The Procuress

(De koppelaarster)
1656
Oil on canvas
143 x 130 cm. (56 1/8 x 51 1/8 in.)
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery), Dresden
there are 10 hotspots in the image below
The Procuress, Johannes Vermeer

The richly satisfying nature of the relationship between the man and the woman on the right eventually begins to assert itself and draw us deep within it, on its own terms. One is struck by how miraculously uncontaminated it remains, either by its setting or by the dark figures who gather around it, and how much this counts in the way of value. Within the experience the couple share they seem invulnerable (and oblivious) to both the voyeuristic and the moralistic gaze. And the important thing is that the painting achieves uninhibited, intuitively convincing access to this experience.

Edward A. Snow, A Study of Vermeer, 1979

Facsimile of the signature of Johannes Vermeer's Procuress
signed and dated lower right 1656

The Procuress (detail of signature), Johannes Vermeer

1656
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. Vermeer: The Complete Works, New York, 1997)

1656
Walter Liedtke Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, New York, 2008)

The Procuress was restored in 2002-2004 made after intensive conservational examinations.

Signed at the lower right corner, in dark brown color: i v Meer. 1656 (ivM in ligature). The support is a hand-woven linen with a threat count of 14x12 per cm2 (warp/weft), a piece attached in the lower quarter. The original edges of the paint- and ground layers are preserved and prove that Vermeer had stretched the canvas onto a strainer. At all sites the original strainers are reconstructible and refer to the original straining in somewhat irregular distances of c. 60 to 120 mm.

The double ground consists of a first layer with lead white and chalk and a second in a light reddish tone like that of bricks. Chalk, lead white, a yellow ocher, as well as a red ferric-oxide have been proved. As the medium of the ground layers served a linseed varnish with portions of protein. The paint layer itself is — due to the protein — in a relative solid condition. At the radiograph there are arched traces of scraping visible in the background left above. They refer to the application of the ground with a palette knife.

The palette of colors employed in the Procuress encloses the usual pigments and organic colors, known in 17th-century Dutch painting, which are also verified in other paintings by Vermeer: one warm and one cold red tone (vermilion, a crimson lake [cochineal] ), several yellow tones (lead tin yellow type I, yellow ochre, a yellow-brown organic dye stuff on a lead white substrate), four blue tones (ultramarine, smalt, indigo and a rarely used iron phosphate, probably vivianite), brown and black tones (brown ochre, brown organic dyes and lakes, possibly Cassel brown; bone black, vine/plant black and possibly traces of soot) as well as lead white and chalk.

The paint layers appear lively and strongly colored. The paint application is largely covering and performed à la prima, with rather broad brushes. The various structures of the paint surface can be explained by a speedy working process with several corrections of the composition. Single light, thick hairs of brushes, probably pig's bristles, are embedded on large parts of the picture, mainly in the black area, which evidence a strong work on the surface.

Traces of the use of a pair of compasses are visible in the paint layers of the wine jug (the piercing point and traces of scratching, to define the exact contours and the decoration).

Vermeer made several changes in the course of the painting process which have altered its final effect significantly: shadowing of both the men's faces with larger headgear to concentrate the light on the young woman and the still life in front of her; the view of the suitor (previously fixed on the young woman; now concentrating on the payment); the attitude of the young woman's hand, now rather unnaturally bent and empty. The radiograph revealed a further coin visible in the hand of the woman. Furthermore a light form appeared near the hand with the cittern, probably the outstretched right hand of the procuress, involved in the payment. It had been overpainted with her black garment.

from: Johannes Vermeer. Bei der Kupplerin. Eds. Uta Neidhardt, Marlies Giebe, Dresden 2004.

