Essential Vermeer 3.0
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The Complete Interactive Vermeer Catalogue

The textual material contained in the Essential Vermeer Interactive Catalogue would fill a hefty-sized book, and is enhanced by more than 1,000 corollary images. In order to use the catalogue most advantageously:

1. Slowly scroll your mouse over the painting to a point of particular interest. Relative information and images will slide into the box located to the right of the painting. To hold and scroll the slide-in information, single click on area of interest. To release the slide-in information, single-click on the painting again and continue exploring.

2. To access Special Topics and Fact Sheet information and accessory images, single-click any list item. To release slide-in information, click on any list item and continue exploring.

The stained-glass window

The Glass of Wine (detail), Johannes Vermeer

One of the most remarkable features of the painting is the colored stained-glass window, which appears in another painting by Vermeer, Young Woman with a Wine Glass, in Berlin. The coat of arms has been identified with Janetge Jacobsdr. Vogel, first wife of Moses van Nederveen, but it is not known how Vermeer came by it. Although Janet Vogel and her husband had lived in Delft not too distant from Vermeer, Janet had died in 1624, eight years before the artist was born.

The symbolic meaning of the coat of arms is now clear and certainly and educated Dutchmen of the time required no coaxing to understand it. 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 with 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.

The wooded landscape in the background

End of Village, Allart van Everdingen

End of Village
Allart van Everdingen
Oil on canvas, 76 x 66.5 cm.
Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

The wooded landscape, which is painted with great delicacy, is done in the style of Allart van Everdingen. Van Everdingen was the younger brother of the painter Caesar van Everdingen whose large-scale Cupid appears three times in Vermeer's oeuvre and a fourth before the artist eventually painted it out.

Although Dutch art scholars have demonstrated that figural paintings, maps and drawings were sometimes used to insert hidden meaning into the depicted scenes, landscapes were generally considered decorative fillers. Elise Goodman has shown, instead, that landscapes are "iconographically charged emblems that contribute to and expand on the meaning of the pictures." Thus, the landscape in the present work emphasizes the amorous intention of the elegant cavalier who makes his love known through refined music making and wine drinking according to accepted norms of ritualized courtship. The use of the landscape as a metaphor of love was frequent in literature and popular love lyrics set to musical accompaniment.

The sumptuous gilt frame adds greatly to the aesthetically rich yet measured pleasure of the picture.

The patient cavalier

The Glass of Wine (detail), Johannes Vermeer

One hand on a wine jug and the other on his hip, the cavalier patiently waits on the spectacularly dressed young woman ready to pour more wine as soon as it has been drunk.

Although rivers of ink have flowed to describe their beauty and to decipher the thoughts and emotions of Vermeer's female sitters, the men who court them have received less attention. In Vermeer's paintings it is always the female who, all said and done, commands the scene relegating the male figures to an oddly passive role.

The gentleman in this picture would not have been considered discourteous for having kept his hat on. As the historian Timothy Brooks observed, in the time this picture was painted "a courting man did not go hatless. The custom of removing one's hat while entering a building or greeting a woman was not yet observed. Europeans only bared their heads before a monarch, and since the Dutch had no monarchs, their hats stayed on."

Marieke de Winkel, who has written extensively about Dutch costume in relation to painting, noted that in the 17th-century Netherlands, "the hat was perceived as a sign of authority and male supremacy. In contemporary French and Dutch language, the word 'hat' could be used as a metaphor for a man, as opposed to 'coif' denoting a woman. German and English travelers in the Netherlands were frequently surprised that Dutch men kept their hats on indoors, during meals, in company and even in church. Members of the lower classes were required to remove their hats in the presence of superiors. Foreigners generally explained the Dutch disregard for 'hat honor' as their longing for egalitarianism, personal independence and freedom."

