Vermeer’s Ruckers

Vermeer’s Ruckers Muselar Virginal: Vermeer’s painting of a Ruckers Muselar Virginal in The Music Lesson c. 1662-65

Dominic Eckersley
One of the most famous paintings by Johannes Vermeer (1632-75), The Music Lesson (Royal Collection), features a young woman standing with her back to the painter while playing a muselar virginal with a gentleman standing to her right (See Diag. 1, cover). The painting measures 74.6 cm by 64.1 cm. Many people have questioned who might have made the instrument she is playing in the painting, and if it is even plausible to try to track down the maker of an instrument in a painting at all. How accurate can a painting be? Vermeer is often thought to have been so very careful with detail in his paintings, which has led to the general acceptance that he probably used a camera obscura, as David Hockney suggested, or some similar optical aid, to assist him in his work. But still, how accurate could that be? Would Vermeer even bother to be accurate to the point that a viewer might be able to recognise the maker of an instrument when the area normally carrying the name of a maker is not visible? How could we even demonstrate such a thing anyway?

Read more in Harpsichord and Fortepiano Spring 2015…

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