Did Vermeer Ever Paint his Wife Catharina?

Did Vermeer ever paint his wife Catharina Bolnes? Were his sitters professional models, friends or relatives? Although no evidence survives that would connect any Vermeer’s sitters to known individuals, the artist’s style of living and working habits suggests he may have used his wife, daughters, even a maid to pose for some of his paintings. Gerrit ter Borch, a fellow Dutch artist whose discreet genre interiors probably inspired some of Vermeer’s own compositions, frequently employed members of his own family as models, in particular his step-sister Gesina. Alejandro Vergara, who curated the Vermeer and the Dutch Interior exhibiton (2003, Madrid) feels that “the tenderness with which Ter Borch portrays this woman on numerous occasions indicates his fondness for her.” From a practical point of view, not having to pay models for long hours of posing may have represented a significant economic advantage.

Critics have dedicated only passing comments about the identity of Vermeer’s sitters. Other than the lack of historical evidence, the scarcity of in-depth inquiry in regards may be due to the fact that it is generally believed that Vermeer’s interiors are not biographical statements: that is, they are not portraits. Consequentially, the eventual individual identity of the sitters is of little importance to our understanding of Vermeer’s art since it was irrelevant to Vermeer’s artistic intentions.

In any case, critics have seen Catharina’s likeness in one painting or another. The most frequent candidates are the Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, and Woman Holding a Balance.  She has the same high brow, straight nose and wide-spaced eyes and also appears to be pregnant in two of the pictures. In less than two decades, Catharina is know to have bore Johannes 15 children, a few of which did not survive infancy. However, modern scholarship has not come to agreement to the fact that these, or any other women in Vermeer’s paintings, were portrayed while they were carrying children.  Pregnant women were probably not considered beautiful from a an esthetic point of view and pregnant women in Dutch 17th c. painting occur only rarely. Would Vermeer, who seemed entirely content to work within the established framework of contemporary themes and compositions, have addressed such an unconventional  theme such as that of a pregnant women?

Another candidate is the young woman dressed in the characteristic lemon yellow morning  jacket who looks out directly at the viewer from A Lady Writing. It has been noted that the painting, more than others, “possesses a singularity and mood that points to it being a portrait.”Arthur Wheelock, in the Johannes Vermeer catalogue, wrote: “The problem of identifying the sitter, however, seems insurmountable. The most likely candidate is that she is his wife, Catharina Bolnes, who, having been born in 1631, would have been in her early-to-mid thirties when Vermeer painted the work. While it is difficult to judge the age of models in painting, such an age does seem appropriate for this figure. Little else, however, confirms this hypothesis.”

Extracted from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/women’s_faces/catharina.html