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According to Vermeer expert Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., the careful placing of the upright ancestral portrait between the two male figures focuses on the artist's concerns for the lack of moral constraint in contemporary life. The rigid pose and somber treatment of this passage enhance its none-too-subtle admonitory presence. This was the only time that Vermeer included picture-within-a-picture in one of his works which represents a formal portrait. Judging by the man's costume, it seems to have been painted in the 1630s.
The brooding figure seated behind the table has been somewhat difficult to explain and it is one of the very few openly negative figures in the artist's oeuvre. The young man's dejected posture and shadowy treatment have lead critics to believe that he may either be a victim of love or simply drunk. Art historian Rodney Nevitt Jr. believes that either the man has been overcome by the narcotic effects of smoking (a rolled paper of tobacco on the table), wine (from the ceramic pitcher), or as a rejected suitor who has lost the girl to the other man. His mood and pose are reminiscent of those of the girl in Vermeer's earlier A Maid Asleep and evoke melancholia, an affliction associated in the 17th century with depression, self-absorbed reflection, artistic creativity and unhappy love affairs.
Vermeer must have been fond of this type of wine jug since it appears in strategically important areas of three other paintings, A Maid Asleep, The Glass of Wine and The Music Lesson. These all-white tin-glazed containers were originally produced in Faenza, Italy. In the 1550s, they were exported all over Europe and by the late 16th and early 17th century had become very fashionable in the Netherlands as well, where they were imitated by local potters. They appear in countless genre interior paintings between 1650 and 1670. Although it is very difficult to distinguish between Italian and Dutch versions, historian of the Dutch decorative arts Alexandra Gaba-van Dongen believes that the ones in Vermeer's paintings are original Italian.
No attempt has ever been made to decipher the iconographic significance, if it ever had one, of this oversized white cloth that drapes from the table. Perhaps it was included for its pictorial value alone or, less glamorously, as a remedy for a problem of proportion between the seated and standing figure. Art historian John Nash wrote that "the proportion of the woman to her chair is, perhaps, a little odd; it appears, from the perspective of the floor tiles, as if she is sitting a little distance forward of the table, and yet the gallant who bends over her to press on her the glass of wine appears to be standing beyond the white tablecloth." In any case, from a compositional point of view, it effectively ties the girl, the suitor and the seated man in the background together and sets off the work's brilliant color scheme.
Perhaps its most distinctive feature is the bluish tone of the shadows (given by the pigment natural ultramarine blue), rare in Dutch painting of the time. In this painting, Vermeer employed the same ultramarine blue in the gray mixtures of the background wall, the shadow of the wine jug, the blue tablecloth and even more surprisingly in the darker shadow of the girl's satin red gown. The extensive use of natural ultramarine blue might be considered the only anomaly in Vermeer's painting technique. Other painters habitually employed azurite, which was far cheaper but less intense than the imported ultramarine.
The young woman's openly expressive face is somewhat atypical for Vermeer who tends to convey his sitters' emotions through discreet gestures, the symbiosis with their environment and the nature of their activity. One early Vermeer expert suspected that her staring eyes and awkward smile were the results of overpaintings by a later hand. In any case, rather than exchanging glances with her suitor, Vermeer's girl turns towards the viewer, separating herself from him. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. believes that the woman's smiling is a knowing one, indicating not only that she is aware of the situation, but also that she is in control. Thus, it is he rather than she that is being seduced. This scenario, where the male fawns over a beautiful woman with ruby lips and ivory skin dressed in fine satins only to be betrayed or rejected, is one that was fashionable among 17th-century poets, who based their ideas of unrequited love on the sonnets of Petrarch.
Other critics, oppositely, have viewed the girl as a romantic victim. Walter Liedtke wrote ."...what she controls is not her suitor ... but her unsteady nerves. ... ...one would guess that this silly goose is much less capable of keeping ganders at bay than is the stiff young woman in The Glass of Wine."
