Making Discoveries: Dou in Harmony

'Dou in Harmony' forms part of 'Making Discoveries', a series of in-focus displays showcasing four major artists from the Gallery’s collection: Van Dyck, Dou, Rubens and Rembrandt.


'Dou in Harmony', Title PageDulwich Picture Gallery

Dou in Harmony

The two paintings presented for Dou in Harmony are amongst the artist’s finest works. This is the first time the paintings have been displayed together since 1665, when they were shown in an exhibition organised by Dou’s patron Johan de Bye in Leiden; possibly the first ever monographic exhibition of a living artist. 

Maid at the Window (circa 1660) by Gerard DouMuseum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Gerrit Dou was the most famous of the group of painters known as the Leiden fijnschilders (literally ‘fine’ painters), who specialised in small-scale paintings full of minute detail and which concentrated on the faithful depiction of different surfaces and textures.

A Young Woman at her Toilet (1667) by Gerard DouMuseum Boijmans Van Beuningen

A Woman playing a Clavichord (c.1665) by Gerrit DouDulwich Picture Gallery

'A Woman Playing a Clavichord' is filled with various still life details that serve the subtle symbolism of the painting, alluding to love, or the promise of it.

The woman gazes outward as though her playing has been momentarily interrupted by the intrusion of the viewer

She may be awaiting the return of her partner, the viola da gamba player, whose instrument leans against the table in the foreground; next to an open music score and a half-drunk glass of wine.

The birdcage may have a symbolic meaning; as in Renaissance emblem books, the birdcage was sometimes used to signify a woman's virginity.

The flask, basin and vine branch may also have erotic undertones; while the viola da gamba can be interpreted as echoing the female form.

'Dou in Harmony', Title PageDulwich Picture Gallery

Yet, although depicting similar subjects, the mood of both paintings is very different and Dulwich’s 'Woman Playing a Clavichord' is much softer than 'Young Lady Playing the Virginal'.

Dou Young Lady Playing the Virginal_JPEGDulwich Picture Gallery

In 'Young Lady Playing the Virginal' Dou presents a much livelier scene that focuses on the pleasures of life.

There are other figures present and our attention is drawn to a room beyond where wine is flowing, poured by a small serving boy, and a couple sit singing from songbooks.

The woman has suddenly stopped playing and gazes provocatively at the viewer, perhaps inviting us to join the party.

Here, music-making is also symbolic of love but the woman’s position as a courtesan, whose role is to entertain men, is made much more explicit; especially as there is another man already waiting, who must be her partner.

Credits: Story

'Making Discoveries' is supported by The Elizabeth Cayzer Charitable Trust and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

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