May 23, 2011
This is a painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, it is supposed to be completed between the years 1670–1671, its dimensions are 72.2 cm × 59.5 cm (28.4 in × 23.4 in), its composition is oil on canvas and now it is in the National Gallery of Ireland.
The work shows a middle-class woman attended by a maid who is acting as Messenger for the lady and the lover. The maid is shown standing in the mid ground, behind her lady, with the hands crusted and waiting for the letter to be finished. The positions of her bodies indicate that the two women are disconnected, moreover, the lady is separated from her lady both emotionally and psychologically. The maid’s gaze towards the window indicates an inner restlessness and boredom, as she waits impatiently for the messenger to carry her lady’s letter away. Nevertheless, there are some art historians who say that the fact that the maid is present during such an intimate act as the composition of a love letter indicates at least a degree of intimacy between the two.
More than once Vermeer thought about the possibility of subverting the hierarchy of the figures’ social position within his compositions. In this case, the maid, who belongs to an inferior social class, stands at the center of the painting placed above her mistress. Vermeer’s figure may have been derived from a work of similar letter theme by painter Gabriel Metsu as she wears a surprisingly similar outfit and fulfills essentially the same role.
The pose of the seated mistress seems to draw inspiration from the Lacemaker as their facial expression is similar. The patch of bright white wall behind her is contrasting her right hand silhouette; however, this bright is illogical considering the fall of light in the rest of the room.
In this painting, there are some usual motifs such as the window frame and the back wall painting, and there are also particular motifs. Let’s begin with the floor, the marble flooring in this painting suggests a quality of bourgeois life rather than any reality, it is an ideal as the Dutch generally preferred floor made of wood like in this image in which appears one of the most influential men of culture in the Netherlands.
This detail is a letter, a stick of sealing wax, a bright red seal, and an object that could be a book or a letter, if it is a letter it may be one that the lady has received or a draft that she rejected, or maybe is a letter not her own and its content was disturbing.
Of the many carpets represented in Vermeer’s paintings, this one is the most abstractly painted. The decorative designs are reduced to a sort of calligraphic shorthand and the knotty texture has been completely erased by an exceptionally smooth, simplified application of paint.
Chairs also appear in a great number of Dutch paintings and many critics think that some of the empty chairs in Vermeer’s paintings may allude to an absent person. In this work the presence of the free-standing chair and the objects tossed on the floor might indicate that some action would have just taken place. Otherwise, they would be in order.
This is a tribute to his beloved Delft including a row of locally-made floor tiles. These tiles served to protect the lower walls from mops and brooms, to cover fireplaces and to isolate walls from humidity.
This green curtain functions as a familiar pictorial device called repoussoir meaning to push back. This means a contrast by placing a large figure or object in the foreground of a painting. In a number of Vermeer’s paintings there are repoussoir curtains in the foreground too placed between the first and the second window of the artist studio. They are pushed more on less to the left and gathered up a little at the bottom giving the impression of a stage with the curtain drawn back. The repoussoir curtain has noble origins and an example of this is this mural representing Parrhasius and Zeuxis.
The white curtain establishes one of three strong diagonal lines which gives energy to the composition and softens the composition’s rectilinear design.
The leadings of the window seem to be identical in design with the ones in the earlier Music Lesson but in this picture the central design has been colored. No one has been able to make out a figural meaning of the motif and maybe it was simply colored in order to bond the empty left-hand side of the painting with the right.
This painting is a Finding of Moses. It follows the same technique applied to other examples of the so-called pictures within-a-picture in other works by the artist. Curiously, the same Moses appears in the Astronomer, dramatically reduced scale.
As a curiosity, this painting has been stolen two times in the last twenty-five years. The first one was in 1974. The painting was stolen by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) from his owner, who was a member of Britain’s Parliament. Some members of IRA entered his home and stole a total of nineteen painting by using screwdrivers to cut the paintings from their frames. They were recovered a week later. The work was again taken in 1986 by a gang led by the Dublin organized crime gang leader Martin Cahill. Only after more than seven years of secret negotiations and international detective work was the painting recovered.
- Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid. (2010, December 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:32, May 23, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lady_Writing_a_Letter_with_her_Maid&oldid=401049839
- Essential Vermeer. The complete interactive Vermeer catalogue. Retrieved 19:30, May 23, 2011, from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/lady_writing_a_letter.html
- Vermeer: Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid. Retrieved 19:35, May 23, 2011, from http://www.artchive.com/artchive/V/vermeer/lady_writing.jpg.html
May 23, 2011
ido a Viena, y una vez en la ciudad no me quedó
más remedio que visitar sus museos. Esa mañana me tocaba ir al Kunsthistorisches. Paseaba por sus galerías y me topé con él.
Sin ser consciente lo había estado buscando desde que entré en el edificio. De
hecho confieso que fue uno de los alicientes del viaje. Quería verlo. No sé
porqué, cuando lo vi por primera vez en una ilustración no me dijo demasiado.
