Dutch seventeenth-century artists drew their subject matter from all elements of society. The refinement of the wealthy burghers in the second half of the century was best captured by Gerard ter Borch the Younger. His exquisite painting technique, which consisted of delicate touches with the brush and the use of thin glazes to suggest transparencies, allowed him to create realistic textural effects, whether of lace, satin, or the pile of an oriental tablecloth. His pictures’ calm moods and brilliant renditions of fabrics set a precedent for later painters such as Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) and Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667). Ter Borch particularly favored depictions of music lessons, as the subject provided him the opportunity to depict the social interactions of people within a domestic setting and to explore the many symbolic allusions of music, from marital harmony to love and seduction. The theme also allowed him to show off his superb skills in rendering materials, especially the sumptuous textiles worn by his female subjects.
Ter Borch’s sensitive and elegant genre scenes were in high demand, and a large number of replicas and versions of his paintings were created by assistants in his workshop. Based on stylistic and qualitative comparisons, Music Lesson was likely painted by an artist working directly under Ter Borch’s supervision. Concentrating on her music book, an elegantly attired woman strums her bent-necked theorbo—a large baroque lute with an extra set of bass strings—to the beat established by her music teacher. The artist created his composition by adapting a number of motifs the master had used in earlier works. The most important source of inspiration was Ter Borch’s A Woman Playing a Theorbo to Two Men, now in the National Gallery, London.