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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.

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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.


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