • Inventory number: NG2568
  • Artist Dates: 1632 - 1675
  • Artist Biography: Johannes Vermeer is one of the great Dutch masters, though only about 35 paintings by him are known. Born in Delft in 1632, he may have been a pupil of local history painter Leonaert Bramer. Work and influence Vermeer's earliest works of the 1650s include religious and mythological subjects as well as genre scenes. They are influenced by Caravaggio's followers in Utrecht, such as Hendrik ter Brugghen. Vermeer may have gained an interest in optical phenomena and the effects of the Camera Obscura from Carel Fabritius, who was active in Delft between 1650 and 1654. Life and legacy Vermeer was a Catholic and married in 1653, the year he became a master in the Delft painters' guild. He produced relatively few paintings and may have worked on each one over an extended period of time. Vermeer’s work inspired even international collectors to visit his studio. Nonetheless, by 1672 he was in financial trouble; he died insolvent in 1675, leaving his wife and many children destitute. Style and symbolism His mature domestic genre pieces have a characteristic pearly light. The eye is drawn into the picture by the careful placing of objects and a clearly defined architectural space. Figures pursue tranquil occupations, and the symbolic meaning of the scene is sometimes revealed through a painting within the painting.
  • Acquisition Credit: Salting Bequest, 1910

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