A writer once opined that even though Vermeer never painted a single still life, those which are a part of his interior compositions are among the most beautiful ever painted. Sometimes the fruit has been described as a lemon and sometimes as an orange. Both were commonly found in Dutch still-lives but each carries a different iconographical meaning.
In many scenes of ritual courtship, lemons are set alongside oysters served up on a silver platter. In a painting by Frans van Mieris, a young cavalier offers a fancy silver plate chock full of opened oysters, much like the one in Vermeer's painting, to a young lady who holds an unfinished glass of wine. A 17th-century Dutchman would have had no problem in deciphering the meaning of Van Mieris' scene. Oysters were believed to possess aphrodisiacal powers and therefore associated with seduction. In Vermeer's painting, no oysters can be seen. This, however, does not rule out that they had been already consumed. If this is the case, judging by the protagonists' expressions they do not seem to have produced the same effect on the girl as on her suitor.
The symbolic content of the wine jug and wine glass would appear to reinforce the work's underlying theme of an attempted, albeit, highly ritualized seduction. But lemons were also used to sweeten and temper wine, in this respect they serve symbolically to indicate the importance of moderating one's behavior, a meaning which would be in contrast to the first. In any case, the famous pointillés, or spherical highlights which specialists believe proof that Vermeer used a camera obscura as an aid to his paintings, can be observed on the silver tray.
Vermeer's painting belongs to a genre of domestic scenes prevalent in mid-17th-century Holland in which the mores of contemporary life, particularly those pertaining to love and courtship, were depicted and commented upon. Many of these themes focus on the foibles of male/female relationships and man's inability to restrain his sexual appetite, even though the narrative of Vermeer's paintings are so subtly contrived as to pose serious questions of interpretation. The young suitor, draped in an elegant cape, carefully accompanies the woman's hand which delicately holds the tip of a half-full wineglass.
His intentions have been interpreted in a number of ways by Vermeer specialists, from comic monsieur, seducer or seduced. Perhaps the story being told was far more evident to the artist's contemporaries than it appears today. But in last analysis, his (and her) posture and expression are so highly formalized that they fail to furnish an unequivocal key to unlock the precise narrative meaning of the painting.
Although Vermeer's oeuvre is known for the lemon-yellow/ blue color harmony, the young artist experimented with strong reds at the outset of his career. The fiery red of this dress may denote the hidden passions of the young woman who seems to be accepting the advances of the gentleman. According to Dutch costume expert Marieke de Winkel, this young woman wears a tabbaard or tabbert reserved for formal occasions. It is a combination of a stiffened tightly fitting bodice that is laced at the back and a long matching gown. In order to further the bodice, it was sometimes fitted with a stiff planck made of ivory, wood or even iron. Obviously, the tabbaard must have been uncomfortable so it was not recommended for pregnant women. Catharina Bolnes, Vermeer's wife, owned one such gown made of black cloth, most probably for mourning.
One of the most remarkable features of the painting is this colored stained-glass window, which also appears in the Young Woman with a Wine Glass, in Berlin. The coat of arms has been identified with Janetge Jacobsdr. Vogel, the first wife of Moses van Nederveen, but it is not known how Vermeer came by it. Although Vogel and her husband had lived in Delft not too distant from Vermeer, she had died in 1624, eight years before the artist was born.
The symbolic meaning of the coat of arms is now clear and certainly required no coaxing to understand it in the time of Vermeer. The female figure, who holds a level and bridle, personifies Temperantia, or Temperance, which is very similar to an image from Gabriel Rollenhagen's Selectorum Emblematum of 1613. Rollenhagen's illustration is accompanied by the text "The heart knows not how to observe moderation and applies reins to feelings when struck by desire" The level symbolizes good deeds and the bridle symbolizes emotional control. Thus, it is very probable that, together with the staid portrait on the rear wall, it provided an incentive towards moderation an admonitory comment to the protagonists' lack of self-restraint.
Willemijn Fock, a historian of the Dutch decorative arts, has shown that it is highly improbable that the typical black and white marble floors which appear in Vermeer's and so many Dutch interior paintings were done directly from life. Such an exclusive luxury item could be found only in the homes of the rich and, thus, were beyond Vermeer's financial possibilities.
