Johannes Vermeer: The Procuress and Woman Holding a Balance Johannes Vermeer was born in 1632 in the Dutch city of Delft where he lived his whole life. His early childhood has not been documented; however, he was the son of a silk worker. It is suspected that at an early age, Vermeer took apprenticeship under a man named LeonartBramer, a local artist. Vermeer created his first painting in 1656called, The Procuress,Oil on Canvas,which appears hanging on the wall in some of his later paintings(Wheelock).
In his twenties, Vermeer was wealthy enough to own a large house with an attached inn, he probably sold paintings here. When his father died in 1952, it is assumed that Vermeer inherited his father’s business (National Gallery of Art). Vermeer was married in 1653 to a woman of the Catholic religion, Catharina Bolenes. It is suggested that Vermeer might have converted to Catholicism in order to marry the young woman. Vermeer was raised as a protestant by his parents as he was baptized in 1632 in the Reformed Church of Delft (Konig).
It might have also been a possibility that the parents of the maiden convinced Vermeer to become Catholic in order to marry their daughter to him. A particular painting called, The Allegory of Faith. Oil on Canvas, was a very religious painting made by Vermeer in approximately 1670. Having 14 children by his wife, four of them died at birth(Wheelock). Vermeer painted approximately 35 paintings his whole career. Most of his paintings were interior style paintings with people portrayed in them. His first paintings were mainly historical paintings.
Later on in his life, he produced mostly interiors with just one or two people contained in them, mostly women. Most of these paintings featured either a woman alone by herself completing some sort of everyday task or a very symbolic painting such as Woman Holding a Balance. c. 1664. Oil on Canvas, which will be discussed later. Often the light enters Vermeer's paintings from a window. He was quite a well-organized artist when it came to the way light is depicted as bouncing off of the objects contained within his paintings(National Gallery of Art). Vermeer became a member of the local guild in 1653; a guild is a sort of lub or apprenticeship program for painters in the early modern Europe region. Some of Vermeer’s first works were historical or religious in nature when he first joined the local guild (Wadum). It seems that Vermeer’s style changed a few years after joining the guild into what we now know his works as, interior paintings of figures. Vermeer was highly recognized in Delft as a well-established artist, however, he was sparsely known elsewhere while he was still alive(Scottish National Gallery). In the final stages of Vermeer’s life, he was heavily in debt.
This was probably attributed to the invasion of the Dutch Republic, in which, Delft was located, by the French. This sent the economy into a downward spiral and many people did not have the money or the need to buy art. The lack of sales of his artwork made Vermeer and his wife become heavily indebted. In 1675, probably induced by the rough economic times, Vermeer died and was buried in Delft, he was 43 years old (National Gallery of Art). Vermeer’s wife auctioned off a couple of his paintings after his death in order to pay for the debts that the family owed. Mrs.
Vermeer also filed for bankruptcy so that she could recover from the heavy debt burden which was left from her husband. The ending to Vermeer’s life seems like a sad story, however, centuries later his work went recognized globally(Liedtke). Many of Vermeer’s paintings were not even credited to him until 200 years after his death. A French critic in 1866 declared most of the 35 paintings we know to be created by Vermeer today as his originals. It seems that Vermeer’s paintings never left the small town of Delft until a couple hundred years after his death(Wheelock).
Today, one may recognize Vermeer’s paintings all around the world and we celebrate his delicate balance of light and tones to create mostly quiet and peaceful paintings. The Procuress. c. 1656. Oil on Canvas,was one of Vermeer’s first paintings and it is also one of the most controversial because many scholars believe that Vermeer himself is pictured in this painting because of the style in which the smiling young man is inserted into the painting. The figure of a smiling young man seems to be inserted into the left hand side of a sort of provocative scene, this figure is assumed to be Vermeer.
