The Procuress

(De koppelaarster)
Oil on canvas
143 x 130 cm. (56 1/8 x 51 1/8 in.)
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery), Dresden
inv. 1335
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

Albert Blankert, Vermeer: 1632–1675, 1975

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

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

Wayne Franits, Vermeer, 2015

The Procuress was restored in 2002– 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), with 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 may be reconstructed 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. A linseed varnish with portions of protein serves as the medium of the ground layers. The paint layer itself is—due to the protein—in a relatively solid condition. On 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.


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 March 8–May 27, 2001
    Vermeer and the Delft School
    Metropolitan Museum of Art
    no. 66.
  • London June 20–September 16, 2001
    Vermeer and the Delft School
    National Gallery
    no. 66.
  • Jackson (MS) March 1–September 6, 2004
    The Glory of Baroque
    Mississippi Arts Pavilion
    no catalogue
  • Dresden December 3, 2004–February 27, 2005
    Das restaurierte meisterwerk: "Die Kupplerin" von Vermeer (The Restored Masterpiece: "The Procuress
    by Vermeer)
    Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen
  • The Hague May 12–August 22, 2010
    The Young Vermeer
    36–47, no. 3 and ill.
  • Dresden September 3–December 28, 2010
    Der frühe Vermeer
    Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
  • Edinburgh December 8, 2010–February, 2011
    The Young Vermeer
    36–47, no.3 and ill.
Johannes Vermeer's Procuress in scale
vermeer's life

In December 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 be dependent on well established pictorial models and has not yet adverted the influence of the newer, sopphisticated 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, has already advanced 300 guilders, a considerable sum, to Catharina and Johannes.

dutch painting

Rembrandt declares bankruptcy. 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.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini designs Piazza of Saint Peter's, Rome.

Diego Velázquez paints Las Meninas, family of Philip IV.

music Opening of first London opera house.
science & philosophy

On October 29 Edmund Halley, astronomer (Halley's Comet), is born. [see Nov 8]

On December 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 (later called Hudde's rules) will presage the use of algorithms to solve problems of calculus.


On January 8 the oldest surviving commercial newspaper begins 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 destroy groves of clove and nutmeg trees in the Moluccas, creating artificial scarcities that will force prices up, enriching the Dutch East India Company.

Based on the historical and religious subjects of Vermeer's first known works, it is assumed that he received training in the studio of a classically oriented master. Therefore, it would be logical 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 the intricacies of 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).

Despite the overall impression of correctness in drawing the human figure, it cannot be said that he possessed more than a working knowledge of anatomy. This is not uncommon among Dutch painters. Gerrit Dou, who was the highest paid painter in the Netherlands, failed to fully grasp human anatomy. 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 his scenes an endearing naiveté. Even Rembrandt, one of the greatest Western draughtsmen, had been criticized by 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. On the other hand, only a handful of drawings by interior painters have survived.

The Painter's Studio, Jacob van Oost the Elder

The Painter's Studio
Jacob van Oost the Elder
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 endearing naiveté. Even Rembrandt, toady considered one of the greatest Western draughtsmen, was criticized in the past 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
Oil on panel, 71 x 104 cm.
Centraal Museum, Utrecht

Vermeer's Procuress breaks the traditional mold of the bordeeltje (little brothels scene) in more than one way. bordeeltjes girls were always represented with attractive facial features decked out with luxurious, satin clothes that allow them to bear their breasts to clients, one of the necessities of the trade. The chance to render the textural effects of such costumes may have been one of the reasons why so many talented painters were drawn to the subject. Vermeer, however, interpreted the motif according to his own taste.

Although there can be no mistake about the young girl's intentions in Vermeer's composition, her lowered eyes and warm smile have little in common with the conventional renderings of his contemporaries, such The Procuress 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 were a reference to her wanton character while the lute she hold by the neck had a clear sexual connotation in the 17th century. Vermeer's young girl, instead, 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 female characterizations of his later works.

It is not known why the young Vermeer abruptly changed artistic direction, abandoning his initial history subjects (derived from the Bible and classical mythology) for a low-life brothel scene. He may have wished align himself with the times after expected commissions from the nearby artistically conservative court of The Hague failed to materialize. Whatever the reason, the grand scale and brilliant coloring of The Procuress testify an ambitious agenda. Immediately following this work, the young painter turned, if with some measure of uncertainty, to the interiors for which he is now so famous.

Jan van Bijlert, At the Procuress

At the Procuress
Jan van Bijlertt
Second quarter of 17th century
Oil on canvas, 115 x 160 cm.
National Museum, Warsaw

Various artistic sources, as well as a hypothetical period of training in Utrecht or Amsterdam, have been cited in connection with the ideation of Vermeer's Procuress. Such low-life genre scenes had been popular in Delft and nearby cities since the mid-1620s.