Instead, the kind of small ceramic tiles in the present work was far more common even though the Dutch generally preferred the practical large-planked wooden floors. According to London architect and Vermeer specialist Philip Steadman, the minute details of the cracks and chips of the foreground tiles suggest that they were indeed observed by Vermeer. Through reverse geometry, Steadman calculated that the ceramic tiles are exactly half the size of the larger black and white marble ones in the following pictures. This led him to believe that Vermeer used the underlying geometrical grid drawn from the real tiles to project the luxury marble ones which he had never directly observed.
Willemijn Fock, historian of the Dutch decorative arts, has shown that it is highly improbable that the typical black and white marble floors which appear in Vermeer's and so many Dutch interior paintings were done directly from life. Such an exclusive luxury item could be found only in the homes of the rich and, thus, were beyond reach of Vermeer's financial possibilities.
Instead, the kind of small ceramic tiles in the present work were far more common even though the Dutch generally preferred the practical large-planked wooden floors. According to London architect and Vermeer specialist Philip Steadman, the minute details of the cracks and chips of the foreground tiles suggest that they were indeed observed by Vermeer. Through reverse geometry, Steadman calculated that the ceramic tiles are exactly half the size of the larger black and white marble ones in the following pictures. This lead him to believe that Vermeer used the underlying geometrical grid drawn from the real tiles to project the luxury marble ones which he had never directly observed.
The blank white-washed walls are so typical in Dutch interior genre painting that it is easy to take them for granted.
From a technical point of view, their depiction represents one of the most challenging problems of pictorial illusionism. In some manner, the tone and hue of the wall must be altered in order to describe the varying intensities of light that fall upon it. Painters generally resorted to a set formula whereby the brightest areas of the wall were painted with pure white or nearly pure white. The infinite gradations of shadow were achieved by adding black and raw umber (a slightly greenish-brown) which constituted one of the most useful pigments on the artist's palette.
As a rule, Vermeer employed the same three pigments for painting nude walls although in some cases he added a very small amount of ultramarine blue to create a more vibrant and clean gray. In this painting, ultramarine blue has been indeed detected along with white and raw umber. The addition of blue lends the gray a decidedly greenish cast that vibrates against the bright red mass of the satin costume. It may be that Vermeer had assimilated this technique from Carel Fabritius who is known to have added ultramarine blue to the light gray background of his famous Goldfinch.
Inscribed lower right window pane: IVMeer (VM in ligature)
(Click here to access a complete study of Vermeer's signatures.)
c. 1662 Albert Blankert, Vermeer: 1632–1675, 1975
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer, London, 2000
Walter Liedtke, Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, New York, 2008
Wayne Franits, Vermeer, 2015
(Click here to access a complete study of the dates of Vermeer's paintings).
The fine, plain-weave linen with a thread count of 14 x 15 per cm² retains its original tacking edges; on both left and right sides are selvedges; The support has been glue/paste lined. The double ground consists of a white layer, containing chalk, lead white, and umber, followed by a reddish brown layer. The ground was left uncovered along several outlines of the figures and the wine jug. It extends a few millimeters over the tacking edges.
Parts of the window, red dress, chair, and many of the highlights were painted wet-in-wet, with impasto in the highlights, the fruit, and the red skirt of the figure in the window. Ultramarine is used extensively in the window, the background, the tablecloth, and in the underpaint of the shadows of the girl's red dress. The position of the heads of the standing man and the girl, and the bows in her hair, have been slightly altered. Some parts of the painting appear unfinished, such as the wall between the male figures, and the arm and cuff of the girl. There is degraded medium in the ultramarine mixtures and the pigment appears discolored.
* Johannes Vermeer (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art and Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis - Washington and The Hague, 1995, edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.)
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(Click here to access all of Vermeer's paintings in scale).
