Were some of the Women in Vermeer’s Paintings Pregnant?

Even though to the modern eye three or perhaps four women in Vermeer’s paintings seem to be pregnant, there is good reason to believe that this was not the case. According to Marieke de Winkel, Dutch costume expert, pregnancy “was not a common subject in art and there are very few depictions of maternity wear. Even in religious paintings such as the Visitation, where depictions of pregnant women is required, the bodies of the Virgin and Saint Elizabeth were usually completely concealed by draperies” De Winkel further argues that “to my knowledge there are no examples of or pregnant women in Dutch portraiture, an interesting fact considering that many women were painted in their first year of marriage, a time when they could have been with child.” Pregnancy was most likely not seen as aesthetically attractive.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. has written that ” Dutch fashions in the mid-seventeenth century seemed to have encourage a bulky silhouette. The impression of the short jacket worn over a thickly padded skirt creates in Vermeer’s painting in particular may create just such an impression.” It is interesting to note that in the 1696 Dissius auction in which 21 paintings by Vermeer were sold, the Woman Holding Balance was described as “A young lady weighing gold, in a box, by J. van der Meer of Delft, extraordinarily artful and vigorously painted.” Since pregnancy was not portrayed in Dutch painting of the 17th c., it seems noteworthy that the catalogue’s author would not have noted such an exceptional fact. Afterwards, no mention of the woman’s pregnancy can be found until 1971 despite the fact that the work can be traced in an unbroken line to this century.

Furthermore, modern scholars generally believe that Vermeer systematically drew upon fellow genre painters of the time such as Gerrit Terborch, Frans van Mieris, Gerard Dou for both his compositions and themes. He did not substantially subvert or even significantly widen established iconographical boundaries but rather seemed completely absorbed in realizing their fullest expressive potential. In this light, it seems doubtful that Vermeer addressed such an unconventional theme such as that of a pregnant woman.

Extracted from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/women’s_faces/vermeer’s_women.html#Pregnant

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