The Guitar Player
oil on canvas
20 1/4 x 18 1/4 in. (53 x 46.3 cm.)
Kenwood, English Heritage as
Trustees of the Iveagh Bequest
Dutch art expert Gregor Weber identified the picture-within-a-pciture as A Wooded Landscape with a Gentleman and Dogs in the Foreground by by Pieter Jansz. van Asch. In Vermeer's version, Van Asch's painting has been cropped on the right and slightly on the top. The group of gentlemen and dogs is covered by the guitar player's head.
Van Asch's landscape may have been a possession of Vermeer at the moment of his death. Like many other Dutch artists, Vermeer dealt in paintings of his colleagues to augment earnings since many painters were not able of support themselves by painting alone. In his late years Vermeer's trade went poorly. Catharina Bolnes, the artist's wife, stated in a petition to her creditors that her deceased husband "during the long and ruinous war with France not only had been unable to sell any of his art but also, to his great detriment, was left sitting with the paintings of other mers he was dealing in. As a result and owing to the very great burden of his children, having no means of his own, he lapsed into such decay and decadence, which he had so taken to heart, as if he had fallen into a frenzy, in a day or day and a half he had gone from being healthy to being dead."
According to the scholar Elise Goodman, even though we know nothing of Vermeer's literary and musical predilections, the young girl that appears in the present painting is a member of the haute bourgeoisie who read, wrote, and spoke in several languages. She probably collected European poetry and had a taste for the lyrics of Dutch, French and even English songbooks which circulated in great numbers in 17th-century Netherlands. Her hairstyle, dress and guitar reflect the latest styles of the day.
The young girl's open expression is quite unusual for Vermeer's sitters who usually convey their emotion in a veiled manner. Perhaps her flirtatious expression suggests the presence of a male listener nearby. From a technical point of view, her physiognomy is rendered with such economy that it is almost impossible draw any conclusions as to an eventual resemblance to other figures in Vermeer's paintings.
In the 17th century, pearls were an important status symbol. In 1660 English diarist Samuel Pepys paid 4 1/2 pounds for a pearl necklace, and in 1666 he paid 80 pounds for another, which at the time amounted to about 45 and 800 guilders respectively. At about the same time the traveling French art connoisseur Balthasar de Monconys had been shown a single-figured painting by Vermeer which had been paid 600 guilders and that he considered the price outrageous.
Although the homogenous subject matter of Vermeer's art would lead some to believe the artist evolved little during his career, a closer look at his painting technique reveals that he ceaselessly experimented new ways to enhance light, textures and space.
In the present work, the artist contrived a remarkably economic technique for rendering the pearl necklace that he later replicated in the Allegory of Faith. After having laid in the dark greenish shadows of the girl's neck, he superimposed a continuous, light gray band of paint to serve as the basis of the strand of pearls. At this stage no attempt was made to define the shape of the individual pearls whose contours, instead, were left deliberately hazy in order to convey their natural translucence. Once the underlying layer of gray paint was thoroughly dry, he deftly applied a sequence of thick white spherical highlights which indicate the position, spherical nature and reflective quality peculiar to pearls.
This detail illustrates the evident tendency towards stylization in Vermeer's late works. Instead of continuously modeled form, objects are abstracted into a series of flat patches of differently toned paint, which, nonetheless, magically convey the play of light on the delicately formed fingers of the young girl.
The guitar was just coming into vogue in the 17th century as a popular instrument for solo accompaniment. The music it created was bolder than that of the lute, in large part because its chords produced a resonance not possible on the lute. By then, the lute had begun to take on associations with an idealized past, a sophisticated era where music had been enjoyed and contemplated for the purity of its sounds. As Authur Wheelock obscerved, the bright and direct character of the Guitar Player thus, spoke more to the modern world of music represented by the guitar than to the conservative and contemplative traditions of the lute.
