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The Music Lesson
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Gerard Ter Borch
Dutch, about 1668
Oil on canvas
26 5/8 x 21 5/8 in.
97.PA.47

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"Love will prevail as long as there is music and merrymaking," wrote Dutch poet Jacob Cats in the 1600s; this painting exemplifies Cats's slogan. As the elegantly dressed woman plays the lute, a man, who may be her instructor, keeps rhythm and time with his hand. The foot warmer in the lower left corner symbolizes love, and the bed suggests an amorous relationship between the man and woman, maybe even seduction.

Gerard ter Borch always set a mood, creating a subtle psychological interplay between the people in his intimate paintings. He delighted in meticulously describing and contrasting varied textures: the soft pile of the woman's velvet jacket, distinguished from its plump white fur trim; the shimmer of her pearl-colored satin dress; the dog's soft, wavy fur; and the variations of wood grain in the cello, furniture, and floor. He noticed even the most minute details, such as the nails in the floorboards and the brass door handle. Ter Borch created about eleven paintings of female lute players, often repeating the motifs of the woman in the satin gown and fur-trimmed jacket, the dog, the foot warmer, the four-poster bed in the background, and the partially opened door.