The young girl's red tabbaard

Before Vermeer settled on the elegant fur-trimmed yellow morning jacket for his female sitters, he seems to have been initially attracted to a more formal full-length dress. Dutch costume expert Marieke de Winkel identifies this dress as a tabbaard, a combination of a stiffened bodice and a matching skirt. The tabbaard was always closed at the back and heavily boned to keep it as rigid as possible making it adapted for formal occasions only. The choice of this striking red satin dress with its scintillating gold brocade suggests that the girl entertained high expectations from the encounter with the debonair gentleman and has dressed herself to make her best impression.

To depict the extraordinary red which ignites the cool blues and grays of the composition, the dress was first worked up with vermilion, the only bright opaque red available to painters of the 17th century. According to a fixed recipe, once thoroughly dry, the passage was subsequently glazed with a thin, transparent layer of red madder diluted with natural dying oil to give the vermilion a fiery depth that cannot be approximated with a direct mixture of the two paints.

The girl's white cap

The Glass of Wine (detail), Johannes Vermeer

The finely dressed young lady sips the last drops of her wine, holding the glass correctly by the stem as indicated in courtesy books of the time. Her face remains hidden and her left arm folded square against her body as to fortify herself from the discreet advances of her suitor.

A similar white cap worn by the young woman appears in various paintings by Vermeer and in many genre paintings of the time both tied and open. Marieke de Winkel, a Dutch costume expert, explains that such caps were partly ornamental but practically served to protect the hairdo before and after dressing. In the inventory of Vermeer's wife, Catharina Bolnes, three such caps were listed "drye witte kappen" although such headgear was also referred to as hooftdoek in Delft. It was worn in informal situations and typically made of white linen, sometimes of nettlecloth or cotton.

The ceramic tiled floor

Vermeer was hardly the first painter to include tiled marble floors in his interiors. They can be found in numerous renditions of the so-called "merry companies" made popular by artists such as Anthonie Palamedesz more than two decades before. However, Pieter de Hooch, who worked in Delft and must have been on close terms with Vermeer, was the first artist to systematically employ them within a coherent system of linear perspective. His suggestive box-like spaces may have been the starting point for four of Vermeer's early interiors.

This kind of accelerated yet calculated perspective creates a breath-taking sense of space and permits the figures and furniture in the painting to appear securely and correctly anchored to the floor. Tiled floors became a standard component of Dutch genre painting even though the vast majority of Dutch floors were made of large wooden planks as we see in the works of Gerrit ter Borch which were more suited for the gelid Dutch winters.

In this work, Vermeer portrayed relatively low-cost ceramic tiles which were smaller and far more common than the large, black and white marble floors that would appear many times in his interiors. On careful inspection, one can observe subtle irregularities and chips, anecdotal details which would be purged in Vermeer's later works.

The ceramic tiled floor

Vermeer was hardly the first painter to include tiled marble floors in his interiors. They can be found in numerous renditions of the so-called "merry companies" made popular by artists such as Anthonie Palamedesz more than two decades before. However, Pieter de Hooch, who worked in Delft and must have been on close terms with Vermeer, was the first artist to systematically employ them within a coherent system of linear perspective. His suggestive box-like spaces may have been the starting point for four of Vermeer's early interiors.

This kind of accelerated yet calculated perspective creates a breath-taking sense of space and permits the figures and furniture in the painting to appear securely and correctly anchored to the floor. Tiled floors became a standard component of Dutch genre painting even though the vast majority of Dutch floors were made of large wooden planks as we see in the works of Gerrit ter Borch which were more suited for the gelid Dutch winters.

In this work Vermeer portrayed relatively low-cost ceramic tiles which were smaller and far more common than the large, black and white marble floors that would appear many times in his interiors. On careful inspection, one can observe subtle irregularities and chips, anecdotal details which would be purged in Vermeer's later works.

The ceramic wine jug

The Music Lesson (detail), Johannes Vermeer

The Music Lesson (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1662–1665
Oil on canvas, 73.3 x 64.5 cm.
The Royal Collection, The Windsor Castle

The type of all-white tin-glazed containers that appears in the present painting was originally produced in Faenza, Italy. In the 1550s, they were exported to all over Europe and by the late 16th and early 17th century had become very fashionable. Vermeer must have been very fond of this type of wine jug since it appears in strategically important areas in three other compositions (see detail of the Music Lesson.

