Tag Archives: Johannes Vermeer

#FineArtFriday: Officer and Laughing Girl by Johannes Vermeer circa 1657

Johannes_Vermeer_-_Officer_and_Laughing_Girl_-_Google_Art_Project

Artist: Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675)

Title: Officer and Laughing Girl

Genre: genre art

Date: circa 1657

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: height: 50.5 cm (19.8 in); width: 46 cm (18.1 in)

Collection: The Frick Collection

What I love about this painting:

Vermeer paints a story for us. He shows us a courting couple, a modestly dressed young woman seated opposite a young officer. Is this the home of her parents?

It is clearly not a tavern, as she has a crystal wine glass, which taverns wouldn’t have. Another clue to her social status is the map on the wall behind her, indicating her family may be merchants. Taverns rarely displayed maps as they were expensive.

Our girl is dwarfed by the map and also by the large man, whose face we don’t see, as he is captivated by her. Yet though she is physically smaller than her companion, she is not made small in this painting. Indeed, she has a large presence; her personality and smile have power, speaking to us across the centuries.

The light falls gently though the open window, illuminating the woman, bathing the scene with that quality Vermeer recreated so brilliantly.

Some male art critics suggest that the position of her hand indicates a less savory transaction is occurring here, but I feel they are wrong. Her hair is completely covered. She is not dressed provocatively, nor are they shown in a tavern or brothel. Her hand is shown as if gesturing in conversation, a natural gesture.

I think that nasty kind of interpretation is the result of a Victorian-era male art critic prejudice against women in art, dismissing them as morally corrupt. That sort of attitude poisons art interpretation at all levels. Maybe traditional critics need to look at paintings such as this with a fresh eye and see what is actually there: a young woman talking to a young man, seated in a corner at a table, most likely in full view of her middleclass parents.

Vermeer paints us a story of courtship within the bounds of society, of two people with middleclass values who are clearly attracted to each other. Will they be married? I like to think so.

The model for the woman in this painting was most likely Vermeer’s wife, and the dress she wears appears in other domestic scenes painted by Vermeer, as does the window and the table.

About Johannes Vermeer, the Master of Light (from Wikipedia)

Johannes Vermeer (October 1632 – December 1675) was a Dutch painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.

Vermeer worked slowly and with great care, and frequently used very expensive pigments. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes. “Almost all his paintings are apparently set in two smallish rooms in his house in Delft; they show the same furniture and decorations in various arrangements and they often portray the same people, mostly women.”

He was recognized during his lifetime in Delft and The Hague, but his modest celebrity gave way to obscurity after his death. He was barely mentioned in Arnold Houbraken‘s major source book on 17th-century Dutch painting (Grand Theatre of Dutch Painters and Women Artists), and was thus omitted from subsequent surveys of Dutch art for nearly two centuries. In the 19th century, Vermeer was rediscovered by Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger, who published an essay attributing 66 pictures to him, although only 34 paintings are universally attributed to him today. Since that time, Vermeer’s reputation has grown, and he is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age. [1]


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Johannes Vermeer – De Soldaat en het Lachende Meisje – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Johannes_Vermeer_-_De_Soldaat_en_het_Lachende_Meisje_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=617576363 (accessed April 29, 2022).

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Johannes Vermeer,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Johannes_Vermeer&oldid=1082091616 (accessed April 29, 2022).

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#FineArtFriday: View of Delft by Johannes Vermeer ca.1661

View of Delft by Johannes Vermeer

Genre: cityscape

Date: between circa 1660 and circa 1661

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 96.5 cm (37.9″); Width: 117.5 cm (46.2″)

What I love about this painting:

The scene is as clear and sharp as if it were viewed through an open window. The colors are both bright and muted–true to life. The red of roof tiles contrast with the blue of both the sky and a blue painted shingle roof. The reflections on the water, the people on the shore show us a lovely morning in the Netherlands.

Vermeer is considered the master of light, and indeed, the quality of light in all his works is remarkable. The shadowy reflections on the dark, still waters look as real as a photograph.