literature

Johannes Vermeer's Procuress with frame

  • before 1737 Waldstein collection castle Dux (Duchcov) near Teplitz (Teplice, Czech Republic);
  • acquired 1741 for the Elector of Saxony, August III;
    1945-1955 in the Soviet Union (requisition of war);
  • 1955 restituted to Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden (inv. 1335).
  • Berlin April –  June, 1980
    Restaurierte Kunstwerke in der Deutschen Demokratischen Republic. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
    no. 21.
  • New York 8  March  – 27 May, 2001
    Vermeer and the Delft School. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
    no. 66.
  • London 20  June – 16 September, 2001
    Vermeer and the Delft School. National Gallery.
    no. 66.
  • Jackson Mississippi 1 March –  6 September, 2004
    The Glory of Baroque. Mississippi Arts Pavilion.
  • Dresden 3 December, 2004 – 27, February, 2005
    Das restaurierte meisterwerk: Die Kupplerin von Vermeer (The restored masterpiece: The procuress by Vermeer). Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen.
  • The Hague 12  May – 22 Aug, 2010
    The Young Vermeer. Mauritshuis.
    36-47, no.3 and ill.
  • Dresden 3 September – 28 December, 2010
    The Young Vermeer. Old Masters Picture Gallery.
  • Edinburgh end of 2010 – February, 2011
    The Young Vermeer. Mauritshuis.
    36-47, no.3 and ill.
Johannes Vermeer's Procuress in scale
1656
vermeer's life

In Dec. Vermeer pays the remaining sum (1.5 guilders) of the master's fee in the Guild of Saint Luke that he was unable to pay in 1653.

Vermeer signs one of his first known paintings, The Procuress. The young artist seems to still be dependent on well established pictorial models and has not yet adverted the influence of the newer interior genre scenes of his contemporaries. This type of Caravaggesque scene was to be found in the collections of local connoisseurs.

By 1656 Maria Thin, Vermeer's mother-in-law had already advanced 300 guilders, a considerable sum, the Catharina and Johannes.

dutch painting

Rembrandt declared bankrupt; his possessions are put up for sale.

The immensely popular landscape painter Jan van Goyen (b. 1596), dies.

Gerrit van Honthorst (b. in Utrecht 1590) dies.

european painting & architecture

Academy of Painting in Rome founded.

Bernini: Piazza of Saint Peter's, Rome

Diego Velázquez paints Las Meninas, family of Philip IV

music Opening of first London opera house.
literature
science & philosophy

Oct 29, Edmund Halley, astronomer (Halley's Comet), was born. [see Nov 8]

Dec 14, Artificial pearls are first manufactured by M. Jacquin in Paris. They were made of gypsum pellets covered with fish scales.

Dutch mathematician Johan van Waveren Hudde, 28, anticipates the power-series for ln (1 + x) and the following year will do pioneering work on the use of space coordinates. Hudde promotes Cartesian geometry and philosophy in Holland; his discoveries (they will be called Hudde's rules) will presage the use of algorithms to solve problems of calculus.

history

Jan 8, Oldest surviving commercial newspaper began in Haarlem, Netherlands.

Dutch forces take the Sinhalese port of Colombo from the Portuguese.

Dutch East India Company shares plummet on the Amsterdam Exchange and many investors are ruined. Among them is painter Rembrandt van Rijn, now 50, who is declared bankrupt and whose possessions are put up for sale.

The Dutch in Ceylon make cinnamon a state monopoly but will not have complete control of the island's cinnamon until 1658. When prices fall too low, the Dutch will burn great quantities of the bark, and they will destroy groves of clove and nutmeg trees in the Moluccas, creating artificial scarcities that will force prices up, enriching the Dutch East India Company.

All in all, Vermeer's fully clad figures never suggest any serious shortcomings in drawing. He seems to have firmly possessed a working knowledge of anatomy and foreshortening that would have been demanded of any history painter of the time. This cannot always be said of other Dutch genre painters. Gerrit Dou, who was the highest paid painter in the Netherlands, failed to fully grasp human anatomy and his perspectives often leave much to desire. There are occasional missteps in the later works of Frans van Mieris as well especially in the modeling of the figures. Some of his late nudes seem to be made out of rubber. Pieter de Hooch's works are noted and even treasured for their doll-like figures which lend them a note of loving naiveté. Even Rembrandt, one of the greatest Western draughtsmen, had been criticized by past art writers for the stumpy proportions of his figures.