The setting seems to be in a dimly lit room with the background having a cave or tavern like appearance to it. The background is gray and sort of blurred with one dimly lit light that radiates out of the background from behind a person. One person is dressed in black with a hood wrapped around his head and appears both between the background and in the foreground adding the feel of depth to the painting. It is hard to tell what this person’s gender is except that he seems to be gawking at a woman across the painting, therefore, one may assume the person must be male.
There are four people that appear in this painting. The people, starting from the left side of the painting are: first, the supposed Vermeer himself, second, the man dressed in black in the background behind everyone else, third, a man who may have been in the military and lastly, a woman upon whom all the men, except Vermer, are gawking. The theme of the painting seems to be a drunken scene in which men are paying a woman to perform provocative things. The man dressed in red appears to be in the military because of his hat and the fact that most people in the military during this time wore red.
His long brown hair is covered by a hat which appears either dirty or is colored brown. The hat seems to have a ribbon wrapped around it and a feather sticking from it; it seems to be one of the typical Dutch hats of this era. The man’s long flowing red coat has a gold stripe which runs down each sleeve. As one’s eyes follow down this man’s sleeve, which seems to be the natural flow of the painting,one may reach the center or focal point of the painting. The man in the red coat is holding out a golden coin in the kind of hand gesture that indicates that he is about to flip the coin out of his hand.
Then, one may follow the view down below the centered coin and see a woman, who is sitting in front of the red coated man, holding out her hand as if she is about to receive the golden coin that the red coated man is about to flip out of his hand. Looking at the woman, she is wearing a bright yellow sweater and a white bonnet. Her right breast is being handled by the man wearing the red coat. The man is either paying the woman to fondle her breast or for some kind of later services. In the woman’s right hand she is holding a glass, probably containing some kind of alcohol, due to the nature of the scene.
Immediately next to the woman’s glass, sits a fancy looking vase or pitcher of some sort. In the foreground, is a fancy carpet with painted leaves of gold, flowing red lines and black symbols appear to be draped over a rail which covers all of the figure’s legs. Over this carpet, on the left side, directly in front of Vermeer is someone’s long overcoat draped over the rail and the carpet. As we come back to the supposed figure of Vermeer, appearing on the left side, we notice in his hand a glass filled with alcohol.
We can come to the conclusion that the glass contains alcohol because he is holding his glass up as if giving a toast. His smile seems to be like that of happy drunken man. He must be enjoying the company of the woman pictured across the painting and also his alcoholic beverage. He seems to be the narrator of the painting as he is the only figure starring directly at the viewer (Wheelock). All lines and shapes of this colorful, yet dark back grounded painting seem to be flowing outward in all directions from the center point or core of the painting.
The core of the painting is the golden coin being transacted into the woman’s hand as all objects seem to flow from it. As Vermeer’s first painting, The Procuress. c 1656. Oil on Canvas, is very flowing and action-packed. The last painting the writer will discuss is also by Johannes Vermeer. Woman Holding a Balance. c. 1664. Oil on Canvas, contained in the text book on p. 65 (Getlein). This quiet, sort of still, painting seems very simple at first glance. A woman in a dark room appearing to play with a scale and the only light coming through a small window makes for a sort of calm, peaceful painting.
However, it is not as quiet and peaceful as it appears at first glance. The jeweler’s balance is the core of the painting as it is in the dead center of the painting with a small amount of light reflected off its metal edges from the window. The jeweler’s balance is also the object of the theme of the painting which is a question of life’s vanities balanced against the coming judgment(Getlein). After taking one’s eyes off of the jeweler’s balance,one may follow down to the table beneath and see the light reflected off of golden or pearl necklaces and other types of jewels.
