"During Vermeer's time, composers frequently opposed somber landscapes to the gentle beauty of their ladies.The lady may be related to the landscape in sympathy with the international convention which the woman is the epitome of nature, metaphorized as the Tree of Life.Although it was played by all classes, the cittern was a premier instrument of casual music making for the common people, much like the guitar at the present day.In three paintings, , the cittern lies partially hidden on a table or a chair even though the more informed viewer has no problem in identifying its typical flat body, different from the pear-shaped body of the lute.The idea that the lady was the 'masterpiece of nature' appears in countless songs, poems and tracts on beautiful women in the 17th century." On the other hand, hypothesizing that the "rugged" landscape (painted in the manner of Jacob van Ruisdael) was intended as a counterpoint the idyllic scene of the three musicians, Arthur K. points out that it includes a dead tree truck, a motif which Van Ruisdael was fond of using to indicate death and decay.Perhaps, unlike other genre painters who worked more explicitly with the same themes, Vermeer avoided over-clarification and finger-wagging allowing the spectator greater latitude in relating to the picture.Together with the lute, the viola da gamba was probably the most frequently represented instrument throughout the centuries, whether in painting, sculpture or miniature.
With its flat back, the cittern was much simpler, and therefore cheaper, to construct than the lute.
Such oblique views of instruments were common in paintings since they allowed the arist to show his ability in foreshortening, a key means of reinforcing the illusion of real objects in space.
The Renaissance cittern was played by the "common man," and the upper classes.
Soon, they began to be imported into Venice and thence to the rest of Europe.
While actual early carpets of this kind are rarely preserved, European painting by the great masters such as Giotto, Ghirlandaio, Holbein (see detail left), Van Eyck, Lotto, and Vermeer left many representations of carpets from Turkey and Iran.
Because patterned marble floors can been seen in many genre interiors from the middle and the third quarter of the 17th century, we have been led to believe that they were present in nearly all well-to-do interiors.