The Musician

Bartholomeus van der Helst (Dutch, Haarlem, born ca. 1612–15, died 1670 Amsterdam)

Oil on canvas
54 1/2 x 43 3/4 in. (138.4 x 111.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, 1873
Accession Number:
  • Catalogue Entry

    In style and execution this painting is a typical work of Van der Helst’s mature years, and it is reliably signed and dated 1662. The woman tunes a theorbo-lute, and a viola da gamba lies in front of her. Printed music in tenor and soprano parts rests on a carpet-covered table nearby. By her direct gaze, the woman seems to address a male viewer, inviting him to take up the gamba and join her in a duet.

    Although usually treated in later scholarly literature as a genre scene, Liedtke (2009) raises the possibility that it may be a portrait of the artist's wife, Anna du Pire.

    The composition was etched by Jules Jacquemart (see Decamps 1872).

    [2010; adapted from Liedtke 2007]

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed, dated, and inscribed: (lower left) B. vanderhelst / 1662; (on sheet of music) iris; (on cover of book) Supe[r]ius

  • Exhibition History

    University Art Museum, University of California at Berkeley. "Dutch Masters from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 25, 1969–January 4, 1970, checklist no. 6.

    Houston. Rice University. "Dutch Masters from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 18–March 1, 1970, checklist no. 6.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.

  • References

    Louis Decamps. "Un musée transatlantique (3e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 6 (December 1872), p. 479, ill. opp. p. 478 (etching by Jules Jacquemart), as "La musique".

    René Ménard. Entretiens sur la peinture. Paris, 1875, pp. 95, 97, ill. opp. p. 94 [English ed., "Chapters on Painting," London, 1875, pp. 94, 96, ill. opp. p. 94], as "Music"; calls it "one of the jewels of the New-York museum . . . very real, very well painted, very pretty," but adds that it lacks emotion and personality.

    Emil Kegel. "Berichte und Mittheilungen aus Sammlungen und Museen, über staatliche Kunstpflege und Restaurationen, neue Funde: New-York, das Metropolitan-Museum." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 7 (1884), p. 461, considers it an allegory but also a flattering portrait of someone.

    F[ritz von]. Harck. "Berichte und Mittheilungen aus Sammlungen und Museen, über staatliche Kunstpflege und Restaurationen, neue Funde: Aus amerikanischen Galerien." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 11 (1888), p. 75, calls it Portrait of a Lute Player; reads the inscribed date as either 1663 or 1665.

    Alfred von Wurzbach. Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon. 1, Vienna, 1906, p. 672, as Portrait of a Lute Player, 1663 or 1665.

    J. J. de Gelder. Bartholmeus van der Helst. Rotterdam, 1921, pp. 22, 120, 123, 160, no. 17, records the correct date of 1662; notes that the landscape recalls Weenix; calls the work an allegory and identifies the two instruments as a theorbo and a viola da gamba.

    J. J. de Gelder in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. 16, Leipzig, 1923, p. 355.

    Pieter Fischer. Music in Paintings of the Low Countries in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Amsterdam, 1972, pp. 109–12, ill., remarks that it is uncertain whether the work is a portrait or an allegory; discusses the symbolism.

    John Walsh Jr. "Vermeer." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 31 (Summer 1973), unpaginated, fig. 48.

    Anne Hollander. "Fashion in Nudity." Georgia Review 30 (Fall 1976), p. 661, fig. 9.

    Bärbel Hedinger. Karten in Bildern: Zur Ikonographie der Wandkarte in holländischen Interieurgemälden des siebzehnten Jahrhunderts. Hildesheim, 1986, p. 100, fig. 99.

    Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, pp. 183, 190, compares it with Vermeer's "Woman with a Lute" (MMA, 25.110.24).

    Jacques Foucart in Musée du Louvre: Nouvelles acquisitions du Département des Peintures (1983–1986). Paris, 1987, p. 82.

    Walter Liedtke. "Dutch Paintings in America: The Collectors and Their Ideals." Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1990, p. 36, states that this was the only seventeenth-century Dutch work acquired by the Museum between 1871 and 1889.

    Irene Netta. Das Phänomen "Zeit" bei Jan Vermeer van Delft: Eine Analyse der innerbildlichen Zeitstrukturen seiner ein- und mehrfigurigen Interieurbilder. Hildesheim, 1996, pp. 133, 278, fig. 32.

    Eric Jan Sluijter. Seductress of Sight: Studies in Dutch Art of the Golden Age. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 2000, p. 292, fig. 240.

    Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 324, 328–31, no. 77, colorpl. 77; vol. 2, p. 884.

    Walter Liedtke. Vermeer: The Complete Paintings. Antwerp, 2008, p. 102, fig. 14a.

    Judith van Gent. Bartholomeus van der Helst (ca. 1613–1670): Een studie naar zijn leven en werk. [Zwolle, The Netherlands], 2011, pp. 112, 304, 416, no. 127, ill. p. 304 and fig. 68 (color).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History