The depiction of the guitar is a technical tour de force. Maximum attention was paid to the rendering of the decorative black and white inlay of its border whose visually "staccato" effect intensifies the painting's crisp, sparkling atmosphere and lends a rhythmic note consonant to the musical theme. The ornate hand-carved sound hole (see detail above) is rendered with astounding pictorial shorthand of thick blobs of impasto paint which miraculously describes the way light rakes across its shiny uneven surface. But perhaps the most subtle technique has been reserved for the painting of the instrument's strings. If carefully observed, some of them are blurred to suggest vibration in a quite unconventional manner which finds few parallels in 17th-century painting.
Why Vermeer so drastically simplified his technique is an open question. Some art historians believe the his creative powers began to wane under the weight of terrible personal calamities. Others believe he was simply following the French influence that had begun to dominate high culture. Yet others believed that he simply wished to abbreviate the painting process in order to compete more advantageously in an extremely fickle art market which had all but collapsed due to the French invasion of the Netherlands in 1672.
Satin was sometimes starched and ironed to stiffen the material. From the heavy hang of the folds, the dress in the Guitar Player appears to be made of starched satin.
In the 17th century, Dutch painters had reached pinnacle of pictorial illusionism and especially delighted in the depiction of the play of light on textures. In particular, the description of luxurious fabrics like silk, satin and velvet were considered a test of the painter's ability and the best never lost the chance to show off their technical prowess in this area. Philip Angel wrote in 1642, "A painter worthy of praise should be able to render this variety in the most pleasurable way for all eyes with his brushwork, distinguishing between harsh, rough clothiness and smooth satiny evenness..."
Finely rendered satin gowns were strong selling point on the competitive art market. Pieter Codde and Willem Duyster were particularly good at it but Gerard ter Borch surpassed them all. So when Vermeer included this kind of luxurious garment in his painting, he was well aware that it would be compared to those of the most highly appraised and sought after painters of the moment.
Painting luxurious fabrics was particularly difficult and time consuming. Because the folds change with the movement of the body and painters could not usually finish them in a single session, life-size wooden manikins were dressed with the sitter's most costly clothes.
The three books which lie on the table lend an air of sophistication to the picture even though it is impossible to know their subject or title. Some critics have proposed that the bulky dimensions of the middle volume indicates it is a Bible. One critic has conjectured that the presence of the holy text in the worldly context represents a veiled admonition to the girl's vain pursuits. If the this is the case, the viewer will not fail to note that the lovely musician seems to have turned a deaf ear to the painter's moralizing advise.
Walter Liedtke, more reasonably, posits that the three books "imply learning, new but not unknown theme in Dutch paintings of fashionable young women."
It is not easy to understand the space that the young girl inhabits but she appears to be quite far from the background wall even though the golden frame seems to bind her closely to it. We might assume that the hidden window to the far right was similar in structure to other windows found in Vermeer's interiors with two lower and two upper casements. The upper casements had shutters that could be closed from the inside while the lower shutters were on the exterior of the house. Thus, the curtains such as the one seen in this painting were used to shield incoming light and indiscreet eyes. It would seem that the light which floods the girl comes from a second window nearer to the artist.
Although it can barely be made out, this dark silhouetted form represents the top of a lion-head finial of a so-called Spanish chair which Vermeer had portrayed in many of his works including the early Officer and Laughing Girl. These particular chairs probably derived their name from the use of leather instead of cloth commonly used in Spain. Such chairs were so prized that their makers' regarded themselves as a distinct and superior group within the craftsman guilds. Similar chairs can be seen countless times in genre interiors of Vermeer's time.
A similar elegant fur-trimmed yellow morning jacket appears in five paintings by Vermeer including the Mistress and Maid. In the mid-1660s or after they were depicted in an enormous number of Dutch genre interiors, in a wide variety of colors. Very few examples of real jacketshave survived.
The shimmering material of the jacket is broken down into an abstract pattern which seem almost unrelated to the actual tuck and fold of the garment. The fur trim too, once rendered with the utmost delicately, is transformed into to curious patches of thin gray paint. Why Vermeer had come to disregard the close transcription of visual experience in favor of a so heavily stylized treatment has never been fully understood.
