Study of a Young Woman(Meisjeskopje)
Oil on canvas
44.5 x 40 cm. (17 1/2 x 15 3/4 in.)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Although this young girl is not as immediately appealing as the adolescent who posed for the Girl with a Pearl Earring (see detail left), she emanates an moon-like beauty that becomes most reality appreciable only when observing the real painting.
The remarkably soft lighting and subtle handling of chiaroscural effects differ substantially from the technique Vermeer used for the Girl with a Pearl Earring. Notable in this painting is the lack of linear definition of the facial features and the blurry contour of her face which contrast with the crisp definition of the blue satin wrap.
According to John Michael Montias, "the girl's widely spaced eyes bears a sufficient resemblance to those of the young man with the beret in The Procuress to suggest she may have been the artist's daughter. Vermeer was married in April 1653. His oldest daughter, Maria, could not have been much older than thirteen in 1666-1667 or twenty in 1672-1674, the two widely separated dates that Wheelock and Blankert respectively assign to the Wrightsman head. If the head does represent Maria, the latter date must be closer to the truth. It is hardly conceivable that Maria or her younger sister Elisabeth could have been portrayed in the Girl with a Pearl Earring, which is generally dated about 1665 when the older of the two sisters was less than twelve years old."
There are few examples in Vermeer's art where the shimmer of satin is so successfully captured. The material's crackling texture and razor-sharp, haphazard fold, "carelessly" draped over the girl's shoulder, provides a perfect foil for the ethereal softness of her skin and symmetry of her features. Her disarming adolescence leaves almost any reasonably sensitive viewer an impression of a human encounter that is unforgettable.
The silver blue material appears to be some kind of heavy satin or silk. Small dots of light-toned paint are speckled here and there. It is difficult to tell if they were meant to imitate the pointillés produced by camera obscura vision or the fabric's course weave.
Many art historians believe that this picture might have been one of the three tronies "in antique dress" described as "uncommonly artful" and sold in the 1696 posthumous Amsterdam auction of 21 paintings by Vermeer. In Vermeer's possessions at the time of his death were listed another "two tronies in Turkish fashion," which although not mentioned as being done by Vermeer, nonetheless have been tentatively proposed as the Girl with a Pearl Earring and the present work. A bolt of some particularly flashy clothe artistically draped over the shoulder of any light-skinned Dutch girl was enough to qualify the resulting image as "antique." However, the oversized drop pearl earring was clearly a contemporary costume accessory, not a real pearl, but a contemporary imitation or artistic invention.
Some writers believe to have caught the artist off guard in regards the hand to the lower left. Instead, this discreet, yet essential passage connects the face of the girl to the unseen anatomy beneath the silken material. And it informs the spectator that her forearm is leaning on something, perhaps the bottom of the picture frame. It is Vermeer's fascination with he sees rather than what he knows, as the Vermeer writer Lawrence Gowing first pointed out, that lends her wrist, and not her hand, the peculiar but fascinating form which it assumes on the picture plane.
Like every other element in this canvas, the slender scarf that is attached to the young woman's hairdo is painted with greater delicacy than the corresponding that of the Girl with a Pearl Earring, very likely its pendant. The fact that it drapes much lower, completely out of the picture, lends the work a somewhat antique air, different from the more contemporary look of its counterpart. Perhaps, Vermeer drew inspiration for the color scheme from an extraordinary bust by Michael Sweerts, often linked to Vermeer in recent scholarship. Like Vermeer, Sweerts never bows to convetion even when he works within apparently well-trodden genres and styles. The works of both painters are imbued with a nagging, uncommon ambiguity that is disconcerting as it is fascinating.
However, whether or not Vermeer ever had any real contact with Sweerts or had ever seen the Boy in a Turban Holding a Nosegay is a matter of speculation. It is possible that Vermeer arrived at this particular pictorial solution independently. Busts of exotic female figures set on dark backgrounds were far from rare in the Netherlands.
The drop pearl earring, although probably a work of the aritist's imagination, is similar to that worn by the Girl with a Pearl Earring. Undisturbed by direct light, it nestles softly in the tender penumbra cast by the girl's oval face. On close inspection, it has been modeled with astounding economy: no trace of line defines its contour but rather, a few faint smudges of gray slightly lighter than the underlying brownish tone of neck.
