The Lacemaker.


The painting that I have chosen is called “The Lacemaker”and it was painted between 1671 and 1672 obviously by Vermeer. It is a very beautiful painting and I have found a very nice poem related to it.

Her hands know what to do:
they dance, winding the threads
around their tiny maypoles, trying
each knot with surprising speed under
the deep calm of that broad, honest face,
suspended like a benevolent moon
over this delicate task.

She is not delicate. Body and bosom
are full-fleshed; her heavy ringlets will uncurl
by sundown. Wool and wood, metal hooks
and folds of yellow fabric are rich
with gravity and mass —- things
solidly of this world.

Yet in this light that pours
from some high window,
passing beneficence of a northern sun,
those solid things seem fragile:
the light will shift; she will lift her head
and stretch and sigh, the quiet
around her rippled like a pond´s surface,
and this graced moment gone.

Gathered on what we see,
filtered through lace, gleaming
on hair and polished wood, what we see
is always the light.


The Lacemaker , which is the painting that I chose, is another small scale painting, nearly dwarfed by its impressive wooden frame. Unlike the more contemplative figures in Vermeer’s work, the subject here is very active, intensely focused on a physical activity. As opposed to the full-figure compositions, where furniture and drapery act to facilitate or deflect the viewer’s visual entry, The Lacemaker brings the subject dramatically to the foreground. As a result, the viewer is drawn into a powerful emotional engagement with the work. Although the composition is quite shallow, there are different depths of field that draw the viewer into the canvas. The forms nearest the eye are unfocused, which encourages the viewer to pass on to the more distinctly defined middleground.

The intimacy is accentuated by the small scale, personal subject matter, and natural composition. The lacemaker’s total preoccupation with her work is indicated through her confined pose. The use of yellow, a dynamic, psychologically strong hue, reinforces the perception of intense effort. Contrasts of form serve to animate the image. For example, her hairstyle expresses her essential nature – both tightly constrained and, in the loose ringlet behind her left shoulder, rhythmically flowing. Another strong contrast exists between the tightly drawn threads she holds and the smoothly flowing red and white threads in the foreground. The precision and clearness of vision demanded by her work is expressed in the light accents that illuminate her forehead and fingers.

The diffused ocular effect of the foreground objects, especially the threads, was definitely derived from a camera obscura image. Vermeer used the informal, close framing of the composition suggested by the camera obscura to accentuate the realistic, immediate impact of the painting. Contemporary Dutch painting portrayed industriousness as an allegory of domestic virtue. While the inclusion of the prayer book pays fealty to this theme, it is a secondary concern to the depiction of the handicraft of lacemaking, and, in the highest sense, the creative act itself. Once again, Vermeer succeeded in transforming a transitory image into one of eternal truth.



Image found in: Wikipedia

5 responses to “The Lacemaker.

  1. The Lacemaker is not simply a young woman observed intimately absorbed in a useful and aesthetic craft. She, herself is a piece of lace no less than the one she intently weaves with her “counts” and her clicking bobbins. She is chosen as analogy and sample of Vermeer’s intricate method of using overlapping structures of concentric circles to subliminally relate highlights, points and edges, which are invisible to the viewer who dwells on the illusion of space and its subject. His surface, with its series of centre points and circles within circles, are a two-dimensional lacework of considerable complexity. The centre points (“constantia”) that Vermeer used are “typical” and are pictured by the young lady at the very moment of activity that she is shown performing. She is holding the two bobbins (they are always utilized in pairs) with tension as she finds the proper placement for the pin insertion near the crux of the “V” formed by the taut threads. Likewise, Vermeer has made “V’s” in which to insert his “pins” or compasses. There is one at that very point on a highlight at the bottom of the right thread. Next, the crux of the “V” of “Vermeer” in his signature, is another. The bright dot where her head’s right side meets the half-circle dark shape forming the V-shaped space between is a centre. Within the face, her right brow contorts to form another “V”. This one may be used to scribe her left cheek! The last is at the top of the large curling side piece, where it meets the left side of her head. In line with the lacemaking theme with the V’s, Vermeer, alternately, in a very different manner, used circles in a repeat pattern of identical circles obviously mimicking the geometry of some lace, but also edging her cheek to delineate the position of her chin and the attitude of the lacemaker’s head. Vermeer IS the Lacemaker!

  2. Dutch paintings of fruit spilling from a tipped bowl were said to symbolize Mother Eve and the serpent’s tempting in the Garden and the Fall of Man. Golden apples are found in Greek and Norse myths with attraction as the common element. Vermeer borrowed the spilling fruit from a porcelain bowl for his “Lady reading a Letter by an Open Window” indicating an undertone of sensuality at play in the scene, which assures that the letter she reads is from a lover. The idea of SPILLS are found in other works denoting impurity. The “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher has the string of pearls falling from a jewelry box and, similarly, the “Woman Weighing Pearls” has a jewelry box spilling gold and pearls.
    The “Lacemaker”, too, has its own version of the spilling idea. In the foreground a sewing cushion, being a hollow box for storing materials for mending, needlework and lace, is spilling red and white thread, in strokes of brilliant, calligraphic energy, to the surface of the table. White is the colour of purity, while red excites with sensuality. The combination, here, is interesting. It establishes the dramatic conflict of symbolism, as the viewer enters the paintings narrative, reading from left to right. The young woman, alone; absorbed in her task, apparently bathed in the sun’s warmth, (in that she does not wear a head covering,) its rays entering, uncharacteristically, from the right, she wears a shorter sleeved jacket of yellow, overlaid with a collar of pure white lace. Yellow, the other colour of sensual connotation, is in a sense, brought under the discipline of the laces covering. There is a distance between the yellow and the red, and a separation thematically arranged between the red thread and yellow top that appears intentional. The girl is all about lace; in what she performs; in that which she wears; and to her attention to the hair. Her hair is tightly braided at the back, but even the loose falls to the side have been braided, just above the free bottom curl. The contrast of loose and tight relate to the thread that dangles and the bobbin thread held taut by her left hand. These are indicators of the girl’s internal dilemma; a temptation of which the viewer is not cognisant.

