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Europe 1300 - 1800

Unit 9: Lesson 4

Dutch Republic

Vermeer, The Glass of Wine

Jan Vermeer, The Glass of Wine, c. 1661, oil on canvas, 67.7 x 79.6 cm (Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • blobby green style avatar for user joe casey
    Is there any significance in how she is holding the glass--from the base? Would it show more restraint and decorum at that time to hold it by the stem?
    (4 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Margreet de Brie
      It was proper etiquette to hold a wine glass at the foot in those days. The meaning is in drinking wine. The painting has symbols of eroticism (the wineglass, the cittern, the open window), but like many Vermeer paintings, it´s not clear if it depicts a proper or an indecent proposal. Other painters would be more explicit, like Jan Steen depicting a woman drinking wine with red slippers on (prostitute or immoral woman) or Michael Sweerts depicting a man offering a woman a glass of wine, with a vine/bunch of grapes (marital fidelity) in the background. Vermeer keeps us guessing what´s going on.
      (13 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Koray Can Canut
    the perspective seems to be a bit problematic in the patterns on the floor, especially at the far right side of the room doesn't it?
    (4 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Jason
    Does anyone know the significance of the gold frame? I can't even make out what the painting is
    (4 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Tony Iacono
    At :58 the stain glass is shown...telling of temperance. Would you explain the window further please.
    (3 votes)
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  • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
    This is an allegory, not a portrait. The woman has drained a glass of something, we can assume, because of the type of glass, that it was wine. One glass, OK. Now she has a choice before her, either yield to temptation (symbolized by a handsome man with a bottle of wine in his hand) or to temperance (found in the window). It's an educational allegory. The choice is up to the students to whom this is presented as a case study.
    (3 votes)
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  • leafers seedling style avatar for user writersurprise
    There is so much going on in this painting.It is supurb. I wonder where he began? The eyes are drawn straight to the wne glass. Even though the glass has no wine in it. Contrary to the title. I love this. Any one else?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user john stone
    To me it looks like he could be a wine merchant?
    (1 vote)
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  • leaf red style avatar for user landrykai35
    I was wondering if frames from older painting are given with the original painting or if they were made later? Who made the frame for this painting?
    (1 vote)
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  • leaf red style avatar for user landrykai35
    Do you think that because he is still fully dressed (looking like he just came in) is representing the temptation will come quickly, and leave you unprepared?
    (1 vote)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Victor Yuan
    Is the musical instrument a guitar?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: There's nothing subtle about 17th century Dutch genre painting. So often, we're shown interactions that are wonderfully bawdy and wonderfully explicit. There is an exception, however. Jan Vermeer's paintings often are riddles. They give us suggestions of narratives. DR. BETH HARRIS: And in this painting, it's true. We're not really sure exactly what's about to unfold. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: What we're seeing is a man who is still wearing his hat and outer cloak. He stands beside a table with a beautiful carpet on it, and he has his hand on a jug of wine. He looks like he's ready to refill the young woman's glass. She's got it up to her mouth, and she's just finishing it off. DR. BETH HARRIS: Well, and he looks impatient to pour her another glass, as though the goal of this whole interaction is to get her drunk. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: But across from her at the window that is ajar, we can actually see a rendering in the stained glass of temperance, of moderation, in a sense an instruction to her to watch her step. And so the painting is about possibility. It's about her choice. And the man whose face is shadowed by his hat is a little bit sinister in that way. DR. BETH HARRIS: There's a sense of distance between the two figures, a sense that they're not terribly familiar with one another. And I almost wonder whether the wine is going to make that happen. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: One of the reasons that the flirtation doesn't have an opportunity to be represented is because he's in shadow. We can just barely make out his eyes. And her eyes are completely obscured by the shine in the beautifully delicate glass that she holds in front of her face. She can't speak now. She's drinking. And she can't even see beyond that glass, or at least we can't see. And yet that shine is all about vision, and it's held right at her eyes. This is an early Vermeer, but already we can see his fascination with soft light. Look at the way it infuses the space, comes through that blue curtain. And the delicacy that he's lavished on the tonality of the back wall and the other forms in this room is just spectacular. DR. BETH HARRIS: So while Vermeer is interested in light, we also have that characteristic geometry in the composition, the square of the window that's open, the rectangle of the frame on the back wall, the square on the back of the chair, and the squares that move back and the perspective on the floor. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: There is this kind of checkerboard pattern that does create a clear, structured interior. And then we have objects that are placed askew of that. So you've got the line that the window should trace. But the window is open so that there's a diagonal that interrupts it. You've got the careful rectilinear tiles on the floor, but then you've got the chair, again, that's at an angle and is offset from it. In some ways, this painting is about the disruption of order. And the way objects are placed in this space are about the tension that's created when things are not aligned. And perhaps that functions as a kind of metaphor for the interaction between the two figures. DR. BETH HARRIS: Or a kind of foreboding about what may happen. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: There are ways that the figures are linked. Look at the concentric rings that fall from the man. You have his collar. Then you've got a series of folds in the drapery that catch the light and sort of expand as they move down towards his arm. And that motion is picked up by the beautiful gold brocade in the woman's dress and then the folds on her hip. And so there really is a kind of harmony between those figures. And in some ways, this painting is about harmony and disharmony. It's about alignment and things being askew. DR. BETH HARRIS: And that's also symbolized in the musical instrument, which is used in Vermeer's paintings to suggest both harmony and frivolity. So which way is this going to go? DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: I'm not sure. I think Vermeer is leaving that question open for the viewer. DR. BETH HARRIS: By leaving this question open, Vermeer creates an image that is really poetic. [MUSIC PLAYING]