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A Woman playing a Clavichord

This intimate scene appears set to receive a guest, or possibly a lover. The interior arch and the drawn back tapestry or curtain was a distinctive device of the Dutch painter Gerrit Dou (1613-75), a trope which became known as ‘niche painting' through its creation of the illusion of depth. Meeting the gaze of the viewer, the woman looks outwards expectantly as she continues to play her clavichord. A red, plump velvet cushion on a carved wooden stool is poised ready for the visitor to sit beside her. A viola da gamba, an instrument designed to be played in accompaniment with a keyboard, is also poised ready for this not-yet-arrived presence. With the open music book, the flask of wine cooling in a brass basin on the floor, and the drawn back tapestry, this painting quietly hovers on the threshold of action about to happen. All suggest a lovers’ scenario: playing music together, drinking wine, and an open door in the right-hand background, leading where? The depiction of musicians in the Netherlands at this time became associated with love and courtship.  

Gerrit Dou was one of the most famous of all Dutch painters, his legacy firmly continuing until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Born in Leiden, Holland in 1613, he was the son of a glass and copper engraver. He worked in his father’s studio and entered the glaziers’ guild, and it was perhaps this detailed work which came to influence his particular style of painting. Dou founded the fijnschilders school of painting Leiden, which translates literally as ‘fine painters’ - referring to the meticulous eye for detail found in A Woman Playing a Clavichord. In 1628, at the age of fifteen, Dou became a pupil of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69). He remained with Rembrandt for three years before completing his apprenticeship just prior to Rembrandt's departure for Amsterdam in 1631/2. Dou remained in Leiden and continued in the fijnschilders style. 

Currently on display

Gerrit Dou
Gallery 5
37.7 x 29.9 cm
Oil on oak panel
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
Accession number
Adopted by the Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery, 1991