    In the same manner that the white lace over the yellow is a buffer to her sensuality, there are TWO books on the table, which lie between and separate the red threads of the spill from the yellow jacket of the girl. The books are of equal size and shape and thickness and are covered in an identical buff material. One has the blue and green silk ties and the farther one seems to have it’s front covered with the same silk.

    This link shows a “new” idea for some books of the seventeenth century called “dos a dos” binding that involves turning one of the books around in relation to the other book of the same size and binding them with a common central cover. The kind of books that would receive this treatment were commonly the book of Psalms and the Psalter, which are the psalms of King David with other devotionals. The Psalter may have lavish decoration or illumination in handmade versions also. The books in the Lacemaker are not dos a dos, but were likely tied together with the ribbons, and makes it likely that the books were of a spiritually devotional nature.
    In the painting, their placement indicates a buffer against the allure of the natural mind toward temptation through the feeding of a godly nature in the believer by their readings.
    A sexual allusion is hinted at in the stop-action of the girl’s hand positions. With a finger of her left hand she separates the bobbin threads and with her right hand, though not visible to the viewer, she inserts a pin at or near the crux of the two threads. In usual lacework, the separation of the two bobbins with a forefinger would be redundant, as they are moved in tandem, but Vermeer, I believe wanted to form the “V” shape for the reason discussed previously.
    Finally, The colour of the lace produced by the girl may be a mute point. It may not be visible as some have said. It is assummed that the pricking pattern card being used is the pink coloured material on the blue cushion. It may be that a PINK lace is showing over the pink-orange card. It would not seem to matter; for the narration and interpretation find their resolution in the pink colour that Vermeer used. It is true that the red and white threads would combine to produce a pink lace. Purity corrupted by the impurity of sensual temptation consummated, can never produce WHITE LACE – only PINK!

  3. Gerard Terborch (Ter Borch) is linked to Vermeer by a friendship evidenced or documented by inclusions and methods in their paintings. Recently, my revelation of the coincidental hats “aimed” by the painters at the heads of unsuspecting characters in Vermeer’s “Girl with a Wineglass” and Terborch’s The Dispatch (Philadelphia) have proved the conversation between them. The method of the concentric circles in Vermeer’s work are proved by the coincidental circles in the “Girl Reading…” and the “Woman in Blue…”, which identically touch the EYE an COLLAR in the respective works. As for Terborch, his concentric circle methodology is confirmed with a single circle that touches an EYE of each of the human characters in “Lady at Her Toilet” by the

    placement of the constantia point on the highlight at the tip of the Lady’s little finger of her right hand. Other circles of this same pivot touch the tip of the boy-servants nose, the top of the lady’s nose and down the side of the maid’s probiscus. Another line connects the women’s mouths! Not the final line, by far, is the small circle, with the same pivot, that touches the wicks of the symbolically unlit candles. Interpreted, the Lady has become aware of the boy’s interest in her state of parial undress, possibly by viewing him in a mirror not shown, that she views off to the side she faces. Unlit candles are symbols in Dutch art of illicit sexual connotation. Here, they are of differing sizes, which represent the lady and the boy. The boy servant’s attire would hide the otherwise “obvious”, as he carries the ewer and basin in for the washing of the lady’s hands (purity). She removes a pinky ring for the washing, but this action shows her knowledge of the boys interest and the sexual innuendo. Terborch is laughing at the boy’s “thumb” by this act, which is like a little finger! Terborch has repeated the joke in “The Letter” of the Royal Collection in London. In that instance, the young woman reading the letter is unaware of the boy’s interest and focus, which is symbolized by a sleeping lapdog. In the “Lady at Her Toilet”, similarly the lapdog does what dogs do to inanimate objects, occassionally. Terborch is brilliant in the use of these circles to connect ideas for the painting’s interpretation.
    Vermeer, I am convinced, learned the methodology from Terborch, who also shared it with his very gifted pupil, Casper Netscher. Terborch was fifteen years older than Vermeer; Vermeer was Netscher’s senior by seven years. Terborch’s “The Dispatch” includes a portrait of the nineteen-year-old Netscher as an officer writing a love letter, which I am convinced, also includes a portrait of Vermeer as the messenger! The figure of the messenger, looking slyly outward toward the viewer and being sniffed by a hound where hounds ard known to sniff, has an enigmatic addition to his person, in the form of a SMALL RED SPHERE on the toe of his left boot! Circles and spheres, according to Cesar Ripa’s Emblemata, were denoting PERFECTION. Terborch used red for the sensual symbolism as did his student Netscher; Vermeer consistently used, both red and yellow. Is Terborch communicating with his friend, regarding their common dedication to Perfectionism in the emblematic form of circles?
    In the bottom right of his “Glass of Lemonade” is what has been described, in a guess, as a mousetrap. It is a sphere of simlar size with an attached chain. A copy of this work exists which lacks this item. Is Terborch complaining about the constraints of his perfectionism?
    Netscher has painted his own version of a LACEMAKER, dressed in red and using unworn slippers as a sensual indicator. Like his master, Terborch, he has used concentric circles to structure both his genre scenes and also his portraits. In his Lacemaker, Netscher has the girl cover the red pricking card with white lace. Where the pin, which is closest to the viewer is stuck through the card into the cushion, is the point of “constantia” for his compasses.

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