Vermeer and Music

Vermeer: The Music Lesson

The Art of Love and Leisure

(National Gallery, London, until 8 September 2013)

In Dutch art of the 17th century, music can have many different meanings. Performed by a family group sitting for their portrait, it might represent cultivation and refinement; or in one of the more restrained genre settings it might indicate an allegory of temperance and moderation. But these acceptable, admirable meanings could easily be subverted, for music had other meanings too. It could allude to inappropriate intimacies; it offered a rare opportunity for young men and women to be together unchaperoned; and of course music-making was an enduring symbol of lewd and loose behaviour.

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