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Europe 1300 - 1800

Unit 9: Lesson 4

Dutch Republic

Vermeer, Young Woman with a Water Pitcher

Johannes Vermeer, Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, oil on canvas, c. 1662 (Metropolitan Museum of Art) Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker, Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • blobby green style avatar for user joe casey
    . "The Protestant culture": is there a connection between this culture, and the light and cleanliness of this Vermeer painting? Everything looks remarkable well kept and cared for. Everything is harmonized (especially the blues). : yes, there is love of the domestic, but what strikes me at least as much is the love of order. Did Vermeer ever paint a scene of external nature?
    (9 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Margreet de Brie
      The order and cleanliness is a reflection of Dutch culture in general that already existed before the Dutch Republic. When Crown Prince Philip of Spain (the later King Philip II) made a tour through the Low Countries in 1549, one of the noblemen in his entourage was so impressed with the meticulous cleanliness of Dutch homes that he wrote about it.

      Vermeer of Delft didn´t paint any landscapes. That would have violated the ´hierarchy of genres´ that was still very much adhered to in those days. According the art theorist and painter Samuel van Hoogstraten, landscape painters were ´the common footmen in the Army of Art´. Vermeer already struggled to make a living, so he wouldn´t have endangered his reputation as a genre and history painter by painting something as ´common´ as a landscape. There was another Vermeer (Jan Vermeer of Haarlem) who did paint landscapes.
      (9 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user lmcmullin
    In my art history class, my teacher talked about how this image was a time capsule in a way... from the clothes the lady is wearing, to the map in the background. Is there anything to that?
    (2 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Mika
      This painting represents the time it was written in. The clothes the lady is wearing were commonly worn by many women during the 17th century. For example, the linen scarves on top of the woman's head were normally worn during her morning Toilette. The map shows worldliness which was very common in middle class families of the 17th century.
      (2 votes)
  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Icekit
    I wonder why but what about all the other paintings Vermeer made
    (2 votes)
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  • leafers seedling style avatar for user writersurprise
    I often wonder why other cultures did not pick up on cleanliness, considering how the Dutch do.The neighbors I mean. Disease was an everyday problem.
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf red style avatar for user landrykai35
    What is this painting supposed to represent?
    (2 votes)
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  • old spice man green style avatar for user CielAllen08
    Who is the woman in this beautiful painting by Vermeer?Usually artists don't just draw a picture of a random person they usually know them.
    (2 votes)
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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
    What is the map in the background of?
    (1 vote)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Isaiah
    What is the woman in the picture doing?
    (2 votes)
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    • leaf blue style avatar for user Ellen B Cutler
      Isn't it just as interesting--more interesting?--to think about this as a moment of stillness rather than a narrative of doing? her hand holds the window frame just open, breaking the separation between inside and outside, of sunlight and reflected light. She simultaneously grasps the ewer but there is no explicit connection between the ewer and the window. There is something about the connection of light and water that touches me, something ritualized but also transcendent that speaks to the nature of physical and spiritual life.
      (4 votes)
  • winston default style avatar for user anon     Ç
    qué No entiendo I don't understand
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

STEVEN ZUCKER: We're in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And we're looking at "Young Woman With a Water Pitcher" that dates to about 1662, by Johannes Vermeer. It's one of the real treasures in New York. BETH HARRIS: It's a lovely, small painting, so typical of art in Holland in the 17th century-- small images, domestic scenes, still lifes, landscapes, family scenes, genre painting, images that reflected the middle-class culture of-- STEVEN ZUCKER: The new Protestant culture, right? BETH HARRIS: Of the 17th century republic of Holland. STEVEN ZUCKER: Where there was a middle class, or what we would recognize as a middle class, and where possessions were important expressions of one's place in society. BETH HARRIS: Yes, but also a very deeply religious culture. STEVEN ZUCKER: It's interesting, because if this is a Protestant culture, and of course, the Roman Catholic Church had for so long in the West been one of the primary patrons of an artist. When the Church is no longer a primary patron, artists do have to look for different and to different kinds of subject matter. BETH HARRIS: Artists have to find another way to make a living, right? STEVEN ZUCKER: That's right. And so you have here an image that really reflects a kind of idealized domestic life. BETH HARRIS: And it would've been commissioned or purchased by wealthy businessmen. And although we're in the 1600s, the period of Baroque in Italy and Spain and France, this is a kind of Baroque that's very different in Holland, because of the Protestant culture there. STEVEN ZUCKER: It is different. And when I think of Baroque in Holland, I usually think of the first half of the 17th century. And I think of the work of Rembrandt. And this is so different. Here there's a kind of delicacy, and a kind of awareness of light, and of the fleeting, I think, that is very, very different. BETH HARRIS: This is a very poetic moment, where the simple act of opening a window, holding a water pitcher, maybe looking to water some flowers that are out the window, takes on a timeless quality. You can feel the love of the domestic here, the love of small rituals, the love of the everyday. To me, in a way, a Vermeer is always a reminder of the beauty of what's around us every day. It's not Christ on the cross. It's not something monumental and heavenly, but in a way the presence of the divine in the everyday, which speaks to us in a very modern way. STEVEN ZUCKER: It is absolutely poetic. You see this woman against a white background. But there's no white in that wall behind her. BETH HARRIS: No, that's true. STEVEN ZUCKER: It's a whole prism of colors that's filtered through that leaded glass. You have those warm whites of the wall against those cruel, sharp, blue whites of the linen headdress that she wears. BETH HARRIS: And the way that she's very characteristically for Vermeer locked into that space by the rectangle of the window-- STEVEN ZUCKER: Of the map. BETH HARRIS: And the rectangle of the table and the chair behind her. There's a sense of a very controlled composition. At the same time, it's something very spontaneous, and something very caught-- a caught moment in time. STEVEN ZUCKER: And so even as he's portraying this really beautiful, delicate representation, we also have a lot of evidence of what was valued in the 17th century in Holland. BETH HARRIS: We do. STEVEN ZUCKER: You've got, as a tablecloth, this heavy carpet, which would have been a very expensive item of luxury. You've got the brass. And I'm especially taken, I have to tell you, with the ellipse of that basin, which just is so extraordinarily convincing, almost more than if I had seen that thing in person. BETH HARRIS: Yeah. Well, I think that's the thing. In a way, it becomes more real in Vermeer. It's so carefully observed, every little millimeter of the way that the light plays on the reflective surfaces of the basin and the box-- even the brass nails in the chair behind. It makes us see things that in our everyday vision we don't see and we don't pay attention to. STEVEN ZUCKER: And I have the sense that the woman who is portrayed in this image is, in fact, as visually attentive as we are, in a sense modeling for us, the audience. This kind of visual attentiveness, this awareness of her place in the world, her place in space. Vermeer is brilliant, I think, in creating that kind of love and sensuality of space and time and light. BETH HARRIS: And color. STEVEN ZUCKER: It's just so gloriously beautiful.