It may come as a surprise to know that not even a single drawing by Vermeer of any kind has survived. This seems especially odd if we take into account the complexities of the scenes he painted and the extreme accuracy of contour, scale, and perspective of his compositions. It is far more practical to work out composition and execute preliminary studies on paper that can easily be corrected or redone entirely rather than apply them directly on the canvas.

The Painter's Studio, Jacob van Oost the Elder

The Painter's Studio
Jacob van Oost the Elder
1666
Oil on canvas, 111.5 x 150.5 cm.
Stedelijke Musea, Bruges

Based on the historical and religious subjects of Vermeer's first known works, it is generally assumed that he received training in the studio of a classically oriented master. Therefore, it would be logical to expect that he spent his first years as an apprentice making numerous figure drawings although none of them have survived.

Apprenticeship generally entailed hardships and even hard labor that would not be tolerated by young art students today. Apprentices were required to completely master drawing in their first years of training before moving on to color and painting. These drawings were made from plaster casts of classical sculpture (see above).

All in all, Vermeer's fully clad figures never suggest any serious shortcomings in drawing. He seems to have firmly possessed a working knowledge of anatomy and foreshortening that would have been demanded of any history painter of the time. This cannot always be said of other Dutch genre painters. Gerrit Dou, who was the highest paid painter in the Netherlands, failed to fully grasp human anatomy and his perspectives often leave much to desire. There are occasional missteps in the later works of Frans van Mieris as well especially in the modeling of the figures. Some of his late nudes seem to be made out of rubber. Pieter de Hooch's works are noted and even treasured for their doll-like figures which lend them a note of loving naiveté. Even Rembrandt, one of the greatest Western draughtsmen, had been criticized by past art writers for the stumpy proportions of his figures.

It may come as a surprise to know that not even a single drawing by Vermeer of any kind has survived. This seems especially odd if we take into account the complexities of the scenes he painted and the extreme accuracy of contour, scale, and perspective of his compositions. It is far more practical to work out composition and execute preliminary studies on paper that can easily be corrected or redone entirely rather than apply them directly on the canvas.

The Procuress, Gerrit van Honthorst

The Procuress (detail)
Gerrit van Honthorst
1625
Oil on panel, 71 x 104 cm5
Centraal Museum, Utrecht

Vermeer's Procuress breaks the traditional mold of the bordeeltjes (little brothels scenes) in more than one way. The girls who modeled as courtesans were always represented with attractive facial features; they predictably assume provocative poses, often with bare breasts and wear particularly exotic clothes, one of the necessities of their trade. And perhaps the chance to render the striking optical effects of these outlandish costumes was one of the reasons for which so many talented painters were instinctively drawn to the subject.

Vermeer however, interpreted the motif according to his own sensitivity and taste. Although there can be no mistake about the young girl's intentions, her lowered eyes and the knowing warmth of her smile have little in common with the typical renderings of Vermeer's contemporaries such as the one above by Gerrit van Honthorst. With her colorful clothing, her cleavage and the feathers in her hair, Van Honthorst's girl is easy to distinguish from the average citizen. The feathers are a reference to her wanton character while the lute she hold by the neck, had a clear, sexual connotation in the 17th century. Instead, Vermeer's young girl is fully clad with an elegant white cap bordered with a fine bobbin lace - unusual for her profession. Her peaceful self-containment anticipates something of the sublime characterizations of his later works.