In the 17th century pearls were an important status symbol. In 1660, Samuel Pepys (an English diarist) 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 (Pepys' wife feared he might not be able to distinguish real from fake pearls). 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. The Frenchman considered the price outrageous.
Like all rare and expensive natural products, an convincing alternative to the expesnive pearl was sought. In Ancient Rome glass beads were coated with silver and then coated again with glass in an attempt to replicate the lustre of pearls. Fake pearls were produced in Italy. In France, before the 15th century, hollow glass beads were dipped into acid to produce an iridescent surface. In the 17th century an improved version was produced in France by a rosary maker in Paris, by the name of M. Jacquin. First, the interior of beads were coated with a substance called essence d'orient, which was nothing but ground fish scales, to provide a nacreous appearance (it is said that Jacquin noticed that water containing scales from the ablette, or the bleak, produced reflections that resembled those produced by the nacre on a natural pearl). This mixture was then poured into the beads and then agitated so that its inside might be completely coated. These were filled with wax to provide solidity and weight. Before Jacquin's invention of essence d'orient, mercury was used to give clear-glass beads the luster of pearls.
Dark backgrounds were widely used in portraiture to isolate the figure from distracting elements and enhance its three-dimensional effect. In fragment 232 of his Trattato, (Treatise on Painting), Leonardo da Vinci had noted that a dark background makes an object appear lighter and vice versa.
Vermeer exploited the same effect in the celebrated Girl with a Pearl Earring, perhaps a pendant to the present picture, and the Mistress and Maid.
Dark backgrounds were widely used in portraiture to isolate the figure from distracting elements and enhance its three-dimensional effect. In fragment 232 of his Treatise on Painting, Leonardo da Vinci had noted that a dark background makes an object appear lighter and vice versa and Leonardo himself employed the device in some of his portraits.
Vermeer exploited the same effect in the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring, perhaps a pendant to this picture, and the Mistress and Maid.
The Wrightsman (Study of a Young Woman) and the Mauritshuis (Girl with a Pearl Earring) paintings are almost identical in size and are close in composition: the figures are similarly posed against dark backgrounds, and each wears a pearl earring and an elegant scarf that falls behind her head. The models may or may have not been Vermeer's daughters, but neither picture was painted as a portrait. The paintings are studies of expression, physical types, and visual qualities such as behavior of light. Whether the two canvases were conceived as pendants, which would have been exceptional for tronies, is quite uncertain but cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Walter Liedtke, Vermeer and the School of Delft, 2001
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. 38, 39 or 40 [tronies];
- Jan Luchtmans, Rotterdam (in 1816);
- Luchtmans sale, Rotterdam, 20 April 1816, no. 92;
- Auguste Marie Raymond, prince d'Arenberg, Brussels (by 1829-d.1833);
- Arenberg family, Brussels and Schloss Meppen, Germany (1833-1945);
- Engelbert-Marie, 9th duc d'Arenberg, Brussels, Schloss Meppen and Schloss Nordkirchen, Germany (1945-d.1949);
- his son, Engelbert-Charles, 10th duc d'Arenberg (1949-55);
- sold through Germain Seligman to Wrightsman);
- Mr and Mrs Charles Wrightsman, New York (1955-79);
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr and Mrs Charles Wrightsman, in memory of Theodore Rousseau Jr., 1979 (acc. no. 1979.396.1).
- Düsseldorf August 1904
Kunsthistorische Ausstellung. Location unknown.
no. 398 (lent by Herzog von Arenberg, Brussels).
- The Hague June 25–September 5, 1966
In het licht van Vermeer. Mauritshuis.
no. VI (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. Wrightsman, New York and Palm Beach).
- Paris 1966 September 24–November 28, 1966
Dans la lumière de Vermeer. Musée de l'Orangerie.
no. VII (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. Wrightsman, New York and Palm Beach).
- New York March 8–May 27, 2001
Vermeer and the Delft School. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Madrid February 19–May 18, 2003
Vermeer y el interior holandés. Museo Nacional del Prado.
178-181, no.38 and ill.
