Connect with us – Art History Stories

Vermeer’s Desperate Housewives


Vermeer’s Desperate Housewives

Johannes Vermeer was a master of ambiguity. His silent and calm interiors, and beautiful Dutch women, although innocent at the first gaze, seem to be hiding more than one secret.


Johannes Vermeer, A Girl Asleep, 1656–1657

Johannes Vermeer, A Girl Asleep, 1656–1657, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This woman has had too much to drink. Is she asleep or maybe just daydreaming about her date, a visitor who must have just left as you can see an empty chair, a jug and two wine glasses on the table. Radiographs show that in the first version of the painting there was a gentleman in the doorway and a dog to the lower right. But since Vermeer decided to erase them, the woman is left alone and the whole painting is therefore more mysterious.


Johannes Vermeer, Woman with a Pearl Necklace,1664

Johannes Vermeer, Woman with a Pearl Necklace, 1664, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Jewellery usually makes women feel good. However, she doesn’t really seem happy: her gestures and her face expression seem to express helplessness or resignation. Is the necklace a gift from a lover? Is she putting it on or rather taking it off? The ambiguous title does not help us understand. We can only wonder what the girl really sees in her own reflection in the small mirror.


Johannes Vermeer, Girl Interrupted at her Music, 1660–1661

Johannes Vermeer, Girl Interrupted at her Music, 1660–1661, Frick Collection

This woman seems to be genuinely annoyed. This guy has just come in, perhaps to do some mansplaining about her music. Or he is trying to woo her by showing off how well he can read the musical notes. Girl’s face seems to be saying: “Oh no, it’s him again. How long can it last?”. The full wine glass on the table suggests that it can take a while since in the symbolic language of painting an untouched glass with wine meant a slowly progressing relationship between woman and man.

Find out more:


Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.


More in Baroque

  • Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus, 1644, National Gallery, London Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus, 1644, National Gallery, London


    Painting of the Week: Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus


    Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599 – 1660) was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV, and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age and European Baroque. And The Rokeby Venus is his only surviving nude, three others...

  • Baroque

    History of Venetian Carnival Masks


    It is not a surprise that every carnival, regardless of its country origin or other characteristics, is traditionally associated with Venetian carnival masks. Being a primary sign of a carnival, the mask has an interesting history connected with old Venice traditions. Learn the key information about...

  • Dresden Vermeer cover Dresden Vermeer cover


    A Secret Revealed in a Dresden Vermeer


    A major German art museum recently revealed an exciting new discovery – a hidden image of a Cupid in Johannes Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, 1657-1659. Conservators at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister at the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Dresden State Art Collections) are...

  • The Night Watch Rembrandt The Night Watch Rembrandt


    15 Things You May Not Know About The Night Watch by Rembrandt


    The Night Watch painted by Rembrandt van Rijn is a colossal (363 × 437 cm) and most famous canvas created by the artist. It is one of the icons of Western art history. Painted in 1642, at the peak of the Dutch Golden Age, it depicts the eponymous...

  • Baroque

    Artemisia Gentileschi: A Changing Landscape for the Discourse of Art History


    Much 16th and 17th century art focuses on mythological tropes and origin stories which are deeply embedded in misogyny and sexual violence. Gendered violence was aetheticised, rape heroised. In accordance with ‘the male gaze’, these were not paintings made for public collections. They were commissioned for...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy