The latest painting exhibition to open at Britain's National Gallery in London returns once again to Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, and takes an entertaining and instructive look at the role of music in his paintings.
The exhibition of the 17th century Dutch master -- Vermeer and Music, the Art of Love and Leisure -- opens Wednesday.
Accompanying several of his paintings, which include a global total of 34 masterpieces, are displays of period musical instruments, highlighting the connection between painting and music.
These instruments are often featured in Vermeer's works as well as the works of other master painters of the Dutch Golden Age.
In Dutch painting of the era, music carried a variety of associations. A musical instrument or songbook might suggest the talent or sophistication of the sitter in a portrait, while in still life or domestic paintings, they might signify harmony or act as a symbol of transience.
One of the paintings, 'A Music Lesson,' features a virginal, a type of early keyboard instrument. On its lid is painted, in Latin, the motto "Music is the companion of joy, the medicine of sorrow."
In an imaginative move, organizers have also highlighted live musical performances on period instruments by expert players from London's Academy of Ancient Music.
Exhibition curator Betsy Wieseman told Xinhua it's "an unusual move" for Britain, and there aren't that many exhibitions that have done that. "I wanted to bring the paintings to live," Wieseman said. "They are so beautiful visually, but I wanted to share something about the musical ambience and the musical live in the 17th century because it is so different to what we have today."
Wieseman explained that most music happened at home. "You performed it with your friends and family and you did not go to a concert hall," she said. "It was much more active and intimate."
"I wanted people to experience how music is in an intimate setting, like a Vermeer painting and to experience what it would have been like for the people in these paintings," said Wieseman.
Vermeer was a master at capturing the domestic scene, and the intimate nature of domestic life.
There are five Vermeer masterpieces on show, including two from the National Gallery's collection, one from a private collection in the United States, one from the Royal Collection of Queen Elizabeth II and one from the Kenwood House museum in London.
Wieseman explained that to get such paintings was a coup for the National Gallery.
"'The Guitar Player' is very fragile and is never lent to exhibitions," she said. Because the Kenwood House is currently being refurbished, it has moved home to the National Gallery.
The painting shows the style in Vermeer's late period (1676) developing into "geometric, almost abstract". Wieseman said: "When you get up close, it's almost impressionist; you start to see shapes rather than a guitar."
ONE OF THE MOST CELEBRATED OF PAINTERS
Vermeer was well respected during his lifetime as an artist, Wieseman said.
Although little is known about his life, it's known that visitors to the Dutch city of Delft would go out of their way to visit Vermeer's studios.
"Vermeer's paintings are mostly characterized by a small scale and domestic subjects," Wieseman said. "Also there is his use of light and the understanding of how light plays over objects."
His domestic subjects often focus on a beautiful woman in her home, and they often catch a very intimate moment almost by surprise.
"They are a simplified and abstracted version of real life," said Wieseman.
The picture 'The Music Lesson,' on loan from the British Royal collection, depicts a young woman and a man standing in natural light at the back of a room and being caught in conversation as she plays a virginal.
"There is this couple far back in the picture, deep in the room, having an intimate moment, some sort of exchange but we do not know what it is," Wieseman explained. "The woman's face is only seen as a reflection in a mirror. It is as if we have just opened the door, interrupting them."
In mastery of Vermeer's style, the painting captures the moment perfectly in its composition and construction.
"I have a feeling when looking at this painting that this is a moment interrupted; as soon as they see us or know that we are there then the moment will be destroyed," said Wieseman.
Wieseman said Vermeer is now one of the most celebrated of painters.
"He is near the top of the pantheon among painters. He was such a skillful, inventive and meditative painter," Wieseman said. "He was thinking about a lot of things, not just creating a painting. He actively thought about style and composition, he is more cerebral than many artists."