In Holland, such containers were imitated by local potters and became a favorite subject of a great many genre interior painters 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.

Music, love and Petrachan poetry

Title page from Minnelycke sang-rympies, Jan Hermnz. Krul

Title page from
Jan Hermanz. Krul
Minnelycke sang-rympies
Engraving, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Art scholars have come to believe that Vermeer's paintings often allude to music, a common 17th-century metaphor for love and harmony between family members, lovers or friends. Many 17th-century songbooks were devoted to love songs because musical gatherings offered one of the few opportunities for social encounters between men and women of the elevated social classes.

The art historian Elise Goodman pointed out that the couple which appears in this painting are members of the haute bourgeoisie who we would expect to have read, wrote, and often spoke several languages and who collected European poetry in which the latest love conventions appeared. They would have been familiar not only with Dutch music but French and even English song-books and part music as well. The young suitor may have intoned a love song, perhaps one of poets' Pieter Hooft, whose lyrics in the tradition of Petrarch and De Ronsard were frequently set to musical accompaniment. Some of these lyrics appeared in Hooft's noted Emblemata Amatoria (Emblems of Love),

Although the Dutch did print their own songbooks, foreign publications were generally preferred. Contrary to other forms of culture, many people were familiar with the melodies and texts of songs whose texts reflect the problems of ordinary people. They give an excellent picture of how the jeunesse doree of the time lived. Since they were made to be carried along to festive gatherings very few specimens can be found.

The suitor's cloak

From a technical point of view, the drab olive color of the suitor's cloak was meant to provide a discreet contrast with the brilliant red satin dress of the seated girl. Had it been brighter in color, the two figures would have been visually divided. Its sweeping folds, almost monumental for Vermeer, enhance the gentleman's stature and, perhaps, his masculinity.

One of the finest passages of the composition is the gentleman's semi-exposed ruffled cuff which gently encloses the white wine jug. He stands at a respectful distance ready to pour another glass of wine to the young lady who seems to have almost finished the first.

Critics have given interpretations to momentary tête-à-tête speculating largely on the body language of the two figures. Walter Liedtke supposed that the girl's closed arms bent squarely to her body imply discomfort "as if the courtship were a troublesome necessity." It may also be noted that neither of his cavalier's hands has been depicted, which might suggest his unwillingness to expose his seductive intentions. However, it is doubtful the young girl would have entrusted the suitor to enter her private chamber and accepted a glass of wine had she not felt confident of his decent intentions or at least her ability to maintain control over the situation.

The "Spanish" chair

The Glass of Wine (detail), Johannes Vermeer

As in other works by Vermeer, the themes of gallant courtship and music making overlap. A cittern poses on a so-called Spanish chair, and underneath it a pillow. On the table lay a few opened songbooks. Presumably, moments before the gentleman had been serenading the young lady with some sprightly cittern music before shifting tactics. He may stand a better chance at softening her heart with a few glasses of wine.

The play of light across the elaborately carved head of the cittern and the back of the chair comprise one of the most evocative passages in the artist's oeuvre.

Vermeer's white-washed walls

Except for Pieter de Hooch and Jacobus Vrel few painters ever lavished such attention on the simple, white-washed wall. Vermeer's own walls appear to be fruit of intense observation, where every nuance of light's activity and surface texture are noted with the utmost care. The walls of the Milkmaid, The Music Lesson and The Art of Painting are so convincing that the spectator rarely registers them as being made of paint. Even a skilled realist painter has difficulty discerning paint from illusion in the nude wall of the Woman with a Pearl Necklace, perhaps the artist's most successful rendition of this humble motif.

In the present work, however, the fine nuances of color and the carefully registering of the cracks and stains of the wall's surface are largely absent.

Since the color of a wall is homogeneously white, how might a painter give substance it, texture and light? Which and what proportion of pigments are required to render the gradual dimming of the wall as it distances itself from the light source. And how does one capture the transparencies of the cast shadows?