A rarely discussed yet crucial component of Vermeer's motifs are the white-washed walls. They set the stage for the artist's unobtrusive drama and have multiple pictorial functions. They not only define the picture's spatial depth but establish with uncanny precision the lighting scheme and mood of the work. Moreover, as "negative spaces" they often play a key in compositional equilibrium. As in the work of no other Dutch interior painter do the walls have such a marked presence whose bland surfaces are investigated with the utmost care.
Vermeer employed sundry pictorial strategies to define each wall's particular illusionist qualities and suggest the transparency of cast shadows. The wall's precise hue, or color, establishes the temperature of the incoming light while chiaroscural values and brushwork signal the light's direction, intensity as well as the surface texture. Surprisingly, the pigment combinations Vermeer and other Dutch interior painters generally used for the task were few; mainly lead white, black and raw umber, a workhorse, but unexciting brown. The importance that Vermeer attached to evoking their luminosity is confirmed by the well-know findings that he deliberately introduced in some of his wall minute mixtures of natural ultramarine (sometimes perceived only subliminally) the most expensive pigment used by painters throughout Europe.
Wim Weeve, Delft building historian Wim Weeve, reports that since the Middle Ages, bare white walls were ubiquitously found in the interiors of Dutch houses, castles and churches. However, these walls were not simply "white washed" with a brush, but first covered with a thicker layer of lime putty, in Holland, where Vermeer lived and worked, made from burned seashells. After the putty layer was applied, the walls were repeatedly whitewashed as they become soiled. At times they were (partly) decoratively hand-painted, but by the 17th-century they were no longer in fashion among the upper classes. Walls could be whitewashed many times as many times as necessary to restore their pristine white condition. Bare brick walls could be kept only in industrial buildings or warehouses.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. Vermeer: The Complete Works, New York, 1997)
Walter Liedtke Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, New York, 2008)
- ?) Pieter Claesz van Ruijven, Delft (d. 1674)
- (?) his widow, Maria de Knuijt, Delft (d. 1681)
- (?) their daughter, Magdalena van Ruijven, Delft (d. 1682)
- (?) her widower, Jacob Abrahamsz Dissius (d. 1695)
- Dissius sale, Amsterdam, 16 May 1696, no. 4
- ?Jan Danser Nijman, Amsterdam (before 1794)
- Henry Temple, 2nd Viscount Palmerston, London (1794-d.1802)
- his son, Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, London and Broadlands, Hampshire (1802-d.1865)
- his stepson, William Francis Cowper-Temple, 1st Baron Mount Temple, Broadlands, Hampshire (1865-d.1888)
- his nephew, (Anthony) Evelyn Melbourne Ashley (in 1888, sold to Agnew)
- [Agnew, London, 1888-89, sold to Guinness]
- Edward Cecil Guinness, (from 1919) Earl of Iveagh, London (1889-d.1927)
- The Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House, London (inv. 88028841)
- London 1871
An Exhibition of the Old Masters, Associated with Works of Deceased Masters of the British School. Royal Academy.
no. 266, as "The Lute Player" lent by LR. T. Hon. W. Cowper-Temple.
- London 1892
Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School including a Collection of Watercolour Drawings, Studies, and Sketches from Nature. Royal Academy.
no. 46, as "The Lute Player", lent by Lord Iveagh.
- The Hague 25 June – 5 September, 1966
In het licht van Vermeer. Mauritshuis.
- London July, 2012 – 2013
- London 26 June – 8 September, 2013
Vermeer and Music: Love and Leisure in the Dutch Golden Age.
(68, no. 24 and ill.)
Vermeer's mother is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft, February 13.
Geertruijt Reynier Vermeer, Vermeer's sister, is buried at the beginning of May in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft.
Vermeer inherits Mechelen from his mother, July 13. He rents it to a shoemaker caller Van Ackerdyck.
