Rcihard A. Smith on Girl with a Pitcher of Water


The Pitcher picture can be read like a secret love-letter. It has the code of symbols of its iconography to tell the tale. The ewer or pitcher and basin are about Purity. Christian art painted the Virtues and this was one. The pitcher and bowl of the Milkmaid has the same meaning, but no other writer will say it, because the meaning of both of these paintings points, not to purity, only, but also to impurity. The Ermine, with it’s black-tipped tail, was for the kings of Europe the symbol of purity, but as is pointed out by by Alcaito in his emblemata, the Romans viewed it as denoting impurity amongst their young women. Vermeer paints a highlighted ermine, I believe on the side of the jewelry box in the Pitcher painting. If it is not an ermine, then he made up for this lack in many of his pictures, with the white fur trim on the yellow jacket! I find it sad and dishonest that the experts (to name them is unecessary, as they are legion) will try, in Vermeer’s case, to side-step his moralizing, and considering only other genre painters guilty of “morality” narratives in their preacher paintings. They would ascribe only sweetness and light to their hero. The truth, for them, is hard to swallow when it goes counter to their admiration for the great artist. Do they defend their previously naive statements before new knowledge was obtained? Some lack of perception would embarass, but truth must be owned to make an expert.