- New York September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008
The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- New York October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009
The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- New York September 9–November 29, 2009
Vermeer's Masterpiece 'The Milkmaid. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
|vermeer's life||Pieter van Ruijven and his wife Maria Knuijt leave 500 guilders to Vermeer in their last will and testament. This kind of a bequest is very unusual and testifies a close relationship between Vermeer and Van Ruijven that went beyond the usual patron/painter one. It would seem that in his life-time the rich Delft burger had bought a sizable share of Vermeer's artistic output.|
Rembrandt paints The Jewish Bride.
Adriaen van Ostade paints The Physician in His Study.
c. 1665 Gerrit Dou painted Woman at the Clavichord and a Self-Portrait in which he resembled Rembrandt.
|european painting & architecture||
Bernini finishes high altar, Saint Peter's, Rome (begun 1656).
Murillo: Rest on the Flight into Egypt.
Nicolas Poussin, French painter, dies. Known as the founder of French Classicism, he spent most of his career in Rome which he reached at age 30 in 1624. His Greco-Romanism work includes The Death of Chione and The Abduction of the Sabine Women.
Compagnie Saint-Gobain is founded by royal decree to make mirrors for France's Louis XIV. It will become Europe's largest glass-maker.
Francesco Borromini completes Rome's Church of San Andrea delle Fratte.
Molière: Don Giovanni.
Sep 22, Moliere's L'amour Medecin, premiered in Paris.
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society begins publication.
|science & philosophy||
Giovanni Cassini determines rotations of Jupiter, Mars, and Venus.
Peter Chamberlen, court physician to Charles 11, invents midwifery forceps
Pierre de Fermat, French mathematician, dies. His equation xn + yn = zn is called Fermat's Last Theorem and remained unproven for many years. The history of its resolution and final proof by Andrew Wiles is told by Amir D. Aczel in his 1996 book Fermat's Last Theorem. Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem by Simon Singh was published in 1997. In 1905 Paul Wolfskehl, a German mathematician, bequeathed a reward of 100,000 marks to whoever could find a proof to Fermat's "last theorem." It stumped mathematicians until 1993, when Andrew John Wiles made a breakthrough.
Francis Grimaldi: Physicomathesis de lumine (posth.) explains diffraction of light.
Isaac Newton experiments on gravitation; invents differential calculus.
Robert Hooke's Micrographia, with illustrations of objects viewed through a microscope, is published. The book greatly influences both scientists and educated laypeople. In it, Hooke describes cells (viewed in sections of cork) for the first time. Fundamentally, it is the first book dealing with observations through a microscope, comparing light to waves in water.
Mathematician Pierre de Fermat dies at Castres January 12 at age 63, having (with the late Blaise Pascal) founded the probability theory. His remains will be reburied in the family vault at Toulouse.
English naval forces defeat a Dutch fleet off Lowestoft June 3 as a Second Anglo-Dutch war begins, 11 years after the end of the first such war. General George Monck, 1st duke of Albemarle, commands the English fleet, Charles II bestows a knighthood on Irish-born pirate Robert Holmes, 42, and promotes him to acting rear admiral, giving him command of the new third-rate battleship Defiance, but the Dutch block the entrance to the Thames in October
Feb 6, Anne Stuart, queen of England (1702-14), is born.
At least 68,000 Londoners died of the plague in this year.
The second war between England and the United Provinces breaks out. It will last until 1667 and devastate the art market.
Mar 11, A new legal code was approved for the Dutch and English towns, guaranteeing religious observances unhindered.
Nov 7, The London Gazette, the oldest surviving journal, is first published.
Ceylon becomes important trade centre for the VOC
The Concert presents a very similar deep spatial recession similar to the earlier Music Lesson. Vermeer's interest in the accurate portrayal of three dimensional perspective to create such an effect was shared by other interior genre painters of the time, however, only Vermeer seems to have fully and consciously understood the expressive function of perspective. The two paintings' underlying theme of music between male and female company is also analogous although few critics believe they were conceived as a pendant.
In the paintings of the 1660s the painted surfaces are smoother and less tactile, the lighting schemes tend to be less bold. These pictures convey and impalpable air of reticence and introspection, unique among genre painters with the possible exception of Gerrit ter Borch.
|dutch painting||Frans Hals, eminent Dutch portrait painter, dies. It was formerly believed that he died in the Oudemannenhuis almshouse in Haarlem which was later became the Frans Halsmuseum.|
|european painting & architecture||
François Mansart, French architect, dies.