Vermeer is appointed for a second time headmen of the Saint Luke's Guild. He continues to paint in an "abstract" mode paying greater attention to pattern and the compositional structure of his works. Scholars have asserted that Vermeer may have been following the popular French mode of painting.
Delft pop. 15,000
|european painting & architecture||
Louis Le Vau, Fr. architect, d. (b. 1612)
Landscape architect André Lenôtre lays out the Champs-Elysées at Paris.
Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme includes a ballet with music by court composer Jean Baptiste Lully, 38, who has come to France from his native Florence and changed his name from Giovanni Battista Lulli. The ballet is so popular that four performances are requested in the space of 8 days.
Feb 10, William Congreve, English writer (Old Bachelor, Way of the World), is born.
John Ray prints a book of aphorisms such as: "Blood is thicker than water..." and "Haste makes waste."
|science & philosophy||
Italian scientist Giovanni Borelli attempts to use artificial wings to flying.
London clockmaker William Clement improves the accuracy of clocks by inventing anchor-shaped gadgets (escapements) that control the escape of a clock's driving force.
Parts of Baruch de Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus are published anonymously. Spinoza shows that the Bible, if properly understood, gives no support to the intolerance of religious authorities and their interference in civil and political affairs. The book creates a furor. It will provoke widespread denunciations as it goes through five editions in the next 5 years, and Spinoza moves to The Hague to gain the protection of influential friends. Now 37, he suffers from tuberculosis after years of inhaling glass dust produced by his lens-making.
Cardinal Emilio Altieri becomes Pope Clement X.
May 2, The Hudson Bay Co. is chartered by England's King Charles II to exploit the resources of the Hudson Bay area.
Oct 13, Virginia passes a law that blacks arriving in the colonies as Christians cannot be used as slaves.
The Dutch merchant marine has become larger than that of England, France, Spain and Portugal combined.
Minute hands first appear on watches.
Cafe Procope, the first cafe in Paris, begins serving ice cream.
France's Louis XIV founds Les Invalides at Paris to house up to 7,000 disabled soldiers.
|vermeer's life||In July Vermeer appears before the notary Nicolaes van Assendelft to acknowledge that he had received an inheritance of 148 guilders from his sister's estate.|
|dutch painting||Adriaen van Ostade paints Travelers Resting.|
|european painting & architecture||
Lionel Bruant: Hôtel des Invalides, Paris.
Christopher Wren: The Monument to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666
Feb 19, Charles-Hubert Gervais, composer, is born.
Dec 1, Francesco Stradivari, Italian violin maker and son of Antonius, is born.
Paris Opera opens with Robert Cambert's opera Pomone.
The French Académie de Royale Musique opens March 3 in the Salle du Jeu de Paume de la Bouteille. Jean Baptiste Lully will take over the Paris Opéra beginning next year and run it until 1687, rebuilding the house after fires that will destroy it in 1678 and 1681
Apr 6, Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, French playwright, poet (Sacred Odes & Songs), is born.
Molière writes his farce Les Fourberies de Scapin (The Wiles of Scapin or Scapin the Cheat).
|science & philosophy||
In Germany Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz devised a mechanical calculator to add, subtract, multiply and divide.
Astronomer Jean Picard visits the observatory of the late Tycho Brache on Hven Island, Sweden, to determine its exact location in order that observations there can be compared with precision to those made elsewhere. He returns to Paris with copies of Brahe's work and will use them to help him obtain an accurate measurement of the length of a degree of a meridian (longitude line) for use in computing the size of the Earth.
|history||c. 1671 first printed reference to an alphabet rhyme, a rhyme composed to help children learn their letters.
Apr 22, King Charles II sits in on English parliament.
Colonel Thomas Blood, Irish adventurer, steals the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.
Vermeer leases Mechelen to an apothecary for six years.
