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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 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.