Apr 9, 1st public art exhibition (Palais Royale, Paris).
|music||Dec 5, Francesco Antonio Nicola Scarlatti, composer, is born.|
|literature||Le Misanthrope by Molière is palyed at the Palais-Royal, Paris.|
|science & philosophy||
Laws of gravity established by Cambridge University mathematics professor Isaac Newton, 23, state that the attraction exerted by gravity between any two bodies is directly proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Newton has returned to his native Woolsthorpe because the plague at Cambridge has closed Trinity College, where he is a fellow; he has observed the fall of an apple in an orchard at Woolsthorpe and calculates that at a distance of one foot the attraction between two objects is 100 times stronger than at 10 feet. Although he does not fully comprehend the nature of gravity, he concludes that the force exerted on the apple is the same as that exerted on Earth by the moon.
Calculusis invented by Isaac Newton will prove to be one of the most effective tool for scientific investigation ever produced by mathematics.
Nov 14, Samuel Pepys reported the on first blood transfusion, which was between dogs.
The plague decimates London and Isaac Newton moved to the country. He had already discovered the binomial theorem at Cambridge and was offered the post of professor of mathematics. Newton formulates his law of universal gravitation.
A French Academy of Sciences (Académie Royale des Sciences) founded by Louis XIV at Paris seeks to rival London's 4-year-old Royal Society. Jean Baptiste Colbert has persuaded the king to begin subsidizing scientists. Christiaan Huygens, along with 19 other scientists, is elected as a founding member. After the French Revolution, the Royale is dropped and the character of the academy changes. It later becomes the Institut de France.
Sep 2, The Great Fire of London, started at Pudding Lane, began to demolish about four-fifths of London when in the house of King Charles II's baker, Thomas Farrinor, forgets to extinguish his oven. The flames raged uncontrollably for the next few days, helped along by the wind, as well as by warehouses full of oil and other flammable substances. Approximately 13,200 houses, 90 churches and 50 livery company halls burn down or explode. But the fire claimed only 16 lives, and it actually helped impede the spread of the deadly Black Plague, as most of the disease-carrying rats were killed in the fire.
Because almost all European paper is made from recycled cloth rags, which are becoming increasingly scarce as more and more books and other materials are printed, the English Parliament bans burial in cotton or linen cloth so as to preserve the cloth for paper manufacture.
Vermeer's name is mentioned in a poem by Arnold Bon in Dirck van Bleyswijck's Beschryvinge der Stadt Delft (Description of the City of Delft) published in 1667. It is the most significant and direct reference to Vermeer's art to be found. The poem written by Arnold Bon, Bleyswyck's publisher, was composed in the honor of Carel Fabritius who had died in the famous ammunitions explosion. Vermeer's name is lauded in the poem's last stanza.
Maria Thins empowers Vermeer to collect various debts owed to her and to reinvest the money according to his will and discretion. Vermeer's mother-on-law evidently maintained her moral and financial support of Vermeer and his family.
Another of Vermeer's children is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft.
|dutch painting||Gabriel Metsu, ecclectic Dutch painter, dies.|
|european painting & architecture||
Francesco Borromini, Italian sculptor and architect, dies. Borromini designed the San Ivo della Sapienza church in Rome
Alonso Cano, Spanish painter and architect, dies.
|music||German composer-organist-harpsichordist Johann Jakob Froberger dies at Héricourt, France. His keyboard suites will be published in 1693, arranged in the order that will become standard: allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue.|
Paradise Lost is written by John Milton, who has been blind since 1652 but has dictated to his daughters the 10-volume work on the fall of man, Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. Milton's Adam questions the angel Raphael about celestial mechanics, Raphael replies with some vague hints and then says that "the rest from Man or Angel the great Architect did wisely conceal and not divulge His secrets to be scann'd by them who ought rather admire." The work enjoys sales of 1,300 copies in 18 months and will be enlarged to 12 volumes in 1684, the year of Milton's death; Annus Mirabilis by John Dryden is about the Dutch War and last year's Great Fire.
Nov 7, Jean Racine's Andromaque, premiered in Paris.
|science & philosophy||National Observatory, Paris, founded|
|history||Pope Alexander VII dies. Giulio Rospigliosi becomes Pope Clement IX.
c. 1667 In France, during the reign of King Louis XIV, the fork begins to achieve popularity as an eating implement. Formerly, only knives and spoons had been used.
