I get some good-natured ribbing from people about my love of art. I was recently in a museum and when I could tear myself away from the Impressionist exhibit looked at this painting: “The Music Lesson,” by Dutch painter Gerard tor Borch (1617-1681).
Because I know Dutch painting of this era is filled with symbolism, I started looking for the meanings. Here are just a few in this painting:
1. The students with instruments are looking at each other. This would be unusual in this time frame, to look so directly at one another, so it suggests amorous attention.
2. The woman is wearing brighter clothes than you usually see in portraits of couples in this era, so we know they are not married. This makes the gaze all the more charged.
3. He is playing a lute. The lute is very suggestive. It could indicate marital bliss, or it could indicate lust.
4. Her foot is resting on a foot-warmer. These are used to indicate courtship rituals or female lustfulness.
This is just one little example of what I love about art. What we see might well have meant something different to people in the time in which it was painted. I love learning all those little tidbits, and I’ve picked them up just reading in museums.