About this Painting, via Wikipedia:

View of Delft  is an oil painting by Johannes Vermeer, painted ca. 1660–1661. The painting of the Dutch artist’s hometown is among his most popular, painted at a time when cityscapes were uncommon. It is one of three known paintings of Delft by Vermeer, along with The Little Street and the lost painting House Standing in Delft. The use of pointillism in the work suggests that it postdates The Little Street, and the absence of bells in the tower of the New Church dates it to 1660–1661. Vermeer’s View of Delft has been held in the Dutch Royal Cabinet of Paintings at the Mauritshuis in The Hague since its establishment in 1822.

The technical analysis shows that Vermeer used a limited choice of pigments for this painting: calcitelead whiteyellow ochre, natural ultramarine and madder lake are the main painting materials. His painting technique, on the other hand, is very elaborate and meticulous.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “View of Delft,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=View_of_Delft&oldid=933182285 (accessed February 14, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan Vermeer van Delft 001.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_Vermeer_van_Delft_001.jpg&oldid=338278968 (accessed February 14, 2020).

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#FineArtFriday: Oppression, Rebellion and Art #amwriting

Today is my first day off in 30 days – NaNoWriMo is over and I wrote 103,345 words, most of which are garbled and incomprehensible, as I can’t key well at all. So, today I am temporarily out of words.  So, I am going back to an essay I first posted in 2015 on the impact the art of the 16th century has on my work. With no further ado I give you Oppression, Rebellion and Art. Sounds like little has changed, right?


Writing, even writing fantasy, involves a certain amount of reality checking. You need to know how things actually worked.

Say you need to know what clothing the common European people wore during the renaissance looked like and how they dressed, both for celebrations, and for working.

I go to the 16th and 17th century painters and artists for that information. They always painted their subject with a heavy dose of religious allegory, but that was a part of village life–both the inquisition and the reformation was under way and the politics of religion was in the very air they breathed.

Any time you want an idea of average European village life in the Late Middle Ages through the 17th century, you need look no further than Wikimedia Commons.  There, under the heading  Category:Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830) you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters. These were artists living in what is now The Netherlands, and who were creating accurate records of the everyday life of the common people, along with stylized religious images.

During the 16th century, the Netherlands fought an 80 year war, trying to gain their independence from Spain, during the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. This was a period of extreme oppression and religious rebellion, and the art of times portrayed that very clearly.

I have learned, by rooting around the internet (so it must be true), that everything in the paintings of the time, no matter how commonplace, was allegorical, symbolic of some higher message. In art history (which I have always wanted to study), iconography is a visual language. This means that the way a subject is depicted and the way the image is organized, such as the number of figures used, their placing and gestures, all have specific meanings. The allegories they painted made heavy use of this visual language.

One particular family of of early Dutch painters from the county of Flanders pique my interest, the Brueghel Family. Five generations of their family were well-known painters, and print-makers.

One of my favorite early Dutch paintings is the Wedding Dance, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder:

What makes this painting so spectacular to me is the amazing detail of the clothing. They loved color. From Wikipedia: The painting depicts 125 wedding guests. As was customary in the Renaissance period, the brides wore black and men wore codpieces. Voyeurism is depicted throughout the entire art work; dancing was tabooed at the time by the authorities and the church, and the painting can be seen as both a critique and comic depiction of a stereotypical oversexed, overindulgent, peasant class of the times.

All of these people are depicted as plump, which was a desirable trait–they were prosperous and not starving. All the things that (to this day) make a great party are there: music, food, and dancing. The men wear codpieces, emphasizing their male anatomy in the same way that in today’s society, women’s breasts are hyper-sexualized.  Perhaps codpieces should make a comeback in the men’s fashion world. I’ll show off my babyfeeders, if you parade your babymaker–that way we’ll both be sure we are getting something worth having. (or not.)

Anyway, back to the renaissance. They paid taxes, and this his how their IRS office looked to Brueghel’s eldest son, Pieter Jr. As you can see, not a lot has changed between then and now–we still pay in chickens and eggs. (heh heh.)

Brueghel’s eldest son, Pieter the Younger,  was never considered as fine a painter as his father or his brother, Jan Brueghel. He was considered a fine print-maker and his work shop was highly regarded. But he was not respected as an artist. Critics of the day felt he copied his father’s style, rather than developing his own. While he did paint in a folk-art style reminiscent of his father’s, his is sharper, more refined, taking it to the next level.