On the left side of the painting,one may see a mirror with light reflected from it directly, in front of the woman. If she looked up she would be able to see herself. Than we see the window’s light flow in onto the woman, and also a painting hanging on the wall behind the woman. The painting is very dark looking, but upon further examination, it is the seen to be the Last Judgment and Jesus in the painting is depicted as directly over the woman’s head. The woman is either fat or pregnant. According to Getlein, her form is that of a pregnant woman and the writer agrees. Her face and arms are oo skinny in proportion to her body, if she were just overweight. She is wearing a black and white garment that looks similar to a winter coat with a hood over her head. She is wearing this coat over her long, flowing dress. The lines of this painting flow from the window to the jeweler’s balance, down to the jewels, up to the woman’s face and beyond to the painting of the Last Judgment. The background of this painting contains a grey wall with the painting of the last judgment contained on it and the light from the window shining across both the wall and the painting.
One may barely notice the painting contained within this painting at first glance, except for, the slight glimmer of light upon the right side of the frame. The darkness of this painting may indicate to the viewer that the coming judgment encroaches upon a person quickly and that one may do well to notice the object of the painting, within the painting, which is the coming Savior. The foreground of the painting is the pregnant woman; a table and jewelslayingon the table and in front of it, represent the objects of vanity.
The idea of the painting is supposed to be birth, death and the balancing of objects of vanity against things that matter like one’s ultimate judgment by Christ. The mirror also reveals a personal evaluation. This mirror is symbolic of one’s self-knowledge, the writer supposes that this self-knowledge is the knowledge of what a person knows is right and wrong and their choice between the two. The writer believesthe ultimate message of this painting to be that one must balance their everyday lives and not get too caught up in the everyday riches of life.
Things which are eternal and unseen matter more than the objects one sees glimmering in the sunlight of the window, at any given moment. The way that the room appears totally dark, except for, the small amount of sunlight shining through the window, the way that the light reflects upon the woman and shines off of the jewels and the frame of the Last Judgment, the way that the light scatters throughout the painting makes this one of the most interesting and captivating works by Vermeer.
The way Vermeer makes the picture appear dark at first glance, but then, gently and with flow, one is able to see all the objects contained within. A delicate balance of light and dark truly brings the theme of this painting to life out of its overall gloominess. In conclusion, the writer has chosen this artist because he was impressed with Vermeer’sWoman Holding a Balance. c. 1664. Oil on Canvas. He was impressed with the symbolism of the painting, the flow of it and the realistic nature it presents.
He then chose another interesting work by Vermeer and analyzed it and became impressed with Vermeer’s The Procuress. c. 1656. Oil on Canvas. Upon further study of Vermeer, the writer is glad he has chosen such a talented artist of this era. The writer is amazed with the progression of skill that Vermeer seemed to have accomplished from his first painting, The Procuress. c. 1656. Oil on Canvas to one of his latter day paintings Woman Holding a Balance. c. 1664. Oil on Canvas. The progressions of symbolism as Vermeer’s life had matured are reflected in his paintings.
The writer has noticed that in the early stages of Vermeer’s career, he tended to paint more provocative styled works, whereas, as he matured his paintings became gentler, quaint and often had religious themes. It is interesting to note that like Vermeer’s life, one often finds their own life to be progressing into maturity as the years move on. The writer is glad that Vermeer has documented his maturity, unknowingly, through his works of art. Works Cited Getlein, Mark. Living with Art, 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. pp. 64-65 Koning, Hans. 1977. The World of Vermeer.
Time-Life Books, New York Liedtke, Walter. "The Cambridge Companion to Vermeer (Cambridge Companions to the History of Art). " 2001. Essential Vermeer. com. 11 September 2012 ;http://www. essentialvermeer. com/cat_about/christ. html;. National Gallery of Art. Vermeer- Biography. n. d. 04 September 2012 ;http://www. nga. gov/feature/vermeer/bio. shtm;. National Gallery of Scotland. Johannes Vermeer Biography. n. d. 01 September 2012 ;http://www. artbible. info/art/large/169. html;. Scottish National Gallery. "The Young Vermeer. " n. d. National Galleries. org. 05 September 2012