Recuerdo que tenía que hacer un trabajo en la universidad sobre Vermeer. Hablar
sobre alguno de sus cuadros. Elegí ese, sin ningún motivo en especial. Intuí
que podría encontrar bastante información sobre esa pintura y que me sería fácil
escribir unos folios sobre él. No era el que más me gustaba del pintor, pero lo
veo por primera vez una creación artística como, por ejemplo, una pintura, me gusta o no me gusta. Si me
gusta es que me atrae por algún motivo. Puede ser el tema de la obra, puede ser
los colores o las texturas que ha utilizado el pintor, los personajes que
aparecen, las luces de la pintura; en definitiva, lo que me importa es que me
impacte por algún motivo. Si me ocurre esto, me detengo y analizo con más
detalle la creación que tengo ante mí. Si no es así, paso al siguiente cuadro.
Con esta obra, El arte de la pintura,
o era, El pintor en su taller, o Alegoría de la pintura, no había sentido nada al verla reproducida
en alguna página web. Pero tuve que detenerme en ella por obligación, Y mis
sensaciones hacia ella cambiaron.
Kunsthistorisches es imponente, con esos atrios, esas columnas, esos techos,
las inmensas galerías, mármol, granito por todas partes, y esa cafetería para
descansar de tanto arte; pero todo ello no supuso para mí algo sobresaliente,
me lo esperaba de alguna manera. Yo necesitaba algo más. Necesitaba verla. Me
había tomado el café e inicié su búsqueda.
por unas cuantas salas, deambulé por los pasillos, miraba cuadros pero no había
ninguno que consiguiera que fijara mi vista en él. Yo sólo quería estar frente
a uno. Después de un buen rato, o eso me pareció a mí, por fin llegó el
momento. Por fin lo tuve ante mí. De repente. No había querido buscarlo en la
guía del museo. Me producía mayor placer la búsqueda sin rumbo fijo. Cada nueva
sala, un nuevo sobresalto, una mirada anhelante por todas las paredes. Me costó
pero lo vi. No es una obra de gran tamaño. Pero para mí ocupaba todo el
espacio. Me detuve, lo contemplé. Me fui acercando despacio. Cada poco me
paraba y lo miraba. Ya no tuve más pensamientos que su disfrute. No sabía lo
que iba a suceder en mi cabeza. Hacia dónde me iba llevar la imaginación. Me
acercaba a él.
principio tuve una visión de conjunto del cuadro. En seguida mis ojos fueron
fijándose en detalles aquí y allá. Pero sin centrarse en ninguno, como
queriendo acapararlos todos de golpe. Casi, casi, una atracón de sensaciones,
de figuras, de colores, que, aunque conocidos por mí, me resultaban diferentes.
Tenía ante mí la obra original. Y eran otras las emociones que en mi interior
se estaban produciendo. No es posible comparar una reproducción digital con la
serené. Y empecé a disfrutar. Mi sensación del tiempo y el espacio se alteró.
Ya estaba junto al cuadro y mi imaginación echó a volar. No sé si tenía los
ojos abiertos o ya no hacía falta.
fui deteniendo en cada uno de los elementos del taller. Vi la silla junto al
cortinaje. Estaba vacía. Me recordaba a las que tenía mi abuela en su casa.
Pero sin saber porqué preferí sentarme en el suelo, a la derecha del artista.
Pero apartada. Podía tener de esa manera una buena visión de la escena. Era ya
avanzada la mañana y la luz entraba de lleno por la ventana. Clio no se movía.
la Historia ante mí. Por mi cabeza pasaron muchos pensamientos sobre el
significado de la fama y del saber a lo largo de los tiempos. Ahora no los
recuerdo, o sí, pero no vienen al caso. Yo estaba en ese momento viviendo un
momento importante de mi historia y eso era lo realmente importante para mí.
habitación del taller era espaciosa. Me fijé en el colorido del cortinaje, sus
estampados. Luego mis ojos se fijaron en las telas de la mesa y en la máscara
que había sobre ella.
ese momento el artista comenzaba a esbozar los ojos de la protagonista. Es un
elemento del retrato de una persona que siempre me ha parecido fundamental para
captar la esencia del rostro. Quería ver lo que él plasmaba; intuir lo que
pretendía trasmitir de la Historia. Pero la modelo tenía los ojos entornados,
la mirada bajada, y así la retrató.
¿Porqué Johannes me pintas joven si
he visto nacer la luz?
¿Porqué con los ojos entornados?
Acaso me tengo que avergonzar de lo
Acaso te avergüenzas tú artista de
No es la vida ilusión y alegría.
¿Porqué no me pintas una sonrisa en
La luz que entraba por la ventana
cada vez era más intensa. Pasaba el tiempo pero no era consciente de ello. Mi
realidad era la mano del pintor. Fue trazo a trazo perfilando el rostro de la
Por mi rostro no
parece haber pasado los años.
No hay rasgos, no hay testimonios.
¿Por qué Johannes?
Yo poseo la sabiduría de haber
y tú no lo reflejas.
Luz, Johannes, luz. Ilumíname.
Atardecía cuando hubo terminado todo
el rostro. De repente sentí un golpecito en el hombro. Me estremecí. Un
vigilante me dio a entender que el museo iba a cerrar y tenía que marcharme.
Junto a mí, otra mujer estaba parada
frente al cuadro. A ella también le tocó el hombro. Yo la miré entre extrañada
y cómplice. Me miró a su vez. Fue un instante. Ella sonrió y retiró la mirada.
el timbre. Maldita sea. Me había dormido; eran las ocho, la hora que empezaba
mi clase de Inglés para Fines Específicos: gracias a Dios mi presentación era la última y aún tenía
tiempo…. ¿Y quién tocaba el timbre a estas horas? Abrí y asombrada, vi a una mujer bajar corriendo
las escaleras. Me recordaba a alguien. ¿No era la modelo del cuadro?.