In May, Vermeer travels with two other headmen of the Saint Luke guild of Delft to The Hague in order to appraise a collection of disputed Italian paintings. Since one of the members of the expedition, Johannes Jordaens had spent many yeas in Italy, and Vermeer probably never left the Netherlands, it is likely that he was chosen for his importance as the headmaster of the guild. They testify before a notary that the works are "great pieces of rubbish and bad paintings."
Vermeer's earnings from his paintings after the French invaded the Netherlands of this year was probably considerably lower that those of the 1660s. His family was also very large by Dutch standards where only two or three children were expected. His economic problems may have been worsened because of low rate of production and restricted clientele and consequentially high prices of his paintings.
The refined sense of balance in Vermeer's compositions of the 1660s have given way to a new dynamic direction in the early 1670s. In The Guitar Player, Vermeer rejected balance in favor of a highly asymmetric compositions. The figure of the young girl seems to literally burst off the canvas. The music of the guitar, much bolder than that of the lute, had become popular in these years.
|european painting & architecture||Christopher Wren: St. Stephen's, Walbrook, London|
Apr 6, Andre Ardinal Destouches, composer, is born.
First public concert at Whitefriars, London, given by violinist John Banister.
The baroque guitar begins to become popular in Holland. A fine example can be seen in Vermeer's The Guitar Player. The lute, by this time, had begun to take on associations with an idealized past.
The Académie Royale de Danse is founded by Louis XIV in 1661 and amalgamated with the Paris Opéra becoming the Paris Opéra Ballet.
|literature||William Temple: Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands.|
|science & philosophy||Flexible hose for use in fighting fires, is constructed by Jan van der Heyde and his son.
Feb 8, Isaac Newton reads his 1st optics paper before Royal Society in London.
Christian Huygens of Holland discoveres white polar caps on Mars.
Apr 29, King Louis XIV of France invaded the Netherlands. The beginning of economic decline in the Dutch Republic and the art market collapses
Jun 15, The Sluices are opened in Holland to save Amsterdam from the French.
The Royal African Co. is granted a charter to expand the slave trade and its stockholders included philosopher John Locke. The operation will supply English sugar colonies with 3,000 slaves annually.
Political lynching of the statesman Johan and Cornelis de Witt by Orange supporters in the Hague
Netherlands's third war with England and starts an economic decline in Holland. The art market collapses.
The Dutch organize a system of relief for the poor, who had been provided for up to now by prosperous merchants. With Dutch trade declining and the country at war, the merchants can no longer afford to be so generous.
According to art historian Elise Goodman, Vermeer's Guitar Player belongs to a construct that may be called the "lady and the landscape" which was a popular, international convention for glorifying female beauty in the 17th-century painting, prints and literature. A typical example of this convention is Palma Vecchio's Lady with a Lute (see image left) which represents a female musician in front of an idyllic landscape.
Goodman writes that the idea that a lady was a "masterpiece of nature" to be admired, possessed and displayed, appeared in countless poems, songs and tracts on women in the 17th century. In poetry, women's features were delicately entwined with their natural environment. The metamorphosis by which she was turned into a metaphorical tree or verdant meadow was popular in English and French 17th-century literature and was echoed in Dutch poems by Hooft, Huygens and Vondel. Vermeer may have been aware of the convention when he recalls the dangling curls of the young girl's hair in the hanging branches of the idyllic landscape directly behind her head.
Since Vermeer was once consulted as an expert in matters of Italian artworks, he must have been familiar with this type of painting through Italian pictures and prints which widely circulated throughout Europe and were collected on the Dutch art market.
John M. Montias, expert of Vermeer's life and extended family, mused that the yellow-jacketed girl has the characteristic jaw formation of the Wrightsman portrait (see image left). Assuming the date generally assigned to the picture (1671-1672) is about right, it could represent Maria, Vermeer's eldest daughter, at the age of seventeen or eighteen. Elisabeth, born about 1657, is a less likely candidate since she was probably less than fifteen years old at the time the Kenwood picture was painted.
