Woman with a Lute, ca. 1662–63
Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632–1675)
Oil on canvas; 20 1/4 x 18 in. (51.4 x 45.7 cm)
Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900 (25.110.24)
A young woman wearing an ermine-trimmed jacket and enormous pearl earrings eagerly looks out the window, in expectation of a male visitor. A musical courtship is suggested by the viola da gamba on the floor in the foreground and by the flow of songbooks across the tabletop and onto the floor. The act of tuning a lute would have suggested the virtue of temperance to contemporary viewers, if not to Vermeer's modern Venus in search of an Adonis or Mars.
The painting probably dates from slightly later than Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (89.15.21), and it shares with that composition its framing of the figure within rectangular motifs. But as in many of Vermeer's paintings dating from the mid- to late 1660s, there is a shift to more muted tones, with shadows and soft contours evoking an air of intimacy. The impression of spatial recession and atmosphere is somewhat diminished by darkening with age of the objects in the foreground and by abrasion of the paint surface, mostly in the same area.