Valeriano Bozal (2003). Vermeer: el gran “voyeur”. Descubrir el Arte,
Consultado 20.03.2011 en
Janson (2011). An essential Vermeer bookshop. Consultada
20.03.2011 en http://www.essentialvermeer.com/books/books_vermeer.html
Most of Vermeer’s paintings are never depicted looking out directly at the viewer. In fact, only three of his paintings portray women looking out at the viewer. This is the case of Lady Standing at a Virginal, A Lady Writing and the Lady Seated at a Virginal.
Lady standing at a Virginal
Lady Seated at a Virginal
A Lady Writing
Most of his contemporaries never depicted women looking out at the viewer and, only Gabriel Metsu in his painting Woman writing a Letter represents the woman looking out at the viewer as she writes. In this case, it is said that he was probably influenced by the Vermeer’s A Lady Writing.
Gabriel Metsu’s Woman writing a Letter
- Essential Vermeer. The complete interactive Vermeer catalogue. Retrieved on May 15, 2011, from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/lady_writing.html
- Understanding a Lady Standing at a Virginal. Retrieved on May 21, 2011, from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/cat_about/standing.html
- A Lady Seated at a Virginal. Retrieved on May 21, 2011, from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/cat_about/standing.html
May 22, 2011
This is the presentation I made in class
May 22, 2011
This is the powerpoint I used in my presentation:
May 21, 2011
As I have already explained in my previous post, there are six paintings in Vermeer’s oeuvre dealing with letter themes. In all of them, women are writing, reading or the letter is just being delivered by the maid so that the lady can start reading it. In some of these paintings, the lady appears on her own writing or reading. Yet, in some others, the figure of the maid is included which might suggest the expectations and anxieties that surround the arrival of the letter.
A Lady Writing
Mistress and Maid
Lady Writing a Letter with her Maidservant
Girl reading a Letter at an Open Window
Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
Woman with a Lute
These letters seem to be love letters that women sent to men and, the other way around, men sent to women. The interest of the painter in portraying women with letters might be related to his marriage with Catharina Bolnes. His wife was a literate woman who could read and write and, in fact, had a very beautiful handwriting. Moreover, his sister was also a woman who could read and write, although she had an elementary level. On the contrary, Vermeer was an illiterate man by the time of their marriage and this is probably why he does not portray male figures in his epistolary scenes. Yet, it is worth pointing out that men were not completely absent from these scenes, since women with a letter usually implied a man as either author or intended recipient of those missives.
- A Lady Writing. Essential Vermeer. The complete interactive Vermeer catalogue. Retrieved on May 15, 2011 from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/lady_writing.html
- Understanding Mistress and Maid. Essential Vermeer. The complete interactive Vermeer catalogue. Retrieved on May 15, 2011 from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/cat_about/mistress.html
Vermeer portrays a woman seated at a desk in a slightly dark interior while she is writing a letter. She is wearing a luxurious yellow jacket trimmed with spotted white fur, pearl earrings, and yellow and white ribbons in her hair.
As is can be noticed, a soft light is falling from the upper left side, as if there was a window, and is illuminating her, making her the central figure of the painting. Moreover, she is holding a quill pen in her right hand, while she rests her other arm on the table. The lady turns her attention from the letter, as if she had been interrupted by someone, and looks out momentarily at the viewer. A hint of a smile crossing her lips can be appreciated. She sits in a straight-backed chair with leather upholstery and lion’s-head finials. The table is covered with a slate blue cloth and it has different objects on it: a small silver-studded wood box, a silver inkwell, and a string of pearls with a yellow silk ribbon. There is a barely discernible painting at the back.
The painting is designed very accurately, revealing how important geometry was for Vermeer. The width of the expanse of plaster wall at the right is equal to the height of the table, which in turn is half the distance from the bottom of the painting to the lower edge of the ebony frame of the picture at the back.
As many critics have been speculating for years, it is said that the lady could portray the artist’s wife, Catharina Bolnes, who was born in 1631, and would have been an appropriate age (early to mid- thirties) if this work. However, with no surviving image of Catharina, there is no proof and, therefore, there is no clear evidence of this fact.
Regarding the subject of a woman writing a letter, it is worth pointing out that there are other paintings which portray this same account such as Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maidservant. There are six paintings in the painter’s small oeuvre that deal with letter themes and all of them depict women reading or just about to read. For instance, the seated lady in Mistress and Maid had evidently been writing a letter before she unexpectedly receives a letter delivered by the maid. The main difference between the above mentioned paintings and Vermeer’s A Lady Writing is that, in the case of the other two paintings, the lady is accompanied by her maid who in one case is most likely waiting the lady’s reply and in the other delivers the letter.
Moreover, it is worth mentioning that the subject of a woman writing a letter is said to have been first popularized by Gerard ter Borch in his famous painting: Woman writing a letter. However, Ter Borch and the other artists never depicted the central figure of the painting looking out directly at the viewer.
