Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (2)

Along with the Milkmaid and The lacemaker, Young with a Water Pitcher seems to complete a trilogy of Vermmer’s paintings related to the theme of Woman and Virtue. In contrast with other of his works, where women are depicted to criticise their vices, these three women stand as models of virtue. The main women’s task was household management and their behaving in all social scales was strongly tight to their fear of god and to an industrious attitude to life. Young Woman with a Water Pitcher is considered the personification of Temperantia, also temperance, a cardinal value which moderates concupiscent impulses and desires by means of sobriety, abstinence and chastity. Yet the placement of jewellery box of pearls and blue ribbons brings conflict in the scene. The whole painting is the representation of balance between opposites: the domestic and the outside word,  restrain and moderation with vanity and selfishness, the woman’s humble attitude with the luxury of the room, intimacy and voyeurism.

Woman pouring water

The theme and the title were used also by other artist to Woman Pouring water into a Jug represent women in the same task. But what makes Vermeer’s work outstanding is the way he employs his skill to produce this master piece: the light and composition .

All the elements in the painting are carefully arranged in terms of balance. As we can appreciated the virtual image on the right shows Vermeer’s initial composition reconstructed from X-ray evidence. The image on the left shows the painting as it appears today. The changes were not made for Vermmer’s caprice, contrary their place in the scene plays an important role. . We can notice that the chair was removed as the composition was overwhelmed and somehow fulsome. By doing this Vermeer allows the air to enter the room freely

Also the map covers the most part of the wall gaining relevance and disturbing the sight of the viewer. By means of these changes he succeeds in balancing the image and leading our attention to primary and secondary elements in the composition.

As we can see in the picture, Vermeer gets this effect by geometrical composition that place a central axis, marked in blue colour, marking the central motive: the woman. In addition, he also place a secondary axis in yellow colour descending along the left hand border of the map to put balance to the painting, and also stressing the secondary element as the pitcher and the basin. The main element and in my opinion the author main concern in this painting is light.

Vermeer produced elegant studies with careful light. He employed colours as a main resource, but, the election of the palette is related to the way light hues these colours. The light softly poses on objects and they transform their natural colour reflecting the light. Every colour in nature is understood by means of light, our perception of the colour is not plain, the mood and the quantity of light defines colour.

In the painting we can also be aware of how the surface every object takes tones of the other elements adjacent to them refracting off the surrounding surfaces. So these objects are not painted as isolated elements which give unity and balance to the composition. Vermeer succeeded to give the image a sense of life through the use of light that illuminates the figures and objects in the room. In Edward Snow’s words, “Vermeer modified and idealized the reality to achieve a sense of permanence and timelessness”.


Young Woman with a Water Pitcher: A Virtual Reconstruction. Essential Vermeer, retrieved 2010, April 1, from

 -A Dutch Treasure Comes To The Met by Michael Busch Nov 27th, 2009. The Advocate, Art Reviews, retrieved 2010, April 15, from

 – Vermeer’s Young Woman with a Water Jug-and what Men and Women are Hoping for in Marriage, by Julie and Robert Jensen. Art History and Criticism, retrieved 2010, April 29 from

 -A Perfect Painting: Johannes Vermeer, Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, by Brian A. Oard. Beauty and terror essays on the power of painting, retrieved 2010, April 29 from

3 responses to “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (2)

  1. Pingback: Young Woman with a Water Pitcher 2 « Johannes Vermeer’s influence and inspiration·

  2. A monumental talent, coming from an unknown history, creating silence that speaks volumes on single sheets of sail-cloth, he was called the Sphinx of Delft.
    It may be easier to carve Leonardo’s head, with mane and full beard in place of the Pharoah’s powerful image with it’s lion’s reclining, but powerful body, than to imagine Vermeer, but that is the point. He became Enigma.
    The more I come to know of his works, the more I find a perfect representaion or symbolism, of his art – and the man – in the animal that he, himself, chose and which first was introduced, incised on the side of the jewelry case in a golden highlight. The Ermine or stoat in it’s winter coat of white and its tail’s black tip has a history of its own in art. Alchiato, the Milanese lawyer who began the popular Emblem craze that lasted two centuries among those of the new literacy of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries enabled by the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press a century before. He chronicled wisdom from former ages in stanzas crowned with thematic titles that came to fascinate, especially when the enigmatic pictures were added beside the verse. The link gives probably the earliest interpretation of the symbolism of the ermine from Alchiato’s historic gleaning: From it is perceived the notion of lasciviousness as its theme. Most often the ermine is associated in myth with the very opposite characteristic: that of Purity. It would rather die at the hands of hunters than to soil its fur! This was to symbolize the honour of knights as more precious than their lives. In Leonardo da Vinci’s time the ermine was directly paired with a young woman with varios meanings in relation to this portrait. Her body takes on aspects of the animal in subtle ways:
    Kindness and courtesy with gracious demeanor are meant. In the following, Leonardo gives ideas in regards to portraiture that is evident in this work and can find agreement with Vermeer in his Girl with a Pearl Earring. Her gaze is away from the direction of her body, as da Vinci had recommended here:
    Vermeer used ermine on the Lady’s yellow jacket and in each painting the black tipped tails appear to be consistently positioned on the white fur, which indicates that an ermine trimmed jacket did, in fact, exist. The blue jacket in “The Concert” and “Lady in Blue reading…” had white fur only. It is indicated, also that the Ermine symbolized Moderation; Vermeer’s constant theme. The attractive ermine, though smaller in stature than even the Gallerani portrait shows, is a very effective predator; to bring down much larger prey. This seems to parallel Vermeer’s penchant for cloaking shocking narratives in the guise of the harmless and the beautiful; the still and the unprovocative. Like the white ermine that disappears from view in summer and mimics the Resurrection at winter, Vermeer is hidden from us, initially, until his thinking and meditations and dual intentions of theme are discovered. The link below introduces the ermine on it’s wild side:
    Here is beauty of the beast:

    The fierce brown stoat becomes the white ermine in winter:

    Symbol of Temperance and Moderation and Purity, Vermeer has chosen it to be his mascot. We see it at its first introduction to his works not as fur trim, but in reflected gold on the detail of a jewelry box.

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