The lute and the distaff

Three characters are identified by the emblem they hold : a young woman holding a lute is flanked by a peasant with a hoe and an old woman with a distaff. An initial interpretation questions the juxtaposition of the refined young woman with the old woman and the peasant, and the rhetorical role of the musical instrument. Comparing the two women raises a conflict of opposites: the lute and the distaff respectively represent otium and negotium (leisure time versus time spent in public service), evanescent and durable, vice and virtue. At a still deeper level the women are compared with contemporary portraits of lovers and there is reflection about the ill-matched pair of the peasant and the young woman, a combination that stresses the equivocal nature of their emblems.