Finally, it is important to pay attention, among other things, to one of the garments the lady is wearing: the fur-trimmed yellow jacket.
This jacket appears in several other works by the artist, for instance, Woman with a Lute, Woman with a Pearl Necklace, The Guitar Player, The Love Letter and, again, Mistress and Maid. Probably, this element is identical to the “yellow satin mantel with white fur trimming” which was listed in the inventory of Vermeer’s household effects after his death in 1676. In fact, the small ebony box with studded decorations and the inkwell also appear in his other paintings, suggesting that Vermeer, like Ter Borch and so many other artists of the period, confected his genre scenes not only from a standard series of settings but also with a repertoire of costumes and objects that he probably retained in his own possessions.
Finally, the painting in the background may also have been one that he owned, since other paintings appearing in the backgrounds of Vermeer’s paintings seemed to have been part of the family collection. Among the paintings in the 1676 inventory, there was an unattributed painting depicting “a bass viol with a skull”. Many critics claim that this is in fact the painting that appears in the background of A Lady Writing, but in any case, there is no direct evidence of it.
- Essential Vermeer. The complete interactive Vermeer catalogue. Retrieved on May 15, 2011 from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/lady_writing.html
- National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Retrieved on May 7, 2011 from http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg51/gg51-46154.0.html
- A Lady Writing a Letter. (2010, December 19). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:20, May 7, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Lady_Writing_a_Letter&oldid=403217335
May 21, 2011
|During the whole course, we have all realized that there are many art compositions that are based in Vermeer’s paintings. Here, I have tried to collect some of the most important ones that are based in the painting that I have been working on during these months “Woman in blue reading a letter”. This would be the two poems and the novel and then I will include some photographs based on another painting of Vermeer that has many similarities with “Woman in blue reading a letter”, which is “Woman reading at the window”.
This first poem was created by Bob Chapel and it is clearly based on Vermeer’s masterpiece:
The following poem is called “Woman in blue” and it was composed by Joan Siegel about “Woman in blue reading a letter”.
Woman in Blue
She travels toward him
only so far as her hands
have traveled the map
so far as her hands
have traveled the contours
of his body.
His voice fills the room
as though he were seated
in one of the empty carved chairs.
Brightness rises like moonlight
over her blue smock, the belly
that houses the child in its own
world, like the mother’s, distant
from the world of the father
as the evening star.
The Mother of Joan of Arc
She walks one hundred miles
to kneel at the statue of Mary.
In Le Puy’s cold cathedral,
she prays for her daughter,
one mother to another.
is the mother’s longing–
as it was at the birth
that first ripped her open–
what her body made
not see the flesh
of her flesh
The following work is a book called “Girl in Hyacinth blue” written by Susan Vreeland.
“For readers interested in art and history, Girl in Hyacinth Blue is a must read. Author Susan Vreeland traces ownership of a Vermeer painting from the present through each owner in reverse chronology to its seventeenth century Dutch artist. The painting has a complex history, told chapter by chapter in stories of each owner and describes the profound effect the painting had on each one. These stories depict ordinary details with clarity of a Vermeer work of art. Each chapter could stand on its own, like a little gift to the reader. Vreeland is an extremely skilled historical fiction writer, but this book challenges us to think about the function and purpose of art.”
And finally, these are two pictures taken by the famous photographer Tom Hunter and Jonathan Janson. Though them, they try to imitate in a photography Vermeer’s “Woman in blue reading a letter”, each of one in a different way.
“Woman Reading a Repossession Order”
- Vermeer’s Woman in blue reading a letter. The poem hunter. Retrieved: April 10, 2011 at 16:30 from http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/vermeer-s-woman-in-blue-reading-a-letter/
- Woman in blue. In quiet light: poems on Vermeer’s women. Retrieved: April 12, 2011 at 19:30 from http://books.google.es/books?id=w7uXAbqfNkQC&printsec=frontcover&dq=marilyn+chandler+mcentyre+-+in+quiet+light%3A+poems+on+Vermeer%27s+women&hl=es&ei=-7BZTbv2Lca1hAevl9TeDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false and http://vermeer0708.wordpress.com/woman-in-blue-reading-a-letter/
- Vreeland, Susan. Girl in Hyacinth blue. Retrieved: April 20, 2011 at 20:45 from http://www.cmlibrary.org/readers_club/reviews/tresults.asp?id=1496
- Hunter, Tom. “Woman Reading a Repossession Order”. Retrieved: April 22, 2011 at 15:30 from http://www.readingwoman.org/en/cols/2005/8.html
May 21, 2011
In A Lady Writing, she seems to be wearing an immense pearl. Yet, the truth is that Vermeer painted a glass “drop earring” which had been varnished in order to look as if it were a pearl. These kinds of earrings were very fashionable in Holland and other contemporary painters such as Van Mieris, Metsu or Ter Borch used to portray them in their paintings. These artificial pearls were created by M. Jacquin in the 17th century and, at the same time, cultured pearls were also coming in from Venice.
Pearls, in general, were related to vanity, but also virginity. Therefore, most likely they were used as an icon to show that they were still virgins to society and, especially, to men. However, pearls were also a symbol of social status. In 1660, an English diarist Samuel Pepys paid 4 1/2 pounds for a pearl necklace, and in 1666 he paid 80 pounds for another, which at the time amounted to about 45 and 800 guilders respectively (an average Duthc house might cost 1,000 guilders). Thus, it can be concluded that pearls were associated to richness.