Jun 18, The Dutch fleet sailed up the Thames and threatened London. They burned 3 ships and capture the English flagship.
Jun 21, The Peace of Breda endsthe Second Anglo-Dutch War (1664-67) and sees the Dutch cede New Amsterdam (on Manhattan Island) to the English in exchange for the island of Surinam.
De Verstandige Kok (The Sensible Cook) is published for the first time. Geared towards middle- and upper middle-class families, the book advises a regular and balanced diet, including fresh meat at least once a week, frequent servings of bread and cheese, stew, fresh vegetables and salads. While simple dishes, such as porridge, pancakes and soup with bread are eaten by all classes, studies reveal that only the affluent have regular access to fresh vegetables during the period; the less wealthy depend on dried peas and beans.
Even though the United Provinces boasted the most vigorous and well-distributed wealth in Europe, the differences between social classes were nonetheless frightening. At the bottom of the social ladder, women lived in a perpetual state of undernourishment. Life was a daily struggle with disease, tragic living and working conditions as well as the dangers of perpetual maternity. Living conditions were so strenuous that few were overweight and the average height was about 1.54 meters.
Rich women were much better off and hardly moderate in their consumption. Women rarely worked enough to offset their daily intake of calories. They avoided strenuous activities and rarely carried out heavy domestic chores which were delegated to their servants even though they habitually accompanied their servants to the markets. Their diet included large amounts of meat, fish, fruit, sweets and abundant amount of imported wines and gastronomical delicacies. They had more money and more time to care for their own appearances even though a considerable number of the formal portraits clearly show that women of the upper classes were generally corpulent, but, at least in the second half of the seventeenth century, exquisitely dressed. Affluent women had an average height of about 1.59 meters.
An unequivocal point to be made is that Dutch women were notably better off than women in the rest of Europe. This is upheld by eye-witness reports including numerous foreign observers who were both delighted and abhorred by what they had experienced.
From a legal point of view Dutch women enjoyed conspicuous advantages over their European counterparts. Dutch women could inherit and bequeath property in their own right. If they were wronged during their marriage, they had legal recourse. Vermeer's mother-in-law was able to obtain a conspicuous part of her husband's money after years of physical and moral mistreatment. Adultery, unusual abuse or willful desertion could bring "separation of table and bed" effectively annulling the union.
While it is true that none of the women who posed for Vermeer are conventional beauties, they are not without their own special charm. But how much did effort did Vermeer and other artists make effort to improve the appearance of their models?
As Eddy de Jongh pointed out, "Just how drastically cosmetic interventions were applied is hard to say, but it is a fair assumption that not every painted face with regular features, and not every painted peach skin was an accurate depiction of the original. The mere fact that the vast majority of faces in 17th-century paintings are smooth and unblemished is enough to make us suspicious, given the prevalence of smallpox epidemics at the time. Smallpox was a dreaded disease against which all remedies were helpless, and those who survived it were generally left disfigured by pockmarks. Among women of the higher classes, in particular, pockmarks are known to have aroused feelings of shame."
In any case, the use of cosmetics in 17th century by wealthy middle and upper-class women (and men)—both for nurturing and decorative effects—is out of the question. Their popularity is evident in numerous surviving recipes by apothecaries and quacks, as well as in the frequent depiction of powder brushes, small bottles or boxes for oils, crèmes or perfumes in the popular "Lady at her toilet" scenes. Even though the Dutch drew heavily from the fashionable French court of Louis XIV to enhance their life style, Dutch women were, and still are, famous for their clear, soft complexion, which some believe is owing to the moist air.
A pale complexion seems to have been universally desired, as it indicated wealth. Beside avoiding sun-burns and daily washings with warm water and soap mixed with herbs and spices, makeup was used to make the skin appear as fair as possible. Among the recipes lighten the color of the skin, ladies would apply a mixture powdered white chalk or white lead with white of egg and vinegar. While the use of talk is harmless, ceruse, which aslso used, is very harmful because it is made of lead. A lady could also wash herself with her own urine or with decoction of the rinds of lemon. A late 17th-century recommendation was to rub the face with poppy seed oil and then use a white powder made of calcinated bone.
