Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits



Portrait of a Musician Playing a Bagpipe

inscribed AE . S (with the A and E conjoined) SUE 57 and dated A.O 1632 in the upper center

oil on panel

15 ¾ x 11 ¾ inches     (40 x 30 cm.)


Galerie Stern, Düsseldorf

Their forced sale, Lempertz, Cologne, November 13, 1937, lot 220, plate 42

Private Collection, Germany, until 2007 who consigns it to sale, Lempertz, Cologne, November 17, 2007, lot 1173 where purchased by

Philip Mould, Ltd., London from whom acquired by

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts, New York

Restituted to the Estate of Dr. Max Stern, April, 2009

Max Stern Art Restitution Project, Concordia University, Montreal, 2009- until the present time



Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2009-2010

Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., “Hendrik ter Brugghen, Bagpipe Player, 1624”, NGA online editions: Dutch Painting 17th Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


This unusual picture depicts a musician of the early seventeenth century.  He stands with the tools of his trade, an elaborately decorated bagpipe and on the wall behind him a violin and bow.  To his right there is a simple meal on a cloth covered table.  Although upon initial viewing the painting appears to be a straightforward portrait of a musician the work also incorporates themes of vanitas and genre.  His fanciful dress and gold-hoop earring add a note of exoticism to the portrayal.

Few visual sources documenting professional musicians survive from the period.  Portraits of musicians are not common [2] and this work also provides a fascinating recording of folk instruments that were traditionally played at country dances, weddings and other celebrations.  The bagpipe consists of a shawm or single reed pipe blown through a bag with usually one or more drones that are cylindrical pipes which sound only one tone.  Violinists at this stage did not use chin rests.  The instrument would be held against the chest, the upper-arm, shoulder or collar-bone.  The bow was more convex than is common today as well as ending in a long and tapering point. [3]  While staring directly at the viewer and posed as if ready to begin playing this musician draws his audience into the composition, breaking down the pictorial barrier.  The seventeenth century viewer could readily imagine the type of music that was about to be played. [4]

A common vanitas theme is the association of music’s fleeting nature with that of time.  The bagpipe and violin’s particular connection with peasant revelries further link them to the sin of gluttony, as drinking and feasting were regarded as vices best avoided.  Although this might seem an overstatement of interpretation, the artist’s inclusion of a broken string on the violin leaves little doubt of the intent.  The bagpipe is embellished with a gold and silver coin stamped with an eagle, possibly suggesting a Hapsburg connection, which hang from a silver chain.  These also may be viewed as emblematic of the transient nature of earthly riches.

In this context, the instruments embody the sin of lust.  The bagpipe at times carried an erotic connotation as a symbol for male genitals. [5]  The playing of a violin was also a common metaphor for lovemaking, the bow representing the male and the instrument the female. [6]&[7]  Although the seriousness of the expression of our sitter belies a sexual connotation, the resplendent head of Pan with his goat-like face, pointed ears and horns crowning the reed pipe claim otherwise.  Pan, the Greek god who charmed the nymphs with his pipes, personifies lust.

The musician’s Spartan meal represents temperance, stemming from a tradition that began in the early 1600s of contrasting the rich and poor man’s meal in pendant panels. [8]  Contemporary moralists advocated a temperate lifestyle as the road to salvation in opposition to one spent in the pursuit of worldly pleasures.  Thus warring vanitas themes converge within this seemingly simple portrayal of a fifty-seven year-old musician and his instruments offering both temptation and redemption.



[1] In written communications from Ludwig Meyer of the Archiv Für Kunstgeschichte dated Munich January 13, 2009 and Gert Elzinga of the Fries Museum, Leeuwarden dated January 20, 2009 both suggest the panel to be by an artist working in the Northern Netherlands.

[2] Louis Peter Grijp, “Confusions and Perspectives”, in Music and Painting in the Golden Age, exhibition catalogue, Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder, The Hague, Waanders, Zwolle, 1994, pp. 119, 202.

[3] Louis Peter Grijp, “Survey of Musical Instruments”, in Music and Painting in the Golden Age, op. cit., pp. 270, 365.

[4] Louis Peter Grijp, “Confusions and Perspectives”, op. cit., p. 113.

[5] Edwin Buijsen & Paul Verbraeken, “Jasper van der Lamen”, in Music and Painting in the Golden Age, op. cit., p. 204.

[6] Edwin Buijsen, “Jan Steen”, in Music and Painting in the Golden Age, op. cit., pp. 290, 292. There is an etching by Adriaen Matham, (1599-1660) of a Violinist (Rijksprenten Kabinet, Amsterdam) that depicts an old violinist lasciviously staring at the viewer while playing his instrument.  Bagpipes hang from his belt, while the print’s inscription leaves no room for doubt: ‘My strings are still stiff, as well as all the rest / But if my Aeltie helps / then it works best’.

[7] See Margret Klinge & Dietmar Lüdge, David Teniers der Jüngere 1610-1690, exhibition catalogue, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, 2005, p. 48. Another print done by Crispijn de Passe the Elder (1564-1637) circa 1600, Rustic Couple with a Bagpipe, has a man and woman seated facing each other with a bagpipe in-between, the woman fondles the top and bottom of the sack while the man leers.

[8] Ildikó Ember, “Still-Life Paintings: The Hidden Meanings” in Delights for the Senses, Dutch and Flemish Still-Life Paintings from Budapest, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, 1989, pp. 22-26, 38, fn. 33.

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