A Woman seated at a Table and a Man tuning a Violin

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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Metsu has highlighted the woman seated at the table – light from the high window falls on her bright red bodice – to confirm her as the centre of our attention.

Her companion or teacher tunes his violin in the background, catching our eye with an inscrutable stare. It isn’t clear whether the viola da gamba, the instrument which lies on the table, belongs to her, or whether a third musician is about to join them.

The role of the violinist is at the heart of how this painting would have been interpreted 400 years ago. The image of a man tuning his instrument in preparation for a duet was often understood as having sexual overtones, or at least hinting at romantic interest.

The National Gallery, London



A Woman seated at a Table and a Man tuning a Violin


about 1658


Oil on canvas


H 43 x W 37.5 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1871

Work type



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The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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