It is impossible to know if the bright bright red lips seen in many portraits were natural, artificially contrived with makeup or fruit of the client's imagination and the artist's skill. A number of rouge pigments were available. Tinctures made of boiled crabs sandalwood, brazil wood, carnation, cloves or cardamoms would provide a safe rouge. On the other hand vermilion, a very poisonous red pigment derived from mercury and a standard pigment on the palette of every painter, was used. Cochineal, which was also used by painters, could be found in both warm and cold red tones.
Although Michael Sweerts was disregarded by contemporary chroniclers of painting, and upon his death his name and works were quickly forgotten, modern art scholarship has linked his achievements with Vermeer.
Sweerts had sojourned some years in Rome absorbing the lessons of Caravaggism but his works are never aggressive. His characters, caught in a moment of reflection, have a stillness, distance and melancholy which evokes something of Vermeer's finest works. He is also one of the few painters who depicted the lower classes individuals with a dignity paramount to that reserved for powerful upper-class portraiture. Like Vermeer, his variable styles suggest different identities and has long confused art historians.
From a formal point of view, Sweerts was always able to think in the broadest of pictorial terms avoiding finicky, descriptive detail so popular in genre painting of the time. The monumentality of the figures and pitch-black background of the Clothing the Naked (see image above) bring to mind Vermeer's Mistress and Maid, while the Young Boy with a Nosegay has often been conjectured as a direct source for Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring. Sweerts' ability to capture the sheen of fine exotic silks with a minimum of fuss would seem to have appealed to the serious Vermeer.
Oddly, Sweerts' own career is almost as obscure as Vermeer's and little is known of his personal life. He began his career as a history painter but is most appreciated for his exquisite depictions of individual people.
Although to the modern eye, the Study of a Young Woman would seem a portrait, a Dutch 17th-century observer would have immediately though of it as a tronie, an obsolete term that refers to a type of picture made familiar by Rembrandt and his followers. Some hold that the genre was inspired by some of the grotesque heads drawn by Leonardo da Vinci.
Despite the fact that tronies were often strongly individualized, they were most admired for the painter's ability to capture one particular psychological state or pictorial qualities. Most were based upon living models, including the artists themselves, relatives or colleagues. However, they were not intended as formal portraits but were kept on spec in the artist's studio ready to stimulate the appetite of a potential buyer. An old man (see left), a comely young woman, a "Turk," or a dashing soldier were all standard tronie subjects. Artists favored garments that looked particularly exotic which would offer an opportunity to show off painterly technique, one of the strongest calling cards of the professional artist. They also served as a storehouse of facial types and expressions for figures in history paintings.
Judging by the number of tronies mentioned in inventories, this was an extremely popular genre which accommodated the desires of both the artist and his client.
Concerto for Flute and Strings op. 10, no. 3 RV 428 "Il Gardellino," Cantabile [1.02 MB]
Although the present picture has been historically overshadowed by its likely pendant, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, it is nevertheless an expressive and technical, albeit understated, tour de force. The modeling of the young girl's face is so subtle that it is difficult to find a comparable image in Dutch painting of the time. The blurred, painterly modeling creates form by registering shifts in tone rather than by the sharp modeling favored by European history painters whereby line plays and major part in defining each the figure's features. A detail of the eye (see left) demonstrates how vague yet utterly "sincere" is the description the model's lunar physiognomy.
Vermeer employed a particularly limited palette for the depiction of the flesh tones in the present work. By those times, the pigments needed to depict flesh, considered by art theorists as the highest achievements of the artist, had been largely codified in "recipe" books although there did exist variations from nation to nation and school to school. Wilem Beurs describes in his De Groote Waereld in 't Kleen Geschilder (1692) thirteen mixture composed of nine pigments required to paint people of all different ages and genders as well as of distinct emotions.
The detail of The Art of Painting (see image left) by Frans van Mieris, painted about five years before Vermeer's work, illustrates the typically restricted Dutch palette set out for depicting flesh. From top to bottom we can make out white lead, yellow ocher, vermilion, red madder, raw sienna or red ocher (?), umber and black.
Although the pigments of Vermeer's faces not been specifically analyzed, it would seem that the artist used principally white lead modified by a hint of vermilion, a bright red with a decidedly orange overtone, to depict the principal passages of the strongly illuminated passages, excluding the conventional yellow ocher. This simple mixture works well with the famous glowing milk-white incarnates of Dutch women.