Johannes Vermeer Paints A Lady Standing at a Virginal

The richly dressed lady playing a virginal stands in a wealthy Delft home with paintings on the wall, a marble-tiled floor, and a skirting of locally produced Delft blue and white tiles.

The two paintings on the wall behind her cannot be identified with certainty, but the small landscape on the left is probably either by Jan Wijnants or Allart van Everdingen.

As we might suspect in an artist with his aspirations, Vermeer injected narrative or allegorical significance even into his domestic interiors. The young woman strokes the keys of the virginal - a smaller version of the harpsichord - but looks expectantly out of the picture. Music, we recall, is the 'food of love', and the empty chair calls to mind an absent sitter, perhaps travelling abroad among the mountains depicted in the picture on the wall and on the lid of the virginal. Cupid holding up a playing card or tablet has been related to an emblem of fidelity to one lover, as illustrated in one of the popular contemporary Dutch emblem books, where the image is explained in the accompanying motto and text. It has been suggested, not altogether convincingly, that the painting forms a contrasting pair with its neighbour, Vermeer's Young Woman seated at a Virginal, where the viola da gamba in the foreground awaits the partner of a duet but the picture of the Procuress (by the Utrecht artist Baburen) behind the woman points to mercenary love.