Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Virginal Music

I just like this painting:

Emanuel de Witte, "Interior with a Woman Playing a Virginal" (c. 1660)

Sure, they may have had poor dental care and no antibiotics, but they had lovely interiors and time to sit around playing the virginal. The name does not come from the supposed sexual status of the performer, by the way, but from part of the key mechanism. The keys push up jacks, or virga in Latin, that hold the plectra that pluck the strings--like little guitar picks, one for each string. Here is another painting of someone playing the virginal:

Woman at a muselar, by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1672
And what music might they have been playing? That's always what I ask myself when I see paintings like these. It could well have been something by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck:

Somehow I find it reassuring that someone, somewhere, is sitting at a virginal playing a little Sweelinck.

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