Metropolitan Museum of Arts Johannes Vermeer Dutch Essay

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Metropolitan Museum of Arts: Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, Delft 1632 -- 1675 Delft)

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (1662)

History of the Painting

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) notes that this was the first Vermeer painting to enter an American public collection, and is one of a small group of canvases dating from about 1662 -- 65 in which isolated women appear as mistresses of their private domains.

Technical analysis reveals that a larger map than the one now visible originally extended to the left behind the woman, so that her head was framed within the wall hanging's lower left corner. In addition, the back of a chair set on an angle was placed in the left foreground and partly overlapped the window. The chair, the use of an open window as a spatial device, and the bright, local coloring are consistent with Vermeer's style in works dating from about 1658/59 -- 62. (MMA. Web.)

About the Artist

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle class Dutch life. He was moderately successful in his time, never very wealthy and leaving his wife and children in debt at his death. That was unfortunate for his posthumous success has been astounding rendering him one of the modern periods most renowned and admired painters, arguably on a level with Rembrandt. Vermeer used bright colors, generally seeming to prefer cornflower blue, yellow, and red. He is particularly renowned for his use of light in his work and for his careful, detailed masterly treatment of his subjects, as well as for a certain tranquility, introspection, and contentment that pervades his paintings. Vermeer is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch golden age (*)

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (1662)

Vermeer, with this painting painted in a baroque-style, is moving away from an emphasis on linear perspective and geometric order as portrayed in his earlier paintings, using a simpler form that consists of only one figure and emphasizing the use of light. There is a surreal cool blue-white light that fills the painting, and the suffusing atmosphere is one of contentment, tranquility, and peace. It is very similar in form and content to the 'Milkmaid" (1658) who is also standing by the window and inclining the pitcher is focused on the milk trickling on it. Here, however, the woman stands between the window and the pitcher, gently holding the windowpane with one hand whilst touching the pitcher with the other. Her attention, unlike that of the milkmaid is diverted to the outside world.

The cool blue white light makes one think of a crisp clear day in Europe. The dominant background colors are white and blue. Light passes through the light blue paned window, travels up the woman arms until it disappears in her sleeve of her dress, illuminates the dark blue brocade of her dress, and falls upon the blue drapery and the thin blue ribbon that peeks out of the jewelry box. Light is in other places too: on the pitcher and basin, on the wall, on the tablecloth. Light, in fact, illuminates the scene, gently washing over the shadows. The yellowed counterpoint consists of the yellow map on the wall that enhances the feeling of serenity and introduces a note of quiet antiquity -- a feeling of traditional solidity -- into the painting. The yellowed map balances the blue windowpane and coheres with the yellow front of the jewelry box. Then you have the woman's yellow jacket, shades of yellow reflected in the basin, and the thin vertical strip of sunlight that is reflected along the inside edge of the window frame. The red tablecloth combines both colors blue and yellow by interweaving blue and yellow flowers as its design, in this way it binds the colors of the painting together as does the primary colors that are again reflected in the basin, pitcher and tablecloth, and in the woman's white headdress. The woman's blue and yellow outfit again unites the two primary colors, and the third overarching one -- white - is reflected by her wide collar and headdress, just as the color white (more creamy this time) dominates and subsumes the whole theme.

The woman, standing in relation to the window and opening it is joining things inside and outside. This might be Vermeer's intention, too, by including the map on the wall, which is a map of the world. The map of the world gives her a global perspective. The woman is integrating a local domestic theme, but her personality or her attitude, Vermeer seems to imply, encompasses broader horizons. The solitary woman is beautiful. The map and the window seem to make her more. One can also suggest that the oriental tablecloth, too, indicates the existence of this wider world, and again that the pitcher and basin, both narrow and generous, also exhibit this intermingling of the domestic territory with global expansion by the basin reflecting the red, yellow, and blue patterns of the wider world manifested by the oriental tablecloth.

The space is simple and flattened; there is none of the perspective created by strategies such as floor tiles and ceiling beams that appear, for instance, in the Music Lesson and The Artist's Studio -- it is as though the artist wishes to imply that local and global perspectives can be unified, and that there need be no conflict in integrating their existence. The table, often placed at an angle in other Vermeer paintings, is here placed parallel to the picture. The tablecloth, the map and the chair backs are all flat planes, as is the large expense of flat wall. It is a simple painting, one of a small group of canvases dating from about 1662 -- 65, which show Vermeer's repetitive theme: isolated women appearing as mistresses of their private domains. Other paintings of this type include Woman in Blue Reading a Letter," "Woman with a Pearl Necklace," "Woman with a Balance," the Milkmaid," and perhaps "A Lady Writing"

The woman's headdress has within it the white, blue, and faint pink of the open sky. Here again, we see the commingling of the local and wider territories, the extension of the domestic environment into a wider region. The woman has a discreet smile on her face; she seems satisfied with her existence and conditions of her life. This is no confined woman. She seems content with her existence and is graceful in her actions. One hand inclines towards the pitcher (the domestic scene) whilst the other hand opens the window, seemingly indicating that she is mistress of, and at ease, in her domestic locality as she is in the external world.

Compositionally, the woman's gesture binds the various themes in the painting and holds everything together. This theme is replicated by the woman's hand which is both inside and outside the window; again manifesting apparent contentment with domiciling her inside world whilst simultaneously demonstrating curiosity in exploring her external environment. The woman's motion in opening the window is gentle. There is no rush to escape the confinement of her domestic enclosure. Vermeer makes us feel that she is content to be in her moment of time, precisely where she is.

Vermeer uses the light of the window, which the woman is standing in relation to, to illuminate the features of the woman. Here the light is channeled, diverted and reflected form one surface to another infusing color, form and shape with a luminous harmony. Vermeer's light is clear and transparent illuminating everything. His light is always the crisp breath of daylight, never of a flickering torch, reflection of moonbeams or candle at night. The light from the outside is reflected on the woman's arm, and again on her face, on the front of…[continue]

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