Couple at the Clavichord 1648

Painted by Jan Barendsz Muyckens

Text: Steven Foss

Couple at the Clavichord 1648 by Jan Barendsz Muyckens

What can one conclude from this picture? A rather financially well off older couple, by the elaborate decoration of the clavichord (which I take as painted motifs accurately painted rather than marquetry), and their best clothes (“Sunday Go To Meeting Clothes”). I will presume they are husband and wife (rings on both madame’s ring fingers, a more elaborate ring on her left hand); a family portrait at recreation with the Mrs reading The Holy Bible or Prayer book, and her husband at the Clavichord.

The painter captures the details of the instrument with almost photographic precision. The tangents, the carved key levers, the dampening felt, elaborately painted decoration, the fretting, and the C/E short octave bass. The natural keys in this painting reproduce the letters carved into the corresponding to the musical notes, the lowest is C, the next lowest is F. The instrument is on a table (with a table cloth), rather than a purpose built stand.

However, the picture provides an interesting detail of keyboard technique, the positions of the thumbs. The thumbs are not involved in playing the instrument. And this depiction is found in other earlier clavichord paintings, which also depicted the hands on the keyboard at an angle, to facilitate early third finger over fourth finger crossing, possibly depicted in the left hand (to reach E which corresponds to the G# key)”

©2018 Steven Foss