In any case, it is difficult to imagine how the father of eleven children was able ignore their presence while he painted. Many critics have noticed the apparent discrepancy between Vermeer's perfectly-ordered interiors and what may have been the artist's daily life with a brood of children. Where are the cradles, beds and chairs, listed in the inventory of movable goods taken after his death, strewn out over the house? Contrary to many Dutch genre painters such as Jan Steen, Nicolaes Maes and Gabriel Metsu whose pictures frequently exhibit children, Vermeer gave them only two minor but poetic parts to playin front of the Little Street and in the foreground shore of the View of Delft.
The problem is not so difficult as it may seem. Simply put, Vermeer's paintings were not intended as biographical statements. Even though they do represent contemporary settings and modes, they were not meant to reflect the conditions of his personal life. As Walter Liedtke wrote, "the artist depicted a patrician ideal. Poverty disease, the deaths of children and other loved-ones, and the large-scaled calamities that occasionally afflicted Delft left no trace on his human subjects who are concerned with beauty, the arts and sciences, spiritual life, and worldly pleasures in moderation."
The radiant joy of the Guitar Player is perplexing in the light of Vermeer's private life. In the years when this picture was painted, the artist faced grave financial difficulties brought on by an ever-growing family which was eventually exacerbated by an economic collapse (and virtual evaporation of the art market) of the Untied Provinces following the French invasion in 1672.
Whether the unusual compositional formula and abbreviated technique of the Guitar Player was fruit of an artistic collaboration with a client or the artist's attempt to overcome his stinging personal hardships, it remains, nonetheless, the happiest of his works. In any case, Vermeer and his wife Catharina Bolnes must have treasured this canvas since it remained in Catharina's possession after her husband's untimely death in 1675. Some time later, she was forced to hand it over as collateral for a formidable debt accumulated with the Delft baker Hendrick van Buyten. In 1675, Vermeer had suddenly died leaving his wife with eleven children, ten of whom were minors.
For some unknown reason the light in this painting enters from the right instead of following the pictorial convention of light entering from the left. The origins of this pictorial formula may be linked with the fact that artists usually paint with the light source coming on their left so that the shadow cast by their working hand did not disturb the area on which they were painting. The fact that western spectators read from left to right also contributes to the success of the formula.
Conservator and Vermeer expert Jørgen Wadum has suggested that the few works of Vermeer in which the light enters from the right "may have been created to fit a collector's 'gallery' and how the light fell in that room. Is it conceivable that Van Ruijven (Vermeer's patron) acquired paintings from his favorite artist with this in mind, equal to the manner with which the artist Jacob van Campen, working under the supervision of Constantijn Huygens, perceived the Oranjezaal outside The Hague? For this interior it was stated that within certain paintings the light should be painted entering from the left and in others from the 'wrong side' (the right). This was done in order to complete for the spectator the illusion of natural light and painted light following the same laws of nature."
Vermeer expert Arthur K. Wheelock pointed out the uniqueness of this bizarre composition. The girl is placed asymmetrically to the left so much that her arm is cut off. The viewer intuitively enters the painting from the right and immediately confronts the guitar player's presence making it impossible to explore the remaining part of the painting aside from the gold-framed landscape. The rest of the composition remains dramatically empty. Despite the unusual composition, there is no way that the viewer can subtract himself from the arresting beauty of the boldly painted face, jacket, guitar and gown.
Nonetheless, the composition is not without its compositional refineries. Vermeer skillfully aligned the gilt frame and its upright standing tree with center of the girl's body and the sound hole of the guitar forming a vertical axis that stabilizes the otherwise unusual composition (see diagram above).
Canvas relining of paintings is normally required every few generations as the fibers of linen weaken. The Guitar Player represents an exception in 17th-century painting in that it has not been relined and is still attached to its original strainer. This gives the picture a freshness and vibrancy often lost when canvasses have been relined by the application of heavy irons and heat. The unique state of this painting has sometimes led art historians to find the picture disconcerting. The canvas is still fixed to the strainer by wooden pegs, which were less costly than metal nails which in those times had to be produced by hand, one by one.