- Essential Vermeer. The complete interactive Vermeer catalogue. Retrieved on May 15, 2011 http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/lady_writing.html
- National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Retrieved on May 7, 2011 http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg51/gg51-46154.0.html
I was doing some research on the Internet last month when I came across a very curious painting: Fernando Botero’s Vermeer’s Studio, which is clearly influenced by the Master of Light. Botero is a very well-known Colombian figurative artist who mainly focuses on situational portraiture.
In his painting “Vermeer’s Studio”, Botero depicts a chubby woman who looks very similar to the Girl with a Pearl Earring, and who seems to be leaning on a table with some fruits in it. In the background, we can see a painter’s easel with Johannes Vermeer’s famous work Study of a Young Woman. The meaning of the work is not entirely clear, but it seems to me that Botero wants to make the viewer reflect on the different cannons of beauty, as well as to put into question the importance that we give to our appearance. A very funny and original work!
May 20, 2011
Dialogues with the
‘All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.’
Edgar Allan Poe.
I had gone to Vienna, and once in the city I had felt
compelled to visit its museums. That morning I had planned to go to the
Walking through the galleries of the Kunsthistorisches,
I ran into the painting. I had been
looking for it since I entered the building: in fact, I confess that this was
one of the attractions of the trip. I had an urge to see that picture; I do not
know why; when I had first seen this picture, I had not been sure then, either.
I remember I had had to do some homework at the
University on a picture by Vermeer, talking about some of his paintings. I had
chosen that picture without any particular reason: I felt that I could find
enough information on this painting and I could easily write a few pages on it.
It was not the one I liked most by the artist, but I chose it anyway.
When I first see an artistic creation, for example, a
painting, I like it or I don’t. I like it if it attracts me for some reason:
this might be the colours or textures that the artist has used, the characters
that appear, or the use of light in the painting. In short, what matters to me
is that it affects me for some reason. If this happens, I stop and analyse in
detail the creation that I have before me. If not, I step to the next table.
With this work, The
Art of Painting, also known as Painter
in His Studio or The Allegory of
Painting, I had not felt anything when seeing reproductions on any website.
But when I had had to stop and examine it out of obligation, for my homewoek, my
feelings toward it changed.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum is imposing, with its
atriums, columns, high ceilings, immense galleries, granite and marble
everywhere, and a cafeteria to rest after so much art, but this time I could
not rest. I needed something more, needed to see this painting. I had coffee
and began my search.
I went through a few rooms; I wandered down the
aisles, looking at pictures but there were none that I wanted to fix my eyes
on. I just wanted to be in front of this painting.
After a long while, or so it seemed to me, the moment
arrived: finally and suddenly I had the painting before me. I had not wanted to
look at the museum guide: it gave me greater pleasure searching aimlessly. Each
room meant a new start and a longing look all over the walls. This took time,
but in the end I saw the picture: it is not a large piece, but for me it filled
the space. I stopped, I looked, I slowly got closer. Then I stood and contemplated
I slowly got closer. I stopped thinking: drifting. I
didn’t know where my mind was: where my imagination was leading me. I got
closer and closer.
At the beginning I looked at the whole painting. Soon
my eyes were engaged by details here and there, but without focusing on any in
particular, as trying to apprehend all of them at the same time would have been
impossible. It was almost a gorging on sensations, on shapes, on colours, which
although already known, now looked different to me: in front of me was the real
painting. Moreover, other inner emotions were emerging: it is impossible to
compare a digital reproduction with the real thing.
I calmed down and I started to enjoy it. My sense of
time and space altered. I was in front of the painting and my imagination
started to run wild. I don’t know if my eyes were opened or if they were opened
already. I now felt as if I was part of the picture. I was involved now on
every detail of the studio. I saw the chair next to the curtain. It was empty:
it was like the ones my granny had at home. But without knowing why I preferred
to sit on the floor; on the right of the artist, but apart. I was able to have
a good view of the scene that way. Morning was galloping fast and daylight was
coming fully through the window. Clio was quiet.
Clio, the Muse of History, was in front of me. I could
not stop thinking about the meaning of fame: fame and knowledge throughout
centuries. I do not remember my thoughts now, or maybe I do, but they are worthless:
I was living one of those important moments of my own history and that was the
The studio was spacious. I noticed the curtains’
colour and the printing on them. Now I stared at the fabrics on the table and
the mask on top of it.
At that particular moment, the artist was starting to
sketch the eyes of the model. This is the element of a person’s portrait that
has always seemed to me essential in order to capture the face and the essence.
I wanted to see what he was capturing; get an intuition of what History meant
for him. But the model had her eyes half-closed; she was looking down ant that
is how she portrayed her.
Why Johannes do you
paint me young when I’ve seen the birth of light?
Why with eyes down?
If I should be
ashamed of my own past…
If you should be ashamed
Is not life joy and
Why not a happy smile
in my eyes?
The light coming through the window in the painting
was more intense every time I looked at it. Time was passing by without me
being conscious of it. I started writing with the painter’s hands. My retreat
was his painting, but it seemed that he found refuge in my writing: one and the
I was scribbling about every detail of the model’s
face, just as Johannes seemed to have painted it, with meticulous strokes. In
fact, I was painting every detail of her face with Vermeer’s hands. His hands
My face does not
reflect my age
No traits, no
Why, Johannes, why?
