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Boy playing the Flute

Judith Leysterc. 1630s

Nationalmuseum Sweden

Nationalmuseum Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden

Despite the monogram, this work was, at the time of its donation to the Nationalmuseum in 1871, attributed both to Frans Hals and to Jan de Bray. Not until 1893 did Hofstede de Groot identity it as a work of Judith Leyster. Boy Playing a Flute is one of the artist’s most important and attractive paintings. It probably originated in the early 1630s, since it still shows traces of the influence of the Utrecht Caravaggists. The composition is fresh and highly original. The subject is a combination of a genre scene, a still life and a portrait.

Several scholars have discussed the iconography of this painting. Hardcastle believes that the boy is holding the flute the wrong way round, and that the painting is consequently reversed. This view is refuted by Hofrichter, who points out that a simple flute can be held either way. She also suggests that the painting may have a hidden meaning, representing one of the five senses, namely Hearing. Franits has remarked the juxtaposition of a flute and a violin may not be purely fortuitous. Within the ideological world of early modern music, these instruments were considered antipodes. Stringed instruments theoretically belonged to a loftier category, associated with Pythagorean harmony, whereas wind instruments were considered less sophisticated, frequently being depicted in the hands of peasants or shepherds. The flute player’s upward glance can often be found in similar depictions of musicians and saints, and alludes to the capacity of music to inspire and animate.

Hofrichted finds a number of perplexing details in the painting, such as the fact that the boy is sitting on a broken chair. While Dutch genre paintings from this period often do have double meanings, a depiction like this one may be entirely realistic.

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  • Title: Boy playing the Flute
  • Creator: Judith Leyster
  • Date Created: c. 1630s
  • Title in Swedish: Flöjtspelande pojke
  • Signature: J.L. (and a star)
  • Physical Dimensions: w620 x h730 cm (without frame)
  • Artist Information: Judith Leyster was a Dutch artist, born in Haarlem in 1609. Her father Jan Willemsz., was the owner of a brewery called the "Ley-ster" (lodestar), from which the family took its surname. Leyster principally painted genre pieces depicting merry, music-making groups, although usually small cabinet-seized pieces. Stylistically, much of Leyster's work resembles that of Frans Hals. She favored the same types of subjects and compositions. And although no records survive to prove that she studied with Hals a number of her works shows her to have been one of his closest and most successful followers. Other comparisons suggest that she was also influenced by the work of Hals' brother, Dirck Hals. Judith Leyster achieved a degree of professional success that was quite remarkable for a female artist of her time. She enrolled with the painter’s guild in Haarlem the early 1630s. She was then the only woman master-painter of her day. She maintained her own studio in Haarlem until she married Jan Miense Molenaer, a fellow artist and at times close follower of Hals. The couple subsequently moved to Amsterdam, where they lived until 1648. She painted very little after her marriage. Leyster died in 1660. For more than two hundred years she remained unknown as an artist. It was only towards the end of the nineteenth century that her work was rediscovered.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Nationalmuseum, Nationalmuseum
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

Additional Items

Boy playing the Flute (Supplemental)

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