Although art historian Gregor Weber has identified the gilt-framed landscape as A Wooded Landscape with a Gentleman and Dogs in the Foreground by Pieter Jansz van Asch, Bert Meijer has recently pointed out strong affinities with a wooded landscape by Herman van Swanevelt (see image left).
Villanesque [2.14 MB], Guillaume Morlaye
performed by Michael Craddock
on a Renaissance guitar.
There are various different theories about the origin of the guitar. Some thought it was a remote descendant of the ancient Greek kithara, suggested by the etymological relationship of "kithara" and "guitar,". Others believe its early ancestors are among the long-necked lutes of Mesopotamia. From the 1st to the 4th century A.C., some examples of short-necked lutes with guitar shape were found in Central Asia.
In the early Middle Ages, the Arabs ("Moors") may have brought instruments which bore the cardinal features of the guitar to Western Europe while passing through Egypt on their way to conquer North Africa and Spain. Hence the name "Guitarra Morisca" for a kind of guitar with a long neck, an oval soundbox and several sound holes on its soundboard. Such instruments were depicted in medieval miniatures together with a "Guitarra Latina," with distinctive curved sides, which has been developed then into the form of the guitar known to us today.
By the 15th century, the four-course guitar emerged, but the number of courses (pairs of strings) became more and more variable. The four-course guitar remained very popular by the common people throughout the 17th and 18th centuries because its limited range of courses made it useful for playing light dance settings or simple accompanying chords for popular songs.
The five-course guitar was developed in the 16th century at first in Italy, as a transformation from the four-course instrument with the emphasis on brighter, higher-ranged music. It was used both for accompanying the voice and in continuo ensembles. From there, the five-course guitar spread increasing throughout Europe during the 17th century. Both four- and five-course guitars were rather small instruments compared to the today's Classical guitar.
The nature of the guitar changed noticeably in the middle of the 18th century along with the musical styles in general. An arpeggiated style similar to that of a keyboard instrument (harpsichord) required true bass notes and stressed the use of a bourdon on the fifth course. The guitar was becoming an instrument closer in character and playing style to the modern guitar.
The back of the "normal" guitar is flat. Along the fingerboard are complete gut frets tied round the neck. The bridge is similar to that of the lute, fixed on the table and with a typical decoration in form of a "moustache" on both sides. The strings were normally made of gut. From the 15th to the 18th century the sound hole appeared as a decorated rose, then it was open like at the modern guitar.
The technique of plucking the strings individually was called "punteado" in Spain (in Italian: "pizzicato"). Another technique is the strumming of chords by sweeping the hand back and forth over all the strings at once - the "rasgueado" (It. "battuto" or "battente"), providing a piece with a particular character.
Although before the 1650s images of upper-class Dutch women were largely depicted with sober chastity, courtly conventions had begun to appeal to Dutch burgers afterwards and their austere black clothing and stiff lace collars gradually gave way to colorful silks and satins. This prosperous burger class, which had once known devastating wars and economic hardship, increasingly adopted the sumptuous, aristocratic tastes in architecture, interior decoration, clothing and art. In 1673, Sir William Temple, an English statesman and essayist, remarked, "The old severe and frugal way of living is now almost out of date in Holland."
The depiction of materials had always been a challenge to painters from the Renaissance onwards. Even the monotonous black dress of the burgers required great skill to render correctly since black pigment is notoriously difficult to model. Leonardo da Vinci recommended that draperies "should be drawn from the actual object" while closer to Vermeer, the art lover Philip Angels held one of the essential requirements of the accomplished painter was to "make proper distinction silk, velvet and woolen and linen stuffs..."