One of Vermeer's most likely influences was the successful painter Gerrit van Honthorst, who worked at the Dutch court in The Hague, a mere hour's walk from Delft. The Utrecht painter's reputation, based on a supreme technique, colorful palette and a masterful interpretation of gestures, must have impressed the budding Vermeer as much as it did other artists in Delft. Vermeer was likely also familiar with the works of Gerritsz van Bronchorst (who in the 1650s worked in Amsterdam) and Dirck van Baburen who repeated the bordello scene repeatedly.

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

Musical Group on a Balcony, Gerrit van Honthorst

Musical Group on a Balcony
Gerrit van Honthorst
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 in by a balustrade covered by a carpet and fur coat laid across it, 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 celebrated 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 be in some way separated, but at the same time dependent, upon the location occupied by the viewer.

The Procuress, Jan van Bronckhorst

"The Procuress
Jan Gerritsz van Bronkhorst
c. 1636–1638
Oil on canvas, 90 x 119 cm.
Bruckenthal Museum, Sibiu

Vermeer's Procuress would have been immediately recognized by his contemporaries as a bordeeltjes scene. These seductive pictures display a myriad of 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 art collectors of all classes. Brothel scenes primarily depict young, beautiful girls, sometimes as accomplished musicians, who pickpocket or cheat their clients in drink too much. Among the prosititues clients are drunken, misguided men, lecherous old men or easily duped peasants, although well-dressed young man from a good family are also targeted The couple frequently presided over by a procuress (koppelaarster) who genreally pictured as an ugly old woman, who sometimes grins hideously and gestures to the prostitute to extract her pay. At times, the scenes are accompanied gestures that indicate salable love, such as when the thumb is slipped between the index and middle finger (see image below left) or a wine glass held by the stem.

Man Making an Obscene Gesture, Godfried Schalken

Man Making an Obscene Gesture
Godfried Schalcken
Second half of 17th century
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The popularity of the bordeeltjes motif in a society dominated by moralist Calvinism must have rested on the fact that they simultaneously 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 receive adequate punishment. For the Dutch burgher the supposed moralizing element made it perfectly suitable to hang in a family home.

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 appear commonly in prints of the 16th century, such as those by Lucas van Leyden. The 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 celebrated 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 utilized the parable as an 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. For instance, dogs are pictured 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

The popular scenes of prostitution (bordeeltjes) habitually portray becoming male and female figures (with typically Dutch faces) decked out in voguish satin. The figures usually fill up the whole composition, bursting out of rarely specified setting. De rigueur, the prostitue bears her abundant clevage to both the client and the spectator. In reality, however attractive these paintings they 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.

Van de Pol reveals that 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, prostitutes 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.

As a note, during the Renaissance, the breasts of nudes were generally pictured wide apart, well formed and discreet in dimensions. Before that, the upper body was reduced to flat, barely varied expanse and immaculate pink flesh. However, in mid-seventeenth century the Dutch painters began to represent their female figures with ample busts. Deep cleavage became attractive for the first time and was represented in the visual arts infinite times. Painters like Paulus Moreelse became so adept at picturing young women's ample breast—perhaps the artist was spellbound by particular beauty of one of his models which he depicted many times——that one wonders if this aspect of female anatomy was not among the artist's most compelling reasons for painting. By necessity, tight-fitting boned stays were worn to squeeze the chest so that breasts and cleavage might become more pronounced. Although exposed cleavage no doubt functioned as an erotic signal, in the Netherlands bared legs were considered even more arousing. In any case, the only time that Vermeer painted the bosom of a woman, not in The Procuress but in the Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, a slight swelling of the breasts will be noticed only if one searches for it.

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 organization of Dutch prostitution was a predominantly female matter. As Lotte C. van de Pol explains, "Only about one in five of those arrested for brothel-keeping were men, and they were nearly always the husbands or partners of bawds; husbands often declared the business of prostitution their wife's affair and usually got off with light sentences."

* The key figure in the trade of prostitution was the procuress, sometimes referred to as a matchmaker. Dutch painters traditionally portrayed the procuress, always female, as a shriveled hag, better to express their moral vileness. In reality, the majority of these unhappy creatures were even younger, or only somewhat older than the four to five prostitutes they oversaw. The urban procuress generally diversified her illegal activities, receiving stolen goods, organizing music, entertainment, drink and sexual procurement in a so-called musico. Muscios were not brothels 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.

* drawn from: The Embarrassment of Riches, by Simon Schama (1997)

The Procuress is one of the few works whose date was undoubtedly applied 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 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]

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.


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. The spectator feels he is part of the pcitured reality. To achieve foreshortening the artist must learn to trust his eyes rather than his mind. Vermeer's mastery of foreshortening would suggest that 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 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 later in The Milkmaid and the hand on the table in The Maid Asleep.

The Procuress (detail), Johannes Vermeer

By far the most evocative anatomical foreshortening can be observed in The Procuress. The marvelous passiveness of the courtesan's out-held, palm-up hand accommodates itself with that of the soldier who is about to delicately flip a gold coin as payment for the mercenary encounter. 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 this 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 the built-up energy ready to cause the coin 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."