Girl Interrupted at her Music (2)
May 21, 2010
I published my final article some weeks ago on my blog account. However, I forgot to publish it here. In my blog account you can find some more articles on Vermeer and the painting I have been working on. Besides, you can also see a bigger picture of the latter.
I am going to describe the baroque painting Girl Interrupted at her Music by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. The latter lived between the years 1632 and 1675 and was born in Delft, the city were he also died. His first works can be described as historical painting; however, he had a greater success with his genre works, which comprise the majority of his pictures. Regarding his most popular canvases, these are Girl with a Pearl Earring and View of Delft. To conclude, it is remarkable that he did not obtain much recognition until the second half of the 19th century. In fact, his death made his wife and children run up debts.
This article will not be focused on this baroque painter but on his painting Girl Interrupted at her Music. First of all, I would like to give some general data on it. This picture was painted between 1660 and 1661 in oil on canvas. Currently it can be admired in New York since it belongs to the Frick Collection.
Next, I will talk about the main elements of its scene in detail. In the foreground we can see a woman who wears a red jacket and covers her hair with a white shawl. Besides, she holds a letter at the same time that she addresses the audience, looking for help. It seems that she does not know what to do: read the letter or decline the man’s proposal. Referring to the characters, according to a hypothesis, Vermeer was inspired by Jan Steen’s Music Master or Frans van Mieris’ Teasing the Pet when painting them, even though he modified the body language and the expressions of their faces.
Now I would like to focus on Vermeer’s women. In that period of time women in everyday situations, such as reading letters, talking to gentlemen and playing the lute, were a recurrent theme in several Dutch works of art. While in many of them we can observe details that provide moral messages, this is not the case of Vermeer. That is, we do not know, for instance, what the letters are about. Instead, we are very curious to find out what is behind womens’ look. Thus, through suggestion, the author wanted us to look at the paintings in order to tell what is happening.
In addition to this, we can find references to this idea of temptation in many of this painter’s works of art. Even if we do not know much about Vermeer’s music taste, we know that he liked to paint amateur musicians. The moralists of the Dutch Baroque considered music, apart from wine, to be the most
important instrument for seduction. This is significant since in this picture we have a songbook with musical notes and a lute on the table. Songbooks played an important role in the modern courtship rituals as through music both parties felt freer to be together without parents or other presences. Furthermore, some songs depicted the local culture and talked about the places lovers preferred. Others dealt with Dutch identity or the defended the beauty of local women over those of other towns. To conclude, they could include either Petrarchan inspired love songs or vulgar songs about prostitutes, festive drinking etc. But, this is not this artist’s only painting where we have music items, a clear example of this being The Music Lesson.
These items appear next to a porcelain jug that may be filled with wine, which is, as said, another element that reflects seduction. Thus, we will find it in more canvases, such as The Glass of Wine and The Girl with a Wine Glass. In the following lines I will talk about the vase. Since Delft was one of the most important towns producing porcelain in the Netherlands, it was probably made there. It is important to mention that blue and white porcelains were imported from China. In the 1620s Dutch artists wanted to produce high quality earthen wares by imitating Chinese designs. Nevertheless, they were not successful until later on, when they were able to create thin, light and white glazed porcelain designs with blue decorations as those of the Chinese style. Delft already had experience in beer potteries, so it became the centre for this industry. Finally, as a curiosity, the imitations were so good that they were even exported to China.
Continuing with this idea of temptation, if we look at the wall, we will see a painting where Cupid appears. Probably, it is a large scale of Caesar Van Everdingen’s Cupid. The latter is also present in more of his paintings, the most obvious one being that of Lady Standing at a Virginal. It is remarkable that in Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window we know that the angel is present thanks to x-rays. In the case of the picture I am discussing, the image represents a Cupid holding another love letter, as the lady does. In addition, we can also notice a cage that could be referring to the voluntary imprisonment meaning marriage. According to some critics, this makes reference in a concealed way to the woman, who has been unfaithful to her husband. However, this birdcage may be a later adding because its possible interpretations do not seem to be related to Vermeer’s works. Furthermore, it was a common characteristic in several Dutch paintings.
To conclude, I will discuss brieflyt the techniques Vermeer used. As seen in many of his canvases, here the room is in half-light too thanks to the light that shines trough the window. In this way, some parts are thinned. Moreover, colours were used with the pointillist technique and he followed Rembrandt in his contrast between whites, reds and darks. Finally, although there is not certain evidence of it, it is thought that he used the Camera Obscura.
To sum up, I have gone through the most significant elements of Girl Interrupted at her Music. Due to the fact that many of them are related to the concepts of seduction and temptation, I decided to make up my story focusing on them.
-Girl Interrupted at her Music. Wikipedia, retrieved 2010, April 13 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_Interrupted_at_her_Music
-Johannes Vermeer. Wikipedia, retrieved 2010, April 19 from http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Vermeer
-Obras. Arte Historia, retrieved 2010, March 2 from http://www.artehistoria.jcyl.es/genios/cuadros/15802.htm
-Vermeer: Las mujeres de Vermeer, by Valeriano Bozal. El Pais Semanal, retrieved 2010, April 21, from http://www.ite.educacion.es/w3/eos/MaterialesEducativos/bachillerato/arte/arte/x-modern/vermeer2.htm
-Girl Interrupted in her Music. Essential Vermeer, retrieved 2010, April 17 from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/girl_interrupted_in_her_music.html
-Caesar Van who? Flying Fox blog, retrieved 2010, April 27 from http://flyingfox.jonathanjanson.com/2009/06/08/caesar-van-who/