Sir Peter LelyBoy Playing a Jew's Harp c.1648

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Artwork details

Sir Peter Lely (1618‑1680)
Boy Playing a Jew's Harp
Date c.1648
MediumOil paint on canvas
Dimensionssupport: 1410 x 1029 mm frame: 1675 x 1310 x 120 mm
Acquisition Presented by the Art Fund (Eugene Cremetti Fund) 1966
Not on display


This work, along with the Man Playing a Pipe (Tate T00885) and three other paintings by Lely that depict people playing musical instruments, was first recorded in the collection of the Earls of Craven at Combe Abbey in Warwickshire in 1739, at which time they were all attributed to the Haarlem painter, Frans Hals (1580 or 1585-1666). In the mid-twentieth century they were recognised as being characteristic of the early work of Sir Peter Lely. The other three works were A Girl Playing a Theorbo-Lute, A Man Playing a Violin and A Young Man Playing an Eleven-course Lute (subsequently sold, Christie's London 20 November 1992, as lots 6-8).

The Jew's harp - the name, which is recorded as early as the sixteenth century, is apparently a corruption of the name 'jaws' harp' - is a small, metal bow-shaped instrument with a tongue. It is played by placing it between the teeth of the upper and lower jaws and striking the metal tongue. It was a cheap and simple way of making music… (read more)

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