Not a single sitter in Vermeer's painting has ever been identified. The most obvious, but completely wrong candidate would be Janet Vogel, whose coat of arms stands out on the opened window. Documents show that she had died eight years before Vermeer was even born. Another candidate might be Maria de Knuijt, the wife of Vermeer's wealthy Delft patron, Pieter van Ruijven, since it is almost certain that this painting was part of their family collection. We know that in her will Maria bequeathed to Vermeer 500 florins. This sum was comparable to the cost of one to three expensive cabinet pictures. Such a bequest, made to a painter who was not a family member, was possibly unique in 17th-century Netherlands. It must count as a gesture of special esteem and commitment to the painter's well-being.
Although De Knuijt may have been acting on behalf of her husband, she had brought a great share of money to their marriage, and her taste must have been taken into account. As a supporter of the Orthodox wing of the Reformed church, De Knuijt might have found particularly appealing the chaste dignity that informs Vermeer's interpretations of femininity. However, the presence of Janet Vogel's coat of arms would conflict with Maria de Knuijt's social identity which must have been a central question of her life. It cannot be ruled out that Vermeer's own wife, Catharina Bolnes, had posed for the painting but in a sense, the sitter's identity is beside the point.
Following the atrocities of the war of independence with Spain, the people of the Netherlands turned their thoughts to the lighter sides of life, including naturally, love. Consequentially, in the second half of the century courtship and lovemaking had become one of the most popular subjects among Dutch genre artists. Painters had ample sources to draw from including moralizing literature, love poems, songbooks, guides to courting etiquette, plays as well as increasingly popular collections of prose love stories. Several of these were printed in Vermeer's home town Delft and Vermeer's paintings show that he was no doubt aware of them. Earlier 17th-century art images typically displayed merry outdoor garden parties populated with Dutch youth decked out in the latest fashions engaged in courtship, dancing and music making. These paintings descend from the iconography of the garden of love. To a certain degree, such images must have derived from the popular pastoral festivals (Fêtes Champêtres), which recalled the ideals of ancient Arcadia popular in the court of Louis XIV and XV.
By the 1650s, when Vermeer crafted his first interiors, the garden of love theme had undergone significant changes. The gatherings were reduced to two or three members which no longer took place in open spaces but within the intimate confines of well-to-do homes. Vermeer drew most of his compositional and thematic models from Gerrit ter Borch, who captured the finest nuances of costume and gesture, and Pieter de Hooch, who was the first artist to stage them in the sunlit corner of a room.
The Glass of Wine in Berlin and the present Girl with a Wine Glass appear to represent a very similar theme. The presence of the ceramic tiles and ornate stained-glass windows in both pictures would suggest that they were painted in the same room. For this reason, Vermeer experts tend to date these two works very closely. However, on close inspectio,n the two paintings present notable technical disparities which may suggest that they were painted within a somewhat larger interval of time.
The Berlin painting presents a rougher surface with loaded color reminiscent of the grainy textures found in Officer and Laughing Girl and the famous Milkmaid. Instead, the Girl with a Wine Glass presents a very smooth, almost polished surface. Following this work, Vermeer's paint application became ever more subtle. Art historian Mariët Westermann has suggested that Vermeer had begun to work in the so-called net, or smooth manner, which was in vogue among the most sought-after painters of the time. The new, smooth manner went along with the more genteel and elegant themes. The rouw, or rough manner of the great Rembrandt was criticized and rejected by most art writers of the time such as Samuel Hoogstraten and Gérard de Lairesse.
As with other Vermeer's group scenes, an air of ambiguity lingers around the present picture. The standing figure of the stained-glass window is surely a symbol of Temperance which symbolizes good deeds and emotional control. Likewise, the staid portrait on the rear wall probably provides some sort of admonitory comment to the scene which unfolds.
However, are we to make of the male figure slumped in the background? Is he, as the window, a caution against overindulgence? Is he drunk, dozing or does his pose suggest lovesickness and melancholy?
Most probably the ambiguity which permeates Vermeer's work is present in certain 17th-century still life paintings, many of which seem to walk a fine line between an invitation and a condemnation of sensual pleasure.
