Music-making, a recurring subject in Vermeer’s interior scenes and was associated in the seventeenth century with courtship.
Members in the upper class were trained in playing music, thus indicating the status of the young woman.
The seated woman looks up from the sheet in her hands to gaze at us, the viewer, as though we have disturbed her during a private moment.
The amorous theme is reinforced by the picture of Cupid with raised left arm dimly visible in the background.
Although the exact meaning of this image is debated, it likely derives from an emblem book like the Amorum Emblemata, designed by Otto van Veen (1556-1629). Emblem books were quite popular at this time and were often used by artists for inspiration.
The relationship between the man and woman is unclear. Is he her music teacher or her suitor?
His lack of hat and the glass of wine suggest familiarity.
A serene light enters through the multi-paneled window, which features a complex design of interlocking geometric figures. Similarly detailed windows appear in several of Vermeer’s paintings.
Costume experts have noted that the woman’s linen cap was partly ornamental and served to protect a woman’s coiffure before and after dressing.
On the table is a cittern, sheet music (for voice), a blue and white Chinese pitcher, and a glass of red wine.
This picture was the first of three Vermeers acquired by Henry Clay Frick. Frick purchased this painting in 1901, when he was still living in Pittsburgh.
As only thirty-five or thirty-six extant works are securely attributed to Vermeer today, Frick’s acquisition of three paintings by the Dutch master was an impressive achievement.
Girl Interrupted at Her Music by Johannes VermeerThe Frick Collection
This exhibition is part of the Google Vermeer Project.