Although the sitter remains unidentified, this picture is an interesting example of Kauffman's neo-classicising style. The artist painted a number of important mythological pictures, spending a large proportion of her career in Italy studying the work of the Old Masters.
This portrait depicts a lady as Erato, one of the Muses. In Greek myth the Muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory). In time their number was established as nine and each presided over an individual branch of the arts. The attribute of Erato was the lyre, a symbol which is also commonly associated with poetry personified. This portrait closely relates to a work of 1782, now in Kenwood House, in which Kauffman portrays herself in the Character of Design, listening to the inspiration of poetry. She is accompanied by a lyre which is very close in style to the instrument depicted in this work.
The artist often represented other sitters with musical instruments including her portrait of the famous singer Sarah Harrop who was shown with a lyre in the picture of 1781 formerly in the collection of the Marquess of Exeter and engraved by Delattre in 1784.