In the present work, the main components of the wall paint are raw umber, a rather dull be extremely useful brown, natural ultramarine and naturally, white lead, the poisonous, workhorse white which was replaced only in the 20th century by titanium white. This same mixure, in different proportions, was also used in The Girl with a Wine Glass.

The Turkish carpet

The Annunciation (detail)
Pedro Berruguete
late 15th century
Oil on panel
Monastery of Burgos Maria de Mileflores, Burgos, Spain

As in other paintings by Vermeer, the figures are gathered around a table covered with what was commonly referred to as a "Turkish" carpet. Introduced into painting in the fourteenth century, Oriental carpets were used by painters to draw attention either to an important person or to highlight a location where significant action is going on. In Renaissance painting, Christian saints and religious scenes are often set on luxurious carpets, offering the added chance to reinforce perspectival recession. Afterward, carpets were integrated into secular contexts, but always in order to represent the idea of opulence, luxury, wealth and social status. Although initially affordable only to the most powerful and most wealthy classes, Oriental carpets were avidly sought after by merchants and burghers, who often had them displayed in their portraits to express their acquired wealth. By the seventeenth century, depictions of carpets were widespread throughout Europe. Oriental carpets appealed especially to Dutch who relished the chance to showcase off their technical skills. Although more depictions of Oriental carpets from the Renaissance have survived than actual carpets produced before the seventeenth century, beginning in the late 19th century scientists and collectors have increased the number of surviving Oriental carpets, allowing more detailed comparisons of existing carpets with their painted counterparts.

The Glass of Wine, Johannes Vermeer

Rather filling in a carefully delineated outline drawing, the complicated decorative motif of the carpet in The Glass of Wine is defined loosely by juxtaposing blobs of differently colored paint. The top of the table, which is viewed at a sharply oblique angle, is particularly challenging from a technical point of view. Although not a trace of the underlying pattern can be recognized in this passage, the swarms of swiftly applied of dabs and dashes of colored paint coalesce to suggest the carpet's fuzzy texture and the arabesque rhythms of its colorful design more than if it had been perfectly rendered detail for static detail.

Beneath the carpet parts of the massive the bulbous legs of an extendable table can be made out—the same table can be recognized a total of seven times in Vermeer's oeuvre—and the left shoe stocking-clad leg and shoe of the gentleman. The jumble of ceramic tiles and furniture legs beneath the table may have caused the painter considerable problems in perspective and drawing while contributing little to the composition.

The signature

Facsimile of signature of Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Wine Glass

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

c. 1659–1660
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer, London, 2000

c. 1659–1660
Walter Liedtke, Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, New York, 2008

c. 1661–1662
Wayne Franits, Vermeer, 2015

(Click here to access a complete study of the dates of Vermeer's paintings).

Critical assessment

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.)

The painting in its frame

(Click here to access all of Vermeer's paintings in their frames).

Johannes Vermeer Girl with a Wine Glass with frame
image thanks to Mike Buffington


  • London 1881
    Winter Exhibitition
    Royal Academy of Arts
    22, no. 93, lent by Mrs. Hope
  • London 1891
    South Kensington Museum
    15, no. 52, as "interior," lent by Samuel S. Joseph, Esq.
  • Berlin 1929
    Erasmus, Kurt. Die Meister des holländischen Interieurs
    Galerie Dr Schäffer
    no. 103a and ill.
  • New York May 17, June 13, 1948
    Paintings from the Berlin Museums Exhibited in Co-operation with The Department of The Army
    Metropolitan Museum of Art
    14, no. 139 and ill., as "Lady and Gentleman Drinking Wine"
  • Philadelphia June19, 1948–Jul y7, 1948
    Paintings from the Berlin Museums Exhibited in Co-operation with The Department of The Army
    Philadelphia Museum of Art
    14, no. 139 and ill., as "Lady and Gentleman Drinking Wine:
  • Chicago July 15, 1948–August 4, 1948
    Masterpieces of Painting Saved from the German Salt Mines; Property of the Berlin Museums
    14, no. 139 and ill., as "Lady and Gengleman Drinking Wine"
  • Boston August 14, 1948–August 31, 1948
    Paintings from the Berlin Museums Exhibited in Co-operation with The Department of The Army
    14, no. 139 and ill., as "Lady and Gentleman Drinking Wine"
  • Schaffhausen 1949
    Rembrandt und seine Zeit. Museum zu Allerheiligen
    76, no. 188 and ill.
  • Brunswick 1978
    Die Klessmann, Rüdiger. Die Sprache der Bilder: Realität und Bedeutung in der niederlandischen Malerei des 17 Jarhunderts
    Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum
    164–168, no. 39 and ill.
  • Amsterdam 2000
    The Glory of Golden Age: Dutch Art of Seventeenth Century
    198, no. 137 and ill.
  • New York March 8–May 27, 2001
    Vermeer and the Delft School.
    Metropolitan Museum of Art
    no. 71
  • London June 20–September 16, 2001
    Vermeer and the Delft School
    National Gallery
    no. 70
  • Tokyo August 2–December 14, 2008
    Vermeer and the Delft Style
    Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
    176–178, no 28 and ill.