It is not known why the young Vermeer abruptly changed artistic direction abandoning his initial history subjects (principally derived from the Bible and classical mythology) for a so-called bordeeltje, or low-life brothel scene. He may have wished to be more in line with his times after expected commissions from the nearby artistically conservative court of The Hague failed to materialize.

In any case, the grand scale and brilliant coloring of the Procuress testify to the ambitious agenda that the young Delft artist entertained. But however successful as a work of art it may have been, Vermeer abandoned the bordeeltje atmosphere and motif even more hastily than he had abandoned the history genre. Immediately following this work, the young Vermeer turned, if with some measure of uncertainty, to the interiors for which he is now so famous.

Concert on a Balcony, Gerrit van Honthorst

Concert on a Balcony
Gerrit van Honthorst
1624
168 x 178 cm.
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Various artistic sources and even a hypothetical period of training in Utrecht or Amsterdam are often cited in connection with the Procuress. Caravaggesque low-life genre scenes had been popular in Delft and nearby cities since the mid-1620s. Vermeer's painting has many compositional antecedents, with regard to the tight grouped truncated figures on a shallow stage.

One of Vermeer's most likely influences was the immensely successful Gerrit van Honthorst, who worked a mere hour's walk from Delft at the Dutch court in The Hague. The Utrecht painter's enormous reputation, based on a supreme technique and a masterfully interpretation of glances and gestures, must have impressed the budding Vermeer as much as it did other artists in Delft, such as Bramer and Van Couwenbergh. Vermeer also would have been familiar with the works by a number of gifted artists including Gerritsz van Bronchorst (who in the 1650s worked in Amsterdam) and Dirck van Baburen who worked in the same genre.

Vermeer's mother-in-law, Maria Thins, owned Baburen's Procuress of 1622 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) or a version of it. In any case, the popularity of low-life painting subjects speaks of a predilection of risqué literature and theatre in the Dutch Republic of the period.

Musical Group on a Balcony,  Gerrit van Honthorst

Musical Group on a Balcony
Gerrit van Honthorst
1622
Oil on panel, 309 x 114 cm.
G. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Vermeer's decision to place his figures on a narrow balcony or bay, closed by a balustrade (covered by a carpet and fur coat laid across) has always been a point of criticism among Vermeer-scholars. The motif of the balcony is frequently to be found in pictures of "Merry Companies" by Jan Gerritsz. van Bronchorst and Christiaen van Couwenbergh. The arrangement derives from Italian mural decorations. The earliest and most famous example in the Netherlands of this pictorial device however was Gerrit van Honthorst's Musical Group on a Balcony painted in 1622, two years after his return from Italy. For the artist's contemporaries, the placement of the figures on a balcony would have added an unexpected psychological dimension, since the depicted location would in some way separated but at the same time dependent upon the one the viewer occupies.

A Concert, Jan Gerritsz van Bronkhorst

A Concert
Jan Gerritsz van Bronkhorst
c. 1646
Oil on canvas, 120 x 154 cm.
Private collection

Vermeer's Procuress would have been immediately recognized by his contemporaries as a bordeeltje. These seductive pictures display a myriad of outlandish and ambiguous figures, from drunken soldiers to finely dressed ruffians and bare-chested Dutch beauties. Bordeeltjes comprised a valuable sub-category in Dutch genre painting and were avidly snapped up by elite art collectors. Their popularity in a society dominated by moralist Calvinism must have rested on the fact that they contemporarily afforded the viewer with a didactic warning and an undeniably pleasurable viewing experience. Analogously, modern movie-goers hardly blink as they witness the most violent and lewd scenes provided that "good" is triumphant in the end and the bad reciece adequate punishment. For the Dutch burger, the supposed moralizing element made it perfectly suitable to hang in a family home.

