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.
The theme and the title were used also by other artist to 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 http://www.essentialvermeer.com/virtual_restoration/vr_one.html
-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 fromhttp://www.terraingallery.org/Vermeer-Woman-Jug-JJ-RJ.htm
-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 http://sites.google.com/site/beautyandterror/Home/a-perfect-painting