  • Berlin April–May, 1929
    Die Meister des holländischen Interieurs
    Galerie Dr. Schaffer
    "Nachtrag" no. 103a and ill.
  • Schaffhausen 1949
    Rembrandt und seine Zeit. Museum zu Allerheiligen
    76, no. 188 and ill.
  • Brunswick September 6–November 5, 1978
    Die Sprache der Bilder: Realität Und Bedeutung in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jarhunderts
    Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum
    164–168, no. 39 and ill.
  • Tokyo April 24, 1984–June 10, 1984
    Dutch Painting of Golden Age from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis
    National Museum of Western Art
  • Madrid February 19–May 18, 2003
    Vermeer y el interior holandés
    Museo Nacional del Prado
    168–169 no. 33 and ill.
  • Tokyo August 2–December 14, 2008
    Vermeer and the Delft Style
    Metropolitan Art Museum
    176–178, no 28 and ill.
  • Brunswick December, 2009–May, 2015
    Dankwarderode Castle
  • Kassel November 18, 2011–February 26, 2012
    Light Structure - The Light in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer
    Museum Hessen
  • Rome September 27, 2012–January 20, 2013
    Vermeer. Il secolo d'oro dell'arte olandese
    Scuderie del Quirinale
    210. no. 47 and ill.
  • Dresden June, 4–September 12, 2021
    Vermeer: On Reflection
    Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

(Click here to access a complete, sortable list of the exhibitions of Vermeer's paintings).

The painting in scale

(Click here to access all of Vermeer's paintings in scale).

Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Wine Glass in scale


The Quack, Anonymous Dutch painter

The Quack (detail)
Anonymous Dutch painter
c. 1619–1625
Oil on panel, 67 x 90.7cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Vermeer's compositions are full of so-called pictures-within-pictures and in a sense, art becomes its own subject. However, the abundance of pictures-within-pictures in Vermeer's works is not only a personal choice, it reflects a real-life situation: paintings were more abundant in the Netherlands than in any other place in the world.

Foreigners who visited the Netherlands in the 17th century were amazed by how many pictures they found. In an oft-quoted diary, British traveler Peter Mundy wrote in 1640: "As for the art of Painting and the affection of the people to Pictures, I think none other go beyond them." In fact, paintings were everywhere except in the Reformed churches. In addition to well-off merchants, Mundy reported that bakers, cobblers, butchers and even blacksmiths all possessed at least one painting.

Since painting was no longer primarily the preserve of church or aristocracy or even the very wealthy, the types of pictures produced and sold as well as their appearance was drastically altered. The newly empowered urban upper class had discovered that paintings, as well as luxury items, could become an effective symbol of power, objects to be avidly collected and proudly exhibited. Consequently, paintings could also become another form of easily transportable merchandise in Holland which had become the Mecca of world trade. The fact that they were easy to handle and were less bulky made it easier to place them on the market.