Loose Company, Dirck van Baburen

Loose Company
Dirck van Baburen
1632
Oil on canvas, 110 x 154 cm.
Mainz, Landesmuseum

Some, but certainly not all, Dutch bordeeltjes derive from the motif of the Prodigal Son, who is represented frittering his money away on drink and prostitutes in some dank inn. Such scenes frequently appeared in prints of the 16th century, in versions like as those by Lucas van Leyden. Originally, Christ's parable of the Prodigal Son was used to demonstrate the contrast between Catholic principles and the Reformers' view of the principle of divine mercy, shown when the lost son is received with loving forgiveness by his father. Although Rembrandt's famous Return of the Prodigal Son may constitute one of the most touching pictorial elaborations on shame, repentance and forgivingness, many have the impression that Dutch painters all too frequently utilized the Bibilical as a excuse to indulge in thinly disguised eroticism. Maria Thins, Vermeer's mother-in-law owned one such bordeeltje by the Utrecht Caravaggist Dirck van Baburen (1590-1624) which Vermeer included in two of his works.

In any case, the bordeeltjes of Vermeer's colleagues tend to fill out the plot with far greater detail, and occasionally include some quite graphic allusions; dogs are clearly copulating in a work by Frans van Mieris in the Mauritshuis. Vermeer's measured version of the theme remains unique in the panorama of Dutch art.

Venal Love, Urs Graf

Venal Love
Urs Graf
Woodcut

The popular scenes of prostitution (bordeeltjes) habitually portray becoming male and female figures (with typically Dutch characteristics) decked out in elegant satin and silk costumes in light-hearted attitudes. The figures usually fill up the whole composition and the settings are rarely specified. In reality, these paintings cannot be considered accurate representations of 17th-century Dutch prostitution which was in practice seamy at best. Lotte van de Pol's important studies show that the profession was dominated by poor, desperate women, often migrants.

Prostitutes, who worked in small-scale taverns and inns, were held hostage financially through perpetual debts for room and board and especially for the fashionable clothing absolutely compulsory for the trade. Van de Pol also argues persuasively against the long-held belief that prostitution was generally tolerated by Dutch municipalities. However, even the most rigorous repression did not eliminate the phenomenon but simply forced its practice into less conspicuous settings such as houses, inns and taverns. Many prostitutes fell into an endless circle of violations, confinements and banishments. The worse cases were punished with branding, flogging or a spell on the public pillory. And however prudent, prositutes were always exposed to casual violence in the whorehouses and gaming dens. Those who survived the years after 30 were generally left disfigured by venereal disease, punishments and frequent stints in unsavory jails. The best guess is that in Amsterdam there were about 1,000 prostitutes in the late-17th century.

Young Man and the Procuress, Michiel Sweerts

Young Man and the Procuress
Michiel Sweerts
c. 1660
Oil on copper, 19 x 27 cm.
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The key figure in the trade of prostitution was the procuress who was almost unanimously female. Dutch painters had traditionally portrayed the procuress as a shriveled hag, better to express their moral vileness. In reality, the majority of these unhappy creatures were only somewhat older than the four to five whores they ran and some were even younger. The urban procuress generally diversified in illegal activities: receiving stolen goods, organizing music and entertainment, drink and sexual procurement in a so-called musico, which, however, was not a brothel in the modern sense of the term where customers came explicitly for sex. Card-playing, backgammon and dice and, of course, heavy drinking and smoking all provided the procuress income as well as the rate charged for the use of the premises by the girls. Vermeer, like the vast majority of his colleges, avoided even the vaguest suggestion of the real working environment of the trade. We can only make out a rather austere column and what seems to be a hinted-at sunset or the faint flickering of a burning hearth.

