Johannes Vermeer Paints Girl Interrupted at Her Music

Music-making, a recurring subject in Vermeer’s interior scenes, was associated in the seventeenth century with courtship.

In this painting of a duet or music lesson momentarily interrupted, the amorous theme is reinforced by the picture of Cupid with raised left arm dimly visible in the background; the motif is derived from a popular book on emblems of love published in 1608 and symbolizes fidelity to a single lover.

Most Dutch genre painters favored scenes which included some specific action. In Jan Steen's Music Master of about 1659 or Frans van Mieris's The Duet of 1658, for example, figures are engrossed in each other and in the making of music. In each instance a young attendant enters the room, adding to the level of activity. Vermeer, in a number of paintings from the end of the 1650s, sought to achieve similar effects in his multifigured genre paintings. His results, however, were mixed at best. In Officer and Laughing Girl, The Glass of Wine, and The Girl with the Wineglass, his attempts at rendering an action, whether it be laughing, drinking, or smiling, resulted in rather forced and artificial poses.

In the Girl Interrupted at Her Music Vermeer arrived at a solution for this problem: the momentary interruption.