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This painting comes from a set of five pictures of people playing musical instruments. Painted early in Lely’s English career, it is probably a generalised and idealised image of a shepherd boy rather than a portrait of a specific individual.

The jew’s harp consists of a metal ‘tongue’ fixed to a frame: the boy plays it by holding the frame between his teeth and striking the tongue with his finger. Musicians were often the subjects of Dutch paintings of this period, particularly in Haarlem where Lely had been trained.

April 2005