A Young Woman seated at a Virginal

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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It appears to be dark outside this elegant room: a blue curtain covers the top part of the window, but the glass below it is black. The light which glints in the heavily dilated pupils of the woman seated at the keyboard comes from in front of the painting, an unusual effect for Vermeer. Significantly, the picture hanging on the wall shows a prostitute flirting with a client. It’s particularly prominent, and this is important because musical scenes like this could be understood in different ways. Some were depicted as bawdy occasions, while others were entirely decorous. Vermeer tended to hedge them with uncertainties, but here the background picture gives an unusually strong hint, which encourages us to wonder if the keyboard player has more than music on her mind.

The National Gallery, London



A Young Woman seated at a Virginal


about 1670-2


Oil on canvas


H 51.5 x W 45.5 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Salting Bequest, 1910

Work type



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The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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