Music was an important theme in the art of Jan Vermeer, embodied in one of his well-known paintings, The music lesson. This type of scene was also painted by Vermeer’s contemporary, Frans van Mieris the Elder, a genre and portrait painter. In The Duet (1658), Mieris portrayed a damsel and gentleman making music together, while a servant brings over a drink and music book. In comparison to Mieris, Vermeer reduced the activity in the scene, but in doing so he added ambiguity to the nature of the event unfolding in the painting. Even though the title suggests that the lady playing the virginal is accompanied by her tutor, the iconography implies that the man in question could be a lover or a suitor.
Music is a metaphor for harmony and love, and the type of melodies played on the virginal celebrated love and the comfort it brings.