I own all the
knowledge of having lived fully
My every act so
You do not reflect
Light, Johannes, more
You light me!
It was growing dark when he, or I, was finished with
the whole face. I felt a tap on my shoulder. I was startled, but it was the
security guard, telling me that the museum was shut now and I had to leave.
Beside me, another woman was standing in front of the
painting. He touched her shoulder too. I looked at her, puzzled and complicit.
She looked back, just for an instant, then she smiled and looked away.
Later that night, in the friend’s house where I was
staying, the door bell rang. It shocked me: who the hell was it? It was the
small hours, and everything was so dark at 3 am. Reluctantly, I opened the
door. A beam of light entered the hall. I went out to see who was running down
the stairs. I could recognize something familiar. Was not she Clio, the model
of the painting? Was not she the muse I was looking for?
Please stop, listen
I like you, Clio.
I’m glad you came.
I loved you fucking me.
T H E E N D
If this is English for Special Purposes: are we supposed to be writing a short story? Yes, we are. We are writing a formal analysis of the painting too: learning some technical artistic language in between. I really enjoyed the painting much more when I studied the facts behind the symbols. It came very useful to have the web-based contributions of my peers at a click in facebook or delicious.
I came to this painting, and the more I look into it the more questions come to my mind. I shall treasure this little Vermeer for years to come. I wish to see the real painting sometime.
Valeriano Bozal (2003). Vermeer: el gran “voyeur”. Descubrir el Arte,
Consultado 20.03.2011 en
Janson (2011). An essential Vermeer bookshop. Consultada
20.03.2011 en http://www.essentialvermeer.com/books/books_vermeer.html
Department of Modern Languages and Basque Studies
May 18, 2011
In Christian theology, the Last Judgment or the Final Judgment is the last and eternal judgment of every nation by God. The scene is found in all the gospels, and is supposed to take place after the resurrection of the dead and the Second Coming of Christ. This belief has inspired numerous artistic depictions of several genres, as is the case of the picture-within-the-picture which appears in the background of Vermeer’s work Woman Holding a Balance, as I mentioned in my first post.
Roman Catholics believe that immediately after death, each soul undergoes a particular judgment, and depending on the actions and good or bad deeds that the person has carried out throughout his life, his soul will go to heaven, purgatory or hell. The Catholic Church teaches that at the time of the last judgment Christ will come in his glory, and all the angels with him, and in his presence the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare, and each person who has ever lived on earth will be judged with perfect justice.
As the Last Judgment is also called the Weighing of Souls, very often the scene is represented by showing a balance, as the painting below. This scene was often depicted in Romanesque sculpture as a decoration of church tympanums. Once we know this, the connection between the balance and the judgment in Vermeer’s work becomes evident. As Robert Huerta defends in his book Vermeer and Plato: Painting the Ideal, the image has been variously “interpreted as a vanitas painting, as a representation of divine truth or justice, as a religious meditative aid, and as an incitement to lead a balanced, thoughtful life.”
In brief, it is important that we take into account the symbolism that is obviously present in Vermeer’s work, and especially in his painting Woman Holding a Balance, where the scene of the Last Judgment seems to have a clear connotation and connection with the protagonist of the painting who is holding the balance.
- Essential Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance. Retrieved 11:20, April 15, 2011 from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/
- Wikipedia, Last Judgment. Retrieved 12:00, April 17, 2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Judgment
- Google Books. Vermeer and Plato: Painting the Ideal, by Robert D. Huerta. Retrieved 13:28, May 18, 2011
As an additional article to my review on the picture “Woman Holding a Balance”, I thought it would be helpful to write something about the value of money in the 17th century Dutch society. In fact, money must have had a great importance in the Netherlands at that time, since so many painters used to depict people weighing material with scales and balances as, among others, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, and Quentin Massys.
The balance traditionally symbolizes justice; after all, to judge is to weigh. However, it seems that the pans of the balance in Vermeer’s work are empty, and they are almost in equilibrium. For a long time, every district in the United Provinces had its system of measures and weights. Weighing coins was actually a way to prevent falsifiers from clipping the coins in order to save money. Money scales had to follow a standard form in the Netherlands at that time. One of the pans of the balance had to be rounded so as to weigh the appropriate denomination of the coin, whereas the other pan had to be triangular to hold the coin itself.
The box where scales were kept included the name of the maker and the weights of the balance. Vermeer depicted every single object to detail in his paintings. It was the government’s duty to regulate manufacturers of money scales to make sure they were prudently used, and many of these boxes were marked by passages from the Bible which emphasized fair and just weighing as, for instance, passages from Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
Coins in the 17th century were much softer than they are today, and it was very common and easy for thieves to clip and falsify them. Rather than for its face value, a coin was worth the weight of its material, usually precious metal. Therefore, it was the duty of household ladies to count their money periodically, weighing all the coins in order to establish their real worth. Although there were various types of coins in circulation during that time, the ducat was the most common one. In Europe, two silver ducats were worth one golden ducat.
