The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
The Lute Player
  • Jan Steen (1626 - 1679)
  • The Lute Player
  • Netherlands
  • c. 1670
  • Painting
  • Oil on canvas
  • Image size: 36.4 x 53.2 cm
  • Signature: 'JStee[n]', the 'JS' in monogram
  • P150
  • East Galleries II
Further Reading
  • Painted in the late 1660s or early 1670s, this picture presents a cautionary tale of sensual over-indulgence. The figure of the young man on the left, a self-portrait of Steen, conveys the sense of smell through the pipe he smokes, and the sense of taste in the wine glass he holds up. In the background an embracing couple represent touch, while the elegant lute player in the foreground illustrates sound through music, and sight by the beauty of her own person. She is dressed in a shimmering costume of lilac, blue and yellow silks, itself a testimony to the sensual delight of vision and the painter’s art. As is often the case with Steen’s work, all is not as it first appears. The embracing couple are mismatched lovers. The man’s black costume, with its antiquated ruff and hat, is similar to that worn by the libidinous doctor of the commedia dell’arte, a notoriously unsuccessful, if persistent, suitor. The lute recalls the moralist Jacob Cats’s association of music and love in the image of the lutenist. The presence of a large purse hanging from her waist, however, implies that her ‘love’ could be bought, at a price.