Courtship in Dutch painting

The Suitor's Visit, Gerrit ter Borch

The Suitor's Visit (detail)
Gerrit ter Borch
c. 1658
Oil on canvas, 71 x 73 cm.
National Gallery of Art, Washington

The present work is a perfect example of a new type of Dutch painting which explored the changing social mores of the second half of the 17th century pioneered by Gerrit ter Borch and Frans van Mieris.

Just a few decades before, a gentleman would not have been seen in the company of a young woman in a domestic setting. Prevailing customs did not allow private meetings between the wooer and wooed. During Vermeer's lifetime, when peace had been ensured and the Netherlands had become the most prosperous nation in Europe, the rules of courtship began to relax. Romance became a factor to be reckoned with and the private home became an accepted venue for negotiating marriage. However, the conventions of well-to-do courtship became restrained and increasingly ritualized. Artists, who had formally specialized in mercenary love of the brothels, discovered a brand-new market for scenes of barely veiled flirtations amidst the finely appointed bourgeois home.

Pieter de Hooch & Vermeer

Young Woman Drinking, Pieter de Hooch

Young Woman Drinking
Pieter de Hooch
Oil on canvas, 69 x 60 cm.
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Even if Vermeer's thematic intentions remain uncertain, it is clear he had a demanding intellectual program for his more complicated works. The theme of this picture, courtship and love, had already been pioneered by Dutch artists decades before. Vermeer's foray into the new field was probably inspired by Pieter de Hooch.

Although De Hooch is probably the direct source of inspiration for this particular composition, Vermeer's art distinguishes itself from De Hooch's because it addresses more complex compositional and thematic issues. Whereas Vermeer's figures are brought prominently into the foreground and appear naturalistic, often with considerable sensitivity to their psychological states, De Hooch's figures are stiff, even doll-like, and sometimes do not appear anchored within the painting's three-dimensional space. Their postures are less natural and their emotions are seldom as nuanced as those of Vermeer. Also, while Vermeer dealt with moral questions of a certain weight (e.g., Last Judgment, Vanitas and religious faith) De Hooch favored less lighter subjects, focusing on home and hearth contents. However, to De Hooch's credit the historian Simon Schama holds that the artist's interiors portray tender child-rearing, "the first sustained image of parental love that European art has shown us."

Art historian Peter Sutton adds the interesting proposition that the woman and child who appear in so many of De Hooch's works are likely the artist's own wife and son, and the familiar rooms probably those of his own house. None of Vermeer's sitters have been identified.

The cavalier's felt hat

Although this kind of wide-brimmed hat could be made of wool or other materials, felt made from beaver hair produced a hat that held its form and was more weather resistant. A hat like the one in the present painting was not owned by everyone.

As the historian Timothy Brook noted, during the 17th century, beaver pelts imported from the New World were at the center of a lucrative web of trade since the beaver population of Europe had been largely depleted. The beaver-rich New World territory—eventually named New Netherlands—came under the jurisdiction of the Dutch West India Company in 1621, as part of the conditions of the Company's charter. The pelts were first sent to Russia, where they were valued for their shiny outside fur. Russian customers would eventually sell the furs back into the trade. When worn, dirty and sufficiently greasy to be properly felted they were converted into felt hats, and resold. Hatters used mercury to mat beaver fur's dense, warm undercoat. Exposure to the toxic chemical, however, caused severe mental disorders and is the source of the otherwise strange expression, "mad as a hatter."

Dutch wine

Parental Admonition, Gerrit ter Borch

Parental Admonition (detail)
Gerrit ter Borch
c. 1654
Oil on canvas, 71 x 73 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

While grapes had been grown in the Netherlands since Roman times, the lack of sunlight meant that they produced poor wine. Nonetheless, fine wines could be easily imported from France, Germany, Spain and Portugal. This trade made the fortunes of many. Although wine was initially affordable for only the upper classes, by the 1650s wine consumption had outstripped that of beer. Young white wines from France and Germany were mixed with honey and spices to counteract their natural tartness and a fine end to a large meal.

Recommended for children and adults alike, beer was still the most popular beverage among the lower classes. Since it was boiled during preparation, it was safer to drink than plain water. In the countryside, buttermilk and whey were acceptable alternatives to beer, especially at breakfast, but whole milk was largely distrusted.