Silver had indeed become available in huge quantities all around the world, and that is why the period of time was also known as the Silver Century. Silver had become the universal measure of wealth, although it was mainly used for decorative and ornamental purposes. The main suppliers of silver were Japan and South America, and business transactions were normally done in silver.
The Chinese were not interested in making transactions with Europeans, so they accumulated huge amounts of silver, because they accepted the material as a mode of pay for their porcelain, silk and other exotic goods they produced. Curiously enough, the silver that came to the ports of Amsterdam and London came from the Spanish mines in Peru, rather than from the mines in Germany and Austria.
- Essential Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance. Retrieved 11:20, April 15, 2011 from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/
- Wikipedia, Dutch Guilder. Retrieved 13:00, April 15, 2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_guilder
- Life in the 17th century. Retrieved 1o:45, April 16, 2011 from http://www.localhistories.org/stuart.html
I decided to choose Woman Holding a Balance because it is probably one of Vermeer’s most harmonious and peaceful paintings, and because it conceals many curiosities, secrets and symbols. The work of art has received many other names, as Woman Weighing Gold, Woman Testing a Balance and Woman Weighing Pearls. The reason why it has got so many different names is that, although at first experts thought the portrayed woman was weighing some kind of precious material, later X-rays and microscopic examination proved that the balance she is holding is actually empty, and this aroused a great controversy. There are different opinions about the theme and symbolism of the work of art, as the woman is viewed as a symbol of holiness and earthiness.
This composition is thought to have been made between the years 1662 and 1665. The material Vermeer used is oil on canvas and its size is pretty small (42.5 x 38 cm) if compared with the idea I had of the painting. Currently, the piece is located at The National Gallery in Washington DC.
In the painting, we can see a young woman, seemingly pregnant, who is holding a balance before a table where there are three containers like an open box of jewelry, and some pearls and gold coming out of it. There is a blue cloth in the left foreground, as well as a curtain and a window through which light enters the scene. We can see a little mirror in the wall that is just in front of the woman and a picture of the Last Judgment scene in the wall right behind her.
The origins of this work have been traditionally linked to the also Dutch artist Pieter de Hooch, whose painting Gold Weigher matches Vermeer’s picture very closely. Since neither of the paintings are dated accurately and since both artists were contemporary, “who influenced who” has been a subject of debate for critics. It seems that de Hooch was living and working in Amsterdam but lived in Delft for some years, so it is very likely that the two artists met and exchanged ideas. However, it seems that de Hooch’s Gold Weigher originally had a male figure in the scene, which later was erased by the artist himself. If this were true, the paintings would not look so alike.
Regarding the woman’s appearance, the same white cap that she is wearing was represented by the artist in other paintings too, both tied and opened. According to Dutch costume experts, the cap was partly ornamental and it served to protect the hairdo; it was typically made of white linen, sometimes of nettlecloth and cotton.
One of the greatest mysteries is who posed for the young lady in the painting. Maybe because of the intimate nature that Vermeer’s paintings usually have, there has been a tendency to link the painter’s family members to the sitters of his paintings, some of whom seem to have posed for him more than once. This makes a lot of sense, for employing professional models at the time was very expensive. Most people believe the woman holding the balance is his wife Catharina, who apparently also posed for The Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window and Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.
To modern viewers, it looks quite obvious that the woman is pregnant but, according to experts, pregnancy was not a common subject in art and there were actually very few depictions of women in maternity clothes. Even in religious paintings such as the Visitation, where depictions of pregnant women were required, the bodies were usually completely hidden by draperies. In addition, apparently, Dutch fashion in the 17th century encouraged bulky silhouettes.
The two most important elements of Woman Holding a Balance are, no doubt, the picture-within-the-picture and the balance. The picture-within-the-picture shows the Biblical scene of the Last Judgment –the final eternal judgment of every nation by God, where he decides which souls will go to Heaven and which souls will go to Hell. The artist of the painting remains an enigma, but he is thought to be Jacob de Backer, as Vermeer was an art dealer and he was thought to have a similar painting in his possession. A detail that gives evidence to the fact that Backer’s work was a model to Vermeer is that Christ is depicted with both hands raised and outstretched, which is not very common in the depictions of the Last Judgment.
Another interesting element of the work of art is the mirror, which appears four times in Vermeer’s whole oeuvre. Iconographic associations to mirrors are numerous; for instance, sometimes they represent pride, other times vanity, prudence, self-knowledge, and truth. It seems that the mirror in this painting is the same as the one in Woman with a Pearl Necklace, as both are said to be of the same size and presumably made out of ebony. Painters depicting someone gazing into a mirror often also show the person’s reflection, although this is not the case, as we see the mirror from the profile. This is a kind of abstraction, as in most cases the angle of view is such that the person’s reflection should not be visible.
On the other hand, the balance the woman is holding is probably very closely connected to the idea of judgment and the Weighing of the Souls, so Vermeer clearly wants the viewer to see the link between the picture-within-the-picture and the balance. Besides, scales were really important at that time in order to prevent fraud; it was necessary to keep a constant check not only on the amount of goods one had, but also on coins.
The curtain seems to be very similar to the one in Woman with a Pearl Necklace, but warmer in tone. The same yellowish color is used in the two golden stripes in the frame of the Last Judgment picture, as well as in the woman’s dress. One should also pay attention to the stained glass window that was so typical of the period and that the painter used in many other paintings.
