Saturday, December 1, 2012

Masterpiece of the Week: “A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal,” 1670-2, Johannes Vermeer

A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal
Johannes Vermeer, 1670-1672
The National Gallery, Britain
Though he’s recently come back into the public eye, Johannes Vermeer’s brilliance was largely overlooked for centuries. He produced a comparatively small number of paintings, however, what he did create was remarkable.

Born in Delft in 1632, Vermeer struggled to make a living as a painter despite his enormous talent. By 1653, his skill was recognized and he was named a master of Delft Painters’ School. His exquisitely detailed domestic paintings showed a masterful handling of light. Each painting was filled with meaning and symbolism—very often communicated through a painting within the painting as seen in this example, A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal. Despite the recognition of his work, he continued to have financial troubles and by 1672 was quite destitute. He died young in 1675—leaving his wife and many children penniless.

Despite the sad end to his life, Vermeer left behind some of the finest treasure of Art History. Here is one of them. A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal was painted between 1670 and 1672. Many of Vermeer’s painting were set in the same room—presumably his studio with its intricate marble floor and leaded windows. The landscape painting on the wall appears in other works by Vermeer. The painting of cupid is meant to represent the young woman’s fidelity and sweetness. The painted interior of the virginal mirrors the landscape on the wall. The whole of the scene demonstrates Vermeer’s typical filtered light. While the painting is poorly documented, stylistically, it is doubtlessly attributed to Vermeer. Such a pity that such a talented man had to die in poverty. Perhaps future generations will be a little kinder to their artists.

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