Another alcoholic drink, jenever, was also widely available in the Netherlands. Due to the lack of refined distilling techniques herbs were added to mask the flavor. The result was a juniper-flavored and strongly alcoholic liquor that was initially sold as medicine. By the late 1680s, the Dutch were exporting over 10 million gallons a year. Traditional jenever is still very popular in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Music in 17th-century Netherlands

Music played a significant role in the daily life of the Netherlands despite restrictions imposed by the Calvinist church. Wealthy burghers loved to flaunt their newly gained lifestyle in elegant musical gatherings where the display of expensive musical instruments played an important part.

As noted by the music critic and historian Julie Anne Sadie, a key vehicle for the diffusion of music in the Netherlands was the so-called collegia musica, which flourished in many important cities. Surviving documents provide insights into both social and musical attitudes and reveal that their importance extends far beyond the dilettantism usually associated with such groups. Town councils sometimes support a collegia by making a room available for the musicians. As early as the 17th century and increasingly in the 18th, collegia musica, supported by a wealthy bourgeoisie, gave traveling foreign musicians the opportunity to make public appearances, thus anticipating organized public concerts. In the 17th century, their repertory consisted largely of polyphonic songs and madrigals and simple instrumental music, some of which were of local origin. Authentic information about historical collegia musica is often fragmentary and has been preserved only by chance.

Interior with a Musical Company, Joost Corneliszoon Droogsloo

Interior with a Musical Company
Joost Corneliszoon Droogsloot
Oil on canvas, 97.7 x 126.8 cm.
Centraal Museum, Utrecht

An invisible bond

The Glass of Wine (diagram), Johannes Vermeer

Before settling on the upright format, Vermeer executed two interiors that are wider than they are higher. The horizontal format had been favored by the pioneers in the Dutch genre interior such as Willem Buyteweck and Dirk Hals but was later abandoned by, perhaps, the most refined practitioner of the motif, Gerrit ter Borch.

Vermeer must have recognized that in the horizontal composition, the painter is naturally constrained to disposeof both the objects and figures in a frieze-like sequence from left to right and that the observer tends to view them separately one after another as they read words in a book. This kind of reading did not worry the early painters since personal dialogue or figural unity was the last of their concerns.

Vermeer, instead, was more attuned to the private dialogue between the figures and attempted to bond the figures visually and emotionally. He did not have to look far for the appropriate compositional solution since it was one that he had already successfully employed in two earlier pictures, the Diana and her Companions and the Christ in the House of Martha and Mary. In all three paintings, the principal motif is unified with a circular composition, a common compositional device developed during the Renaissance.

In the present work the circular composition effectively balances the perspectival pull towards the background wall and the dazzling pattern of the stained-glass window.

Listen to period music

music icon The Lady Nevils Delight (cittern) [688 KB]
from: Ancient Instruments - by Various Artists -Tuxedo (no. 33)

What do Vermeer's paintings mean?

Do Vermeer's paintings really signify something other than the scenes they represent?

After many years of research, scholars have concluded that there exists no single interpretative key to unlock the presumed hidden meanings of Vermeer's painting. Moreover, there is a growing sense that the iconographical method may have reached its limits. Some historians have gone full circle and return to what Thoré-Bürger expounded 150 years ago: Dutch paintings might be taken literally for what they appear to be at first glance, remarkable descriptions of a particular situation and time.

The principal advocate of the iconographic method as applied to Dutch genre paintings is Eddy de Jongh. Rather than assuming naturalism as the default mode of representation, in De Jongh's system, everyday objects are interpreted as having symbolic meanings that, taken together, contribute to the meaning of the painting as a whole. While in the Vanitas imagery of Dutch still lifes symbolic meaning of certain objects and events was intentionally blunt—hourglasses, timepieces or spent candles signaled the ephemerally and futility of the material world—genre scenes of the kind painted by Vermeer demanded an all-encompassing approach. Their symbolic messages are embedded deeper within the apparently quotidian. Unlike Panofsky, the originator of iconographical studies of Renaissance painting, De Jongh spoke of "apparent realism," rather than "disguised symbolism" since the illusionist appearance in Dutch paintings is nonetheless its most remarkable trait. To support his readings, De Jongh marshaled an array of texts and prints which in turn help to produce a picture of the broader cultural context for viewing these works.

