Artist: Bartholomeus van der Helst (Dutch, Haarlem, born ca. 1612–15, died 1670 Amsterdam)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 54 1/2 x 43 3/4 in. (138.4 x 111.1 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, 1873
Accession Number: 73.2
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, van her Helst's musician seems to address a male viewer, inviting him to take up the gamba and join her in a duet.
Some scholars have considered the picture to be an allegory or personification of music, and it has been suggested that the work is a portrait. The question of portraiture is complicated. It seems highly unlikely that a patron would have asked an Amsterdam portraitist to have herself (or, in the case of a male client, his wife) depicted as a musical seductress, rather than as a mythological, religious, or allegorical figure. However, artists did portray themselves and their wives as romantic couples. One might ask whether van der Helst's wife, Anna du Pire, served as the model for this work, and whether it was painted together with a pendant portrait of the artist, perhaps in the guise of a suitor. In the absence of a known pendant and an unquestionable portrait of Anna du Pire, this remains speculation.