The Procuress is one of the few works whose date was applied undoubtedly by Vermeer himself. The signature and the date appears as i v Meer. 1656 (ivM in ligature) at the lower right corner, painted in dark brown color. The discovery of the signature and date by Thoré-Bürger during his examination of the painting in 1859 makes for a curious story. Since the painting hung very high above in the Dresden Gallery, Thoré-Bürger was allowed by Julius Hübner, member of the Gallery's commission and author of the Gallery's catalogue of 1826, to use a ladder for a close observation. Thoré-Bürger wrote with great enthusiasm of his find: "the first [date] of a painting by the Delft [artist] one is able to report". Three years later the attribution of the Procuress (together with that to the Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window) to "Jan van der Meer. Geb(oren) zu Delft um 1632" was correctly entered in the Dresden Gallery-catalogue of 1862.

click here to hear A Horn pype [2.65 MB]

from:
Anthony Holborne, Cittharn School,
played on a 4 course chromatic cittern by Jacob Heringman

click here  to view cittern-playing (especially video no. 4 Chi Passa) by Marc Wheeler from the
Renaissance group Pantagruel.

Cittern

The Cittern

In Italian Renaissance humanist culture the cittern was regarded as a classical revival of the ancient Greek kithara even though it seems to have its direct development from the medieval citole. It presents some similarities with the fiddle, as its plucked form.

The structure and tuning of the cittern varied almost from country to country. While in England, France and northern Europe the small four-course-instrument was commonly used, Italian musicians preferred the larger six-course instrument.

The cittern achieved the height of its diffusion in the 16th and 17th centuries. Above all in Italy and in England it was held in high esteem both as an accompanying instrument for the singing voice or for dance music. Many compositions written expressively for it, often intricate and demanding to play.

The great number of paintings depicting a cittern proves the instrument's great popularity in the 17th-century Netherlands. With its flat back it was more robust in structure than the fragile lute, therefore cheaper and more portable. The cittern's easy playability made it the preferred instrument especially of the middle and upper classes for song accompaniment and dance music.

The cittern has a shallow round or pear-shaped body tapering from the bottom towards the neck. The body is carved from one piece of wood and only the soundboard and fingerboard were added separately. The use of metal strings plucked with a quill or plectrum gives the instrument its sprightly and cheerful sound, one of the reason for the cittern's great popularity.

In painting and drawing, the application of perspective to a single object or figure to create the illusion of projection or depth is called foreshortening. It mimics the distorted appearance of a form when it is not perpendicular to the line of sight, for instance an arm held out directly towards the viewer will look shorter, and the hand larger, than an arm held straight down by the side. One of the cardinal skills taught in Baroque art academies, foreshortening, heightens three-dimensional effect and gives dramatic emphasis to gesture. To achieve foreshortening, the artist must learn to trust his eyes rather than his mind. Vermeer's mastery of foreshortening and one-point perspective would suggest he was trained by a master who worked in the mode of istoria, or history painting.

Oddly enough, the most noteworthy examples of anatomical foreshortening can be found in the Vermeer's first compositions. In Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, the foreshortening of Mary's slightly tilted head is so effortlessly achieved that it comes as a surprise to see how the artist seems to struggle with the problem of the figure's arm in later The Milkmaid and the hand of the table of the Maid Asleep.

The Procuress (detail), Johannes Vermeer

By far the most evocative anatomical foreshortening can be observed in The Procuress. The marvelous passivity of the courtesan's out-held, palm-up hand appears to accommodate itself symbiotically with that of the soldier who is about to delicately flip a gold coin as payment for their anticipated sexual rapport. Four fingers of the courtesan's hand, which point directly towards the viewer's eyes, are so intensely foreshortened that only the genius of Vermeer makes her gesture appear so absolutely natural. The cavalier's foreshortened thumb (the gold coin is foreshortened as well) has become almost invisible and yet we almost sense its built-up energy ready to cause the coins to fall.

Despite the mercenary purpose of the encounter, the "spiritual" exchange between the couple, uncontaminated by the dark figures that surround them, produce an unexpected effect of intimacy. As Edward Snow wrote, "Unlikely as it may at first seem, there lies at the heart of this painting...what may be one of the most unsentimental, guilt-free, spiritually satisfying representations of shared erotic experience in all of Western art."