For painters, the enhanced luminosity of silk and satin posed a unique set of technical problems and cannot be rendered in the same manner as the opaque wool, linen or stiff cotton fabrics. As a rule of thumb, since more light is reflected than absorbed by its shiny surface, the contrast between the illuminated parts and the shadowed surfaces is more accentuated. Modeling is less continuous and fraught with abrupt breaks in tone. The relative stiffness of satin creates mirror-like planes that reflect the colors that surround them which if rendered properly, are particularly charming. When competently depcited, these stuffs exert and almost magical power on even the most sophisticated viewer.
Among the many Dutch artist's who tackled the problem of painting silk and satin, Willem Duyster was one of the most successful (see detail above). Only a few years later, however, Gerard ter Borch had surpassed him and made the works of his hitherto proficient colleagues appear naïve by comparison. Ter Borch's ability to portray not only the optical qualities of satin but its physical substance earned him a huge reputation in the Netherlands which extended to Spanish court. With the assistance of his talented apprentices Ter Borch produced variations of his most popular paintings and in some cases the same satin gown was replicated verbatim. In order to keep up with demand for his work, his studio devised a way to mechanically transfer the drawings most successful satin gowns.
Art historian Robert Baldwin wrote that the Ter Borch's silk dresses functioned as "a decorous stand-in for the soft bodies concealed beneath" that simultaneously heighten and suppress male desire. "The extreme refinement of Ter Borch's beauty transformed the woman into a tantalizing prize dangled before masculine eyes and psyches. In court culture, the sublimation of desire went hand in hand with its exacerbation. Like late medieval and Renaissance courtly poems which competed to devise new extremes of male amorous torment, Ter Borch's paintings of beautiful maidens in silk dresses constructed a rhetorical female beauty maximizing the conflict between desire and decorum. That this new female beauty displayed a once-taboo courtly sensuality without violating burgher decorum made it all the more alluring."
Satin fabric was first made from silk in China. During the Middle Ages it was exported to Italy in the 12th century and by the 14th century, satin garments were greatly appreciated throughout Europe because of their high gloss, and were often the choice of royalty for both their feel and sheen. The name satin came from the Chinese port where Middle-Eastern traders obtained it, Zaitun (now Quanzhou) in Fujian province.
Traditional satin has a glossy and a dull side. While satin was once made exclusively of silk, it is now made with polyester, acetate, nylon, and rayon. The particular shine of satin is derived through its weave. Some weft or weave yarns are brought to the surface in a process called floating, which allows some of the yarn to reflect light, thus producing the shine and gloss. Sometimes satin was starched and ironed to give it more body. This procedure creates angular folds somewhat like those seen in Vermeer's Guitar Player.
In the final years of activity, Vermeer's approach to painting technique abruptly veered from naturalism, with its soft transitions and blurred edges, towards a crisp abstraction.
Upon close inspection, the ornate carvings of the French gilt have been decomposed and skillfully transformed into a series of simplified, but rhythmic brush strokes. These little bits of calligraphy suggest rather than describe the frame's form and texture. Such a lively treatment may have been meant to recall the cheery sound of the guitar but nonetheless produces a spectacular effect of light as it bounces of shiny gold.
In the present picture, as with the Love Letter and Lacemaker of the same years, contours are no longer varied as in the mid-career works but uniformly sharp. The variation of contours was recommended in order to produce a natural sense of roundness. Karel van Mander, who wrote Den Grondt der edel der schilder-const as guide for painters, urged to always keep the lightest and darkest shades distant from the contours lest the image appear flattened recommending edges which blur with the background to convey the sense of roundness more effectively.
Furthermore, the introduction of true lines along the contours' edges, which never appear in Vermeer's paintings, must be kept to a strict minimum. Willem Goeree wrote that "in natural life there are no lines to be seen only an end, or a certain stopping of the breadth and length of all physical things that on all sides seem to push past or against each other...so where color stops it indicates the described form, without lines." Although lines were used to differentiate two colors of the same chiaroscural value, they were inappropriate to define the boundary of forms because they destroy the sense of depth, one of the principal preoccupations of Dutch painting.