Frame by Frame: ‘Woman Playing a Lute’ by Giuseppe Maria Crespi

Museum of Fine Arts

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When you come across something like the painting “Woman Playing a Lute,” by Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665-1747), at the Museum of Fine Arts, you suddenly find your soul on the hook.

What has happened?

Honestly, I have no idea. When I look at the painting — which is not of a woman playing a lute, as the MFA’s title has it, but rather a woman tuning a lute — I am conscious of many things at once. A very specific human presence, to begin with – a woman who, although her face is turned mostly away, feels in no way generic or obscured by false mystique.

Look at her lovely, knobbly ear that catches the light and the tensed, claw-like tendons of her strumming hand.

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