In addition, the wooden extendable table seen in the painting appears to be the same as the one Vermeer used in other interiors. This kind of table was considered a luxury item in Dutch painting of the time. The legs have a beautiful bulbous form, and in the 17th century, this piece of furniture was known as a draw-leaf table –because it could be extended by pulling out extra leaves.
The floor tiles are also worth taking into account, as they are the typical black and white chess-like tiles that Vermeer often used. Likewise, Cornelis de Mann, who was also contemporary to Vermeer, depicted the same table and the same floor tiles in his works.
To sum up, it is well worth noting that Woman Holding a Balance is one of Vermeer’s most interesting and mysterious paintings, due to its great symbolism and its several possible interpretations. I will go posting additional information about the painting in order to make the overall study of the work as complete as possible. For more information, I leave my Powerpoint presentation here:
- Wikipedia, Woman Holding a Balance. Retrieved 13:28, April 15, 2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_Holding_a_Balance
- National Gallery of Art, Woman Holding a Balance, a Moment Captured. Retrieved 17:32, April 20, 2011 from http://www.nga.gov/feature/vermeer/moment1.shtm
- Essential Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance. Retrieved 20:13, May 1, 2011 from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/
May 15, 2011
In the following lines you can find the presentation I did on Vermeer’s ‘The Girl with the Wine Glass’. First, I will show you the technical details and then I will try to reconstruct the essence of this particular painting.
- Title: The Girl with the Wine Glass
By: Jan Vermeer (1632 – 1675)
- Original Size: 66 x 77 cm
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Location: Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick, Germany
- Signature: Inscribed lower right window pane: IVMeer
Vermeer’s paintings belong to a genre of domestic scenes in mid 17th-century inHolland. Many of these scenes focus on relationships and man’s inability to resist his sexual appetite particularly under the influence of wine and tobacco. And briefly speaking, that is the story of this painting. Here we can see a scene of seduction where an elegant young man encourages a young woman to enjoy a glass of wine. However, the smile on her face as she turns to the viewer indicates that he, rather than she, is the one being seduced.
Now, let’s focus on some details. One of the most remarkable features is the portrait that Vermeer includes since this was the only time when Vermeer drew a picture-within-a-picture in one of his works. According to Vermeer expert Arthur Wheelock, the rigid pose and the elegant clothes of the man in the portrait as well as the careful placing of the upright portrait between the two male figures focus on the artist’s concerns for the lack of moral constraint in contemporary life.
Another important feature of the painting is this coloured stained-glass window. In this zoomed picture we can see how Vermeer portrays a lady in the glass window. The female figure holding bridle is said to personify Temperance. The bridle would symbolize emotional control. Thus, again it is very probable that, together with the portrait on wall, this window may represent moderation due to the protagonists’ lack of self restraint.
The young woman’s expressive face is not typical in Vermeer; he usually hides the emotions of the characters. One early Vermeer expert has suspected that her staring eyes and awkward smile were the result of overpainting. In any case, the woman, rather than exchanging glances with her suitor, turns towards the viewer, separating herself from him. Arthur Wheelock believes that the woman’s smiling is a knowing one, indicating not only that she is aware of the situation, but also that she is in control. Thus, it is he rather than she the one that is being seduced.
Although Vermeer’s paintings are primarily known for its lemon yellow and deep blue colour harmony, in this case the artist experimented with strong reds in his early days as a painter. In this way we can see erotic overtones such as red and yellow in the woman’s dress that may actually suggest desire. The fiery red of this dress may denote the hidden passions of the young woman who seems to be accepting the advances of the gentleman.
The suitor in the foreground carefully accompanies the woman’s hand which holds the wineglass in a delicate way. His intentions have been interpreted in a number of ways by Vermeer specialists, stating that he is a comic man, a seducer or the seduced. The truth is that his posture and expression is so formalized that he fails to unlock the precise narrative meaning of the painting.
Among all Vermeer’s paintings, it is the only painting other than the Concert to include three figures, but where the Concert shows two women and a man making music together, in this painting the third figure is apart from the couple in the background resting his head on his hand in a melancholy attitude. The obvious explanation is that, as his pose suggests, he is a suitor for the young woman too but he has been rejected. It is therefore understandable that his position is uncomfortable since he clearly does not fit in this situation.
Finally, it is important to point out that the two lemons, pipe, silver plate, wine and the sheet of paper possibly containing tobacco may be seen as a connotation of luxury, consumption and seduction. In many scenes of ritual courtship lemons are commonly set along side oysters served up on a silver plate and although we cannot clearly see oysters in this plate they may be. Moreover, lemons were also used to sweeten and soften the wine, in this respect once more they serve symbolically to indicate the importance of moderating one’s behaviour.
- Googlebooks. Vermeer and the Invention of Seeing by Bryan Jay Wolf. Retrieved on April 25, 2011 from http://books.google.es/books?id=TZgSLFesAZwC&pg=PA123&dq=Vermeer+The+girl+with+a+wine+glass&hl=es&ei=LVG4TYzzAs7A8QOUr7E4&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Vermeer%20The%20girl%20with%20a%20wine%20glass&f=false
- EssentialVermeer. The Girl with the Wine Glass by Johannes Vermeer. Retieved on April 25, 2011 from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/girl_with_a_wine_glass.html