Notice how the people in the above picture are looking lean and ragged though, as opposed to the wedding picture painted by Pieter the Elder. The Little Ice Age had really gripped Europe, and times were hard.

So here is a painting by the second son of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and a man who fathered his own dynasty of artists, Jan Bruegel the Elder. This is called People Dancing on a Riverbank and by their dress, with the neck-ruffs, you can see it depicts a wealthier class than his brother’s images, perhaps the merchant class rather than the peasants.

One hundred years later, the Dutch were famous for their painters–and everyone wanted to own a Dutch masterpiece. Times had become quite hard, as the climate had cooled and crops regularly failed. Once-prosperous families often lived in the ruins of their family manors.

In the above picture by Adriaen Van Ostade, these peasants are living in an enormous, decrepit farmhouse, almost like squatters. They are no longer plump, and are living in filthy conditions. The fire in the fireplace is very low, as if fuel was scarce.

Another famous Dutch painting, from the same time period but showing a different segment of society is The Milkmaid, by Johannes Vermeer. In this painting, Vermeer shows an everyday task, a small glimpse of something that occurred daily in every household, a woman cooking.

In the background on the floor is a foot-warmer which was filled with coals and was an essential luxury, showing this was one of the wealthier households.

According to Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge: By depicting the working maid in the act of careful cooking, the artist presents not just a picture of an everyday scene, but one with ethical and social value. The humble woman is using common ingredients and otherwise useless stale bread to create a pleasurable product for the household.

I love art depicting the lives of ordinary people. I find the small details intriguing. It shows us that in many ways we are not that different than they were. We want food, decent shelter, and of course, stylish clothes to attract a mate.

And back then as it does now, a hint of anything taboo would most certainly find its way into even a religious painting.

The best part of all this is, a woman with an average education and on a tight budget (like me) can enjoy these wonderful works of art at will. I can examine them  in as much detail as I want, and take all the time I want, and no one will stop me or throw me out of their museum for loitering, because the internet is open all hours and is free.

Wikimedia Commons is a great resource to just roam around in, even when you are not looking for something specific.


Credits and Attributions:

This post was first published June 8,, 2015 under the title  #Inspiration: Oppression, rebellion and art, by Connie J. Jasperson, ©  2015 All Rights Reserved

Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

The Wedding Dance, c.1566 (oil on panel) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69)

The Payment of the Tithes (The tax-collector), also known as Village Lawyer, Pieter Bruegel, the Younger, signed P Brueghel PD|100

People Dancing on a Riverbank, Jan Bruegel the elder, via Wikimedia Commons PD|100

Peasants in an Interior, Adriaen Van Ostade (1661) via Wikimedia Commons PD|100

The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, via Wikimedia Commons PD|100

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#Inspiration: Oppression, rebellion and art

Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, via Wikimedia Commons

Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, via Wikimedia Commons

Writing, even writing fantasy, involves a certain amount of reality checking. You need to know how things actually worked.

Say you need to know what clothing the common European people wore during the renaissance looked like and how they dressed, both for celebrations, and for working.

I go to the 16th and 17th century painters and artists for that information. They always painted their subject with a heavy dose of religious allegory, but that was a part of village life–both the inquisition and the reformation was under way and the politics of religion was in the very air they breathed.

Any time you want an idea of average European village life in the Late Middle Ages through the 17th century, you need look no further than Wikimedia Commons.  There, under the heading  Category:Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830) you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters. These were artists living in what is now The Netherlands, and who were creating accurate records of the everyday life of the common people, along with stylized religious images.

During the 16th century, the Netherlands fought an 80 year war, trying to gain their independence from Spain, during the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. This was a period of extreme oppression and religious rebellion, and the art of times portrayed that very clearly.

I have learned, by rooting around the internet (so it must be true), that everything in the paintings of the time, no matter how commonplace, was allegorical, symbolic of some higher message. In art history (which I have always wanted to study), iconography is a visual language. This means that the way a subject is depicted and the way the image is organized, such as the number of figures used, their placing and gestures, all have specific meanings. The allegories they painted made heavy use of this visual language.

One particular family of of early Dutch painters from the county of Flanders pique my interest, the Brueghel Family. Five generations of their family were well-known painters, and print-makers.

