Episode 6: Jan van der Vaardt’s 'Tromp l’Oeil Violin'

By Sotheby's



B ehind a door in Chatsworth’s State Music Room hangs a very famous violin. It is not an actual instrument, but rather an extraordinary tromp l’oeil depiction that is celebrated for its astonishing illusionism. So uncannily convincing is this painting that “People will say to me, Who last played it? Who owned it? Who made it?” says Shenagh Firth, Head Guide at Chatsworth. “I have to sometimes take people and show them much nearer that it’s actually a painting, not an object.” The violin and bow appear to hang from a gilt-metal peg, which is, in fact, three dimensional, adding another layer to the visual game. Although unsigned, the image was likely painted in the early 18th century by Jan van der Vaart, one of a group of Dutch artists who began to return to England with the British aristocracy following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, after the English Civil War. But it was only the 6th Duke of Devonshire who, in the 19th century, cleverly decided to hang painting on the back of the door by the music room. “It is to me, really important, because it’s a thing that visitors remember more than any other single thing,” says the current Duke. “For a lot of people, it is Chatsworth.”



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