A Portrait of an Elegant Couple Making Music
A Portrait of an Elegant Couple Making Music

A Portrait of an Elegant Couple Making Music

c. 1670 Netherlands

Offered by Pieter Hoogendijk

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In a spacious interior, an elegant young couple is making music. She is fashionably dressed and sits on a stool by a virginal: with one hand she strikes a note on the keyboard, while in the other she holds an open songbook. He wears A thick, red gown and brown curly wig and plays a tune on a viola da gamba. A little brown and white King Charles spaniel plays on a mat at their feet. A small guitar leans up against a side table, on which rest books of music and a violin. Sumptuous draperies, paintings in gilded frames and other costly furnishings decorate the room. On the left, a parrot, freed from its cage, perches on top of an open window casement, through which a view of the garden can be seen. In front of the window, on a table covered with an oriental carpet, a still life of bread and fruit, with fine glass and china vessels completes the luxurious scene.
Inscribed on the lid of the virginal: JUSTICUM INTELLIGENTI

This painting of an unidentified couple is a fine example of the early work of Hermannus Collenius, from his period in Amsterdam in the 1670s . At this stage in his career, the young artist from Friesland painted mostly portraits of the city’s social elite. As we see here, his youthful style reflects the Flemish and French influences which were shaping the fashionable portraiture of his contempories, such as Nicolaes Maes and Caspar Netscher. The informal poses of our sitters and the prominence given to their fine apparel, the musical instruments and elegant surroundings is closely allied to the high- life genre scenes of the period. Light streams in from the window on the left, enveloping the interior in a clear, golden aura. Highlights are reflected in the gilt birdcage, the auricular mouldings of the picture fames, in the glass and metalware and in the smoothly polished wooden surface of the large stringed instrument. The dark green curtain, swept up in a theatrical manner on the right, serves as a repoussoir, creating a sense of depth, enhanced by the view through to an adjoining room. The broad, painterly handling is characteristic of the artist’s style, as is the palette of warm, reddish tones.
The theme of music-making in art has long been associated with love. In earlier times, it was often treated in a mythological form, as in Titian’s Venus and a Lute Player, but in seventeenth-century Dutch painting it often appears in the context of contemporary life.
The power of music to touch the emotions is also acknowledged in poetry of the day, for example in the words of Jacob Westerbaen, “Learn to play the lute, the clavichord. The strings have the power to caress the heart” . The metaphor of love as a harmonious duet was particularly popular and, in this case, alludes to concord between the husband and wife. The little dog clearly symbolises marital fidelity but the gilded birdcage is more difficult to interpret: in this situation it may well stand for the “sweet slavery” of love, or simply signify domesticity . Whatever the case, our young couple are happy in their good fortune, as they pursue their tuneful activity amidst comfortable surroundings: an atmosphere of civility and gentility pervades the scene.
Pieter Hoogendijk

Pieter Hoogendijk
Amsterdamsestraatweg 31

1411 AW

+31(0)35 542 04 59
+31(0)654 393 600
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