Many believe that beneath the extraordinary realism of Dutch art lies an allegorical view of nature that provided a means for conveying various messages to contemporary viewers. The Dutch, so it goes, with their ingrained Calvinist beliefs, were a moralizing people. While they thoroughly enjoyed the sensual pleasures of life, they were keenly aware of the consequences of wrong behavior. Paintings, even those representing everyday objects and events, helped provide reminders about the brevity of life and the need for moderation and temperance in one's conduct.

The iconographical approach to Dutch paintings has found detractors. Many believe that the average Dutchman had no need to be told what was morally right or wrong. In her groundbreaking study, The Art of Describing, Svetlana Alpers forcefully advanced the opposed notion of Dutch painting, unlike Italian painting, as essentially descriptive and non-narrative, supported by a fascinating array of ideas and data culled from different fields, including optics, perspective theory, and cartography. In her view, Dutch painters participated in a distinctive visual culture that led them to value detailed realistic paintings of everyday life as a way of exploring and knowing the world, not as a way of presenting disguised moralistic meanings.

The latest development in the iconographical vein is that paintings were deliberately meant to have open-ended meaning, a sort of interpretative ambiguity where the final significance of the painting depends upon the emotions and cultural experiences of the viewer. Indeed, ambiguity is already latent in many important symbols. Mirrors, for example, were associated with both vanity and self-introspection.

Some scholars believe, in essence, that both are right. Dutch painters deliberately created open-ended works which viewers could interpret symbolically or delight in the astounding visual qualities represented therein.

Vermeer & the fijnschilders

Along with Gerrit Dou, Gerrit ter Borch and Frans van Mieris, Vermeer practiced what the Dutch called "fijnschilderei" or "fine painting." This new, ambitious form of painting catered to the quasi-aristocratic burgher tastes which had developed after the 1650s when religious inhibitions in regards to the accumulation and display of materials riches began to loosen. In this period, Dutch burghers, many of whm had retired from work and were able to live on their investments and land holdings, desired to distance themselves off from the rest of society. The construction of grand villas, luxurious city dwellings and formal gardens were among their favorite pastimes and art collecting became a means to not only boast their princely lifestyle but to define their social aspirations as well.

In order to gratify the burghers whose life-style had not yet been pictured, the fijnschilderen focused on precious, expensive, cultivated things, above all clothes and interior furnishings. Favored motifs were conversation, gallant courtship, music making, poetry, letter reading and letter writing. The direct, emphatic display of emotion was banished in favor of self-containment and barely perceptible gesture. To convey the new social mentality, a consonant style and a technique were required. They favored polished, almost invisible brushwork and a detailed description of form necessary to capture the textures and colors of luxurious furnishings and costumes. The earlier drab earth colors, jumbled compositions and indistinct lighting practiced by painters of low-life tavern scenes and bare home settings gave way to clear, bright lighting, geometrically ordered compositions and rich colors. The surface of fijnschilder paintings remains virtually undisturbed by paint relief.

Gallant Conversation, Known as "The Paternal Admonition"
Gerrit ter Borch
c. 1654
Oil on canvas, 69 x 60 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Since this new type of painting required great skill and expenditure of time, prices rivaled those paid for the finest works of the venerated Italian masters. A good Dou could fetch over 1,000 guilders, the equivalent of the price of a modest Dutch house. Dou, Van Mieris and Ter Borch all had international reputations while the great part of Vermeer's oeuvre was acquired by the patrician Pieter van Ruijven of Delft who, in order to bolster his social standing, paid an astronomical sum of 16,000 guilders to acquire land near Schiedam, which brought with it the title of Lord of Spalant in 1669.

A new hypothesis on the origin of the painting

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 a conspicuous element 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.

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