The art historian Paul Taylor has recently taken a fresh look at Vermeer's celebrated compositions in the light of 17th-century concepts of composition, or ordinantie, as described by the influential Dutch artist and art theorist, Gérard de Lairesse.
Taylor reveals that one of the key terms in Lairesse's discussion of composition is "the concept of probability, waarschynelykheid; indeed de Lairesse tells us that 'Probability is the most important thing to bear in mind when composing a picture.'" According to de Lairesse "one must make it evident not only in the general disposition, but also in each particular object, and attentively reject things which are in conflict with it." "As an example, de Lairesse tells us that if we are painting a dining room we should make it clear whether a meal is about to take place, or has already taken place; if the latter, we should depict empty vessels lying in disorder, empty plates."
Gesture, dress and the proper posture and disposition were all marshaled to clarify the narrative and strengthened its message. Fussy details had to be avoided lest they detract from the overriding message. De Lairesse even illustrated how the artist might suggest the social position of his sitter how they hold their glasses. Position No. 5 is comparable to the gesture seen in the present work, which was the most refined. As de Lairesse wrote, "A prince holds it handily and cautiously below on the foot."
What is unusual about de Lairesse's concept of composition is that he seems oblivious to the formal, purely aesthetic concerns which, instead, dominate modern understanding of pictorial composition, in favoring above all the "force of narrative."
Although it often goes unnoticed, the great majority of 17th-century Dutch genre interiors are set in the left-hand corner of a room. The side wall has a window that provides illumination and the background wall runs parallel, except in rare cases, to the picture plane. The origins of this pictorial formula may be linked with the fact that an artist usually painted with the light source coming from the left so that the shadow projected by his hand did not disturb the area on which he was working. The fact that western spectators read from left to right also contributes to the success of this formula.
It is an accepted fact that Vermeer drew much of his compositional and thematic contents directly from his Dutch colleagues. In particular, the painting which seems to have inspired the present work is Pieter de Hooch's Woman Drinking with Soldiers (1658).
In the 1650s, just before De Hooch left Delft for Amsterdam in 1660 or 1661, he produced some of his best pictures admirably presenting cool daylight which gently filters through open widows, bathing the interiors with a light interrupted only by the presence of a few selected figures and objects.
Although similar figure groupings had been devised by earlier artists, De Hooch was the first artist to set them in a coherently defined three-dimensional space illuminated by a bright light. In a certain sense, for the first time, De Hooch had made the description of space as important as the figures themselves. Some critics assert that Vermeer went one step further and made space and light the true subject of his canvases.
Perhaps the long hair and loose-fitting dress of both men in this work reflect a purposely "negligent" or "nonchalance" style that had become fashionable among men by the 1650s. Widely circulated manners books noted that it was not considered manly for one's dress to be too neat. Long hair became popular in different classes (perhaps because it could be achieved by those who could not afford expensive clothing). This fashion caused such alarm that church councils generating a controversy known as "The Dispute of the Locks" in 1645.
At least some of the inspiration for these fashions came from Baldassare Castiglione's book The Courtier (1528), which describes the ideals and behavior for the perfect gentleman whose appearance, referred to as sprezzatura, should appear effortless and even offhanded.
Peter Burke describes sprezzatura as "careful negligence" and "effortless and ease" maintaining that the ideal courtier is someone who "conceals art, and presents what is done and said as if it was done without effort and virtually without thought."re of the formal portrait that looms in the background is a comment on loosening mores which earlier generations of stoic Dutchmen criticized. The term sprezzatura was eventually applied to a loose style of painting such as that of Giogione, Titian, Velasquez and in the Netherlands, Rembrandt.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of Vermeer's working method was his penchant for assimilating multiple motifs and stylistic elements drawn from the works of his colleagues. In the present composition by Vermeer, we find traces of Pieter de Hooch's rationalized interiors, the luxurious satin costumes of Gerrit ter Borch and the interactive "body language" of the figures found in the works of Frans van Mieris, bound together into an original, artistic solution.
