Music in Art

We can find out what history’s music sounded like when we play music scores by classic composers. Thanks to the visual arts, we can also find out what making music looked like in the past! Here’s a little gallery of paintings of music and musicians, along with recordings of the kind of music that inspired each painting.

The Lute Player

The Lute Player by Caravaggio

The Italian artist Caravaggio painted this picture of a boy playing the lute around 1596. Maybe the boy is playing this anonymous dance from the Italian Renaissance – it’s called a Branle!

Young Flute Player

Young Flute Player by Judith Leyster

Dutch artist Judith Leyster painted this boy playing the baroque flute in the early 1630s. Maybe the boy is playing a piece like “Silvester in the Morning-Time” by the Dutch composer Jacob van Eyck, who published a book flute pieces a few years later, in 1644.

Young Woman Seated at the Virginals

A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals by Johannes Vermeer

The Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer painted this girl playing the virginals, a kind of harpsichord, around 1670. A harpsichord has a keyboard like a piano, but it makes sound by plucking strings, unlike a piano, which has small hammers that strike strings. Perhaps this girl is playing “Silly Simon,” a piece for harpsichord by the Dutch Baroque composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck.

The Piano Lesson

The Piano Lesson by Marguerite Gérard

In this French painting by Marguerite Gérard, a little girl is receiving a piano lesson around the year 1785. Perhaps the little girl is learning the Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman,” a piece Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote a couple years earlier, based on a French folk song. You might recognize the tune as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star!”