One of my favorite early Dutch paintings is the Wedding Dance, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder:

The Wedding Dance, c.1566 (oil on panel) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69)

The Wedding Dance, c.1566 (oil on panel) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69)

What makes this painting so spectacular to me is the amazing detail of the clothing. They loved color. From Wikipedia: The painting depicts 125 wedding guests. As was customary in the Renaissance period, the brides wore black and men wore codpieces. Voyeurism is depicted throughout the entire art work; dancing was tabooed at the time by the authorities and the church, and the painting can be seen as both a critique and comic depiction of a stereotypical oversexed, overindulgent, peasant class of the times.

All of these people are depicted as plump, which was a desirable trait–they were prosperous and not starving. All the things that (to this day) make a great party are there: music, food, and dancing. The men wear codpieces, emphasizing their male anatomy in the same way that in today’s society, women’s breasts are hyper-sexualized.  Perhaps codpieces should make a comeback in the men’s fashion world. I’ll show off my babyfeeders, if you parade your babymaker–that way we’ll both be sure we are getting something worth having. (or not.)

Anyway, back to the renaissance. They paid taxes, and this his how their IRS office looked to Brueghel’s eldest son, Pieter Jr. As you can see, not a lot has changed between then and now–we still pay in chickens and eggs. (heh heh.)

Pieter_Brueghel_the_Younger_(or_workshop)_The_Payment_of_the_Tithes_

The Payment of the Tithes (The tax-collector), also known as Village Lawyer, Pieter Bruegel, the Younger, signed P Brueghel

Brueghel’s eldest son, Pieter the Younger,  was never considered as fine a painter as his father or his brother, Jan Brueghel. He was considered a fine print-maker and his work shop was highly regarded. But he was not respected as an artist. Critics of the day felt he copied his father’s style, rather than developing his own. While he did paint in a folk-art style reminiscent of his father’s, his is sharper, more refined, taking it to the next level.

Notice how the people in the above picture are looking lean and ragged though, as opposed to the wedding picture painted by Pieter the Elder. The Little Ice Age had really gripped Europe, and times were hard.

So here is a painting by the second son of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and a man who fathered his own dynasty of artists, Jan Bruegel the Elder. This is called People Dancing on a Riverbank and by their dress, with the neck-ruffs, you can see it depicts a wealthier class than his brother’s images, perhaps the merchant class rather than the peasants.

People_dancing_on_a_river_bank_by_Jan_Brueghel_the_elder

People Dancing on a riverbank, Jan Bruegel the elder, via Wikimedia Commons

One hundred years later, the Dutch were famous for their painters–and everyone wanted to own a Dutch masterpiece. Times had become quite hard, as the climate had cooled and crops regularly failed. Once-prosperous families often lived in the ruins of their family manors.

Peasants_in_an_Interior_(1661)_Adriaen_van_Ostade

Peasants in an Interior, Adriaen Van Ostade (1661) via Wikimedia Commons

In the above picture by Adriaen Van Ostade, these peasants are living in an enormous, decrepit farmhouse, almost like squatters. They are no longer plump, and are living in filthy conditions. The fire in the fireplace is very low, as if fuel was scarce.

Another famous Dutch painting, from the same time period but showing a different segment of society is The Milkmaid, by Johannes Vermeer. In this painting, Vermeer shows an everyday task, a small glimpse of something that occurred daily in every household, a woman cooking.

The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, via Wikimedia Commons

The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, via Wikimedia Commons

In the background on the floor is a foot-warmer which was filled with coals and was an essential luxury, showing this was one of the wealthier households.

According to Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge: By depicting the working maid in the act of careful cooking, the artist presents not just a picture of an everyday scene, but one with ethical and social value. The humble woman is using common ingredients and otherwise useless stale bread to create a pleasurable product for the household.

I love art depicting the lives of ordinary people. I find the small details intriguing. It shows us that in many ways we are not that different than they were. We want food, decent shelter, and of course, stylish clothes to attract a mate.

And back then as it does now, a hint of anything taboo would most certainly find its way into even a religious painting.

The best part of all this is, a woman with an average education and on a tight budget (like me) can enjoy these wonderful works of art at will. I can examine them  in as much detail as I want, and take all the time I want, and no one will stop me or throw me out of their museum for loitering, because the internet is open all hours and is free.

Wikimedia Commons is a great resource to just roam around in, even when you are not looking for something specific.

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