In the Teasing the Pet of Van Mieris, which is often related to the present work, Vermeer may have appreciated the dynamics between the two figures where the less-than-subtle cavalier attempts to make contact with the young girl by pulling her little dog's ear. Van Mieris is credited for having invented this motif which was later frequently repeated by his colleagues.
As usual, Vermeer rarely quoted his sources verbatim. Instead of the innocent puppy, he chose to formalize the encounter by replacing the anecdotal puppy with a more ceremonial offering of wine. While the lady in Van Mieris' work, at least for the moment, shuns her courtier's advances, the woman in Vermeer's painting looks out to the viewer and does not let us know her feelings. Thus each viewer may project into the picture his own thoughts and expectations becoming a participant e in the work's narrative.
Bergerette Dont vient cela (4 lutes) [892 KB]
from: Tilman Susato, Dansereye (1551)
Even though the present work has been most frequently linked to models by De Hooch (Woman Drinking with Soldiers, see related artworks number 1, below) and Frans van Mieris, art historian Roland E. Fleischer has provides evidence that Vermeer's initial inspiration may have a been a painting of the Dutch artist Ludolf de Jongh, The Refused Glass. Analyzing the particularities of the two figures' costumes in De Jongh's work Fleischer dates the painting somewhere between 1650 and 1655, which suggests that it was the inspiration for not only Vermeer's but for De Hooch's painting as well. De Jongh was not of Delft, where Vermeer and De Hooch traded ideas, but he was almost certainly taught De Hooch in Rotterdam before the latter moved to Delft. It is known that the two remained in contact even after De Hooch's move to Delft in the 1660s.
The pictures also may be more closely tied in theme than is apparent at first glance. Although the traditional title The Refused Glass is "based on the gesture of the seated lady's right hand, by which she supposedly declines the drink offered by the gentleman who bends towards her," Fleischer notes that on closer examination, "the man's right hand, which holds the glass between the thumb and index finger may gracefully support the woman's hand with the remaining three fingers. Instead of spurning the offer of wine, the lady may be the coy recipient." Analogously, the lady in Vermeer's composition shows no sign of refusal.
De Jongh's work is uncharacteristically large for a genre painting and the Brunswick picture by Vermeer is one of the few large-scale interiors by Vermeer. Furthermore, both women wear red satin dresses and fruit is displayed in both.
Fleischer conjectures that the subject may be a translation of a classical theme Venus Ceres and Bacchus in a harmonious relationship. The three classical deities formed a popular trio in Western thought through the centuries based on Terence's proverb, "without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus is chilled" that is, without food and wine love grows cold. Thus, De Jongh and Vermeer would have artist given a contemporary setting of everyday life "a deeper significance by investing it with a time-honored universal truth already expressed in Ancient literature, thereby uniting the category of genre with those of allegory and history."
In a recent paper, Huib Zuidervaart has advanced an interesting theory on the origin of Vermeer's Glass of Wine and The Girl with a Wine Glass. Zuidervaart asserts that the two works, which represent an open window that features an identical coat of arms, were commissioned as wedding presents for two of the grandchildren of Moijses van Nederveen and Janetge de Vogel. Moijses van Nederveen came from a prominent Delft family which was one of the four local producers of gunpowder, delivered to the Dutch army. Although historians had previously identified the families to which the coat or arms belonged—the heraldic emblem is a combination of those belonging to the Van Nederveen and De Vogel families—no one had as of yet explained why Vermeer would have chosen to include such conspicuous elements into two ambitious compositions. Zuidervaart points out that dates given to both paintings by Vermeer experts coincide with the dates of the weddings in question. Moreover, the symbolic implications of the coat of arms (figure of female virtue holding a crest) would appear in agreement with the idea as a wedding gift as well as being consistent with the background of Vermeer's presumed clients. Given that both paintings present not only the same window but the same set of ceramic tiles, which Vermeer never painted again, it is also possible that the Delft master executed both works on the premises of the Van Nederveen/De Vogel residence in Delft.
Bergerette Dont vient cela (4 lutes) [892 KB]
from: Tilman Susato, Dansereye (1551)