The Little Street


The Little Street (c. 1657-1661) is, along with View of Delft, the only outdoors painting that Vermeer created. Although the setting may not be what we would expect from his paintings, which generally show scenes that take place in a room, we can still see the essence of Vermeer’s art: the representation of a brief moment in the daily lives of ordinary people. The Little Street could have been any street in any 17th-century Dutch town: a woman pouring water in the gutter, children playing, another woman sewing… And it is just this that makes this picture special. Because Vermeer had the ability to transform these simple, and perhaps unexciting tasks, into universal moments of great beauty, grasping the essence that makes them magic.

One response to “The Little Street

  1. In regards to my post about The Little Street in Aizeti’s “Treatment of Colour in Vermeer’s Painting’s” of June 5, 2009, it may be appropriate to make concise my assertions of Vermeer’s possible intent. With apologies to the webmaster, I will copy it below this post for ease of access.
    It has come to light , in the study of Vermeer’s painting, that he often commented, within the works themselves, about the concept of visual reality.
    For instance, in life we may meet someone and, initially, we have two opinions, that may vary considerably. Predudice may guide our first meeting, but with discernment and probing the relationship, we may be led to a closer approximation and even a consensus as to who this new person may be. The PRESENTED REALITY of the individual may be generally true: “What you see is what you get!” or very unlike the initial reaction to a first meeting. It may be that those “charms” first expressed were misleading and even found to be duplicitous.
    The PRESENTED visual reality and it’s VARIANT reality are BOTH TRUE within a Vermeer painting, but are independently appreciated. Vermeer played in the shadows of the Music Lesson, played with the orthogonals (receding lines) of perspective in the Milkmaid and the Luteplayer, and extended a THUMB in Lady with her Maid. He also distorted to the degree of incredulity, the details of the facade on the right of the Little Street. Vermeer was able to hide the variance of his meaning of a work behind a wall of a perfectly reasonable , but unreal, PRESENTED REALITY.
    His beautiful and beautifully PRESENTED ladies are intended by Vermeer, to be “found out”. The house on the Little Street was meant to be “found out” or found wanting in proper architechture, possibly for the reason I suggest in the post below. There can have been serious logistical problems encountered in the combining of two separate houses to form a larger building for the St. Luke’s Guild, of which he was twice the administrative head.

    Richard A. Smith Says:

    June 5, 2009 at 7:12 pm
    The Little Street is a Wink from Vermeer! It is not a contemptuous supercilious wink; that is, between two haughty friends, for instance, of a third party or of the rest of society, thought by the prideful persons to be the IGNORANT or “lesser” human beings because of their lack of perception. Those, who then become the butt of the joke! (That was the attitude of some I met in Art school)
    No, it is the obvious joke of one who is known to be joking by his audience or friends; or if it is not “caught”, as jokes are “caught”, immediately, by everyone, it is funnier still!
    But jokes have a semblance of reality until they are seen to be “over-the-top” or beyond belief because of some outlandish quality that, suddenly strike us funny because we see how we’ve “been HAD”. This is true of The Little Street (and the THUMB in Lady with her Maid also– it being too long). That is NOT to say, that Vermeer did not have a serious point to make here!
    The scene, as presented, begs to be believed in the beauty and genius of the painter’s gifted prowess in every aspect of painterly application and consistent light. Why, then, do we not hear from Architects who look at paintings? What, indeed, would De Hooch, Vermeer’s friend and colleague, say to that building? Wouldn’t he immediately get the joke? We are three-and-one-half centuries away from it and we have the saint-hood of Vermeer to deal with, but De Hooch was close to him and a painter of bricks and walls and neat perspectives. The “critic” in Vermeer may be addressing the question of the necessity or lack of necessity for a perfect perspectival representation of reality as an element of prime concern for realists. Vermeer, certainly, abandoned orthogonals and simplified other elements, such as shadows for an enhanced two-dimensional play within his rectangles.
    After all, it is the inverted triangle of sky that causes the building to stand as an estabished fact, in two dimensions, surely. The RED wooden shutter sings a higher note in the strange bottom corner, which is of the same rectangular proportion as the whole building itself occupies.
    The architechture, as architecture, begins to look silly as proportions and symmetries are compared on the ground floor. It is almost as incongruous a two-dimensional impossibility as Escher’s staircases and enigmas! Even if it can be built, who would build it this way?
    The seated lady’s doorway is especially narrow, as compared to the blue-grey double-shuttered windows, as it reaches up to a high arch. This doorway is not centred, but has very unequal widths of brick-work on either side. The red shutter seems to be in place so that, we-the-viewer, will not notice the larger area of white wall that it covers! The double-shuttered windows are so large, that they leave only the width of one brick on the alley side as the vertical structural element. The shutter, if swung open would reach a third way across the alley entrance and the other over part of the lady’s door. The poor arch above the door and high enough for two floors is badly formed as part of a circle, as though, either Vermeer, or the architect did not know the use of compasses! The levels of window ledges are purposely at differtent heights and even in the twin windows of the second floor, the one at the right starts three bricks up from the divide between floors, and the other sill, only two.
    The building, at left of the viewer has been identified as the Old Men’s House, or a retirement place, and the laughable house on the right was converted into the St. Luke’s Guild, where Vermeer was twice the “Headman” of it’s administration. Possibly he was technically involved in the conversion of two houses to one large one to serve the needs of the Guild. Such a change was made, but I am not sure as to when it occured. Did his friends laugh? Yes! Did the Architect’s Contractor? I wonder.

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