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Vermeer, Young Woman with a Water Pitcher

Video transcript

in Metropolitan Museum of Art and we're looking at a young woman with a water pitcher that dates to about 1660 to by Johannes Vermeer it's one of the real treasures in New York the lovely small painting so typical of art in Holland in the 17th century small images domestic scenes - lives landscapes family scenes genre painting images that reflected the middle-class culture ah distant culture I'm a 17th century Republic of Holland 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 yes but also a very deeply religious culture it's interesting because if this is a Protestant culture and of course the Roman Catholic Church it for so long in the West been one of the primary patrons of an artist when the church is no longer a primary patron artist you have to look for different and to different kinds of subject matter artists have to find another way to make a living yeah that's right and so you have here an image that really reflects a kind of idealized domestic life and would have been commissioned or purchased by wealthy businessmen and although we're in the 1600s the period of baroque in Italy and Spain and fans this is a kind of baroque that's very different in Holland because of the Protestant culture there it is different and when I think of baroque in Holland I usually think at the first half of the 17th century 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 and of the fleeting I think that is very very different is it a very poetic moment we're 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 in ramier is always a reminder of the beauty of what's around us every day you know it's not Christ on the cross it's not something monumental and heavenly but in a way the presence of the divine and the everyday which speaks to us in a very modern way it is absolutely poetic you see this woman against a white background but there's no white in that wall no behind her man it's a whole prism of colors that's filtered through that leaded glass you have his warm whites of the wall against those cruel sharp blue whites of the linen headdress that she wear and the way that she is very characteristically for Vermeer locked into that space by the rectangle of the window of the map and the rectangles the table and the chair behind her there's a sense of a very controlled composition same time as something very spontaneous and something very caught a caught moment in time and so even as he's portraying this this really beautiful delicate kind of representation um we also have a lot of evidence of what was valued in the 17th century in Holland we do you know 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 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 surface is the basin in the box even the brass nails and the chair behind I mean it's like you know it makes us see things that in our everyday vision we don't see and we don't pay attention to and I have the sense that the woman who's 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 is awareness of her place in the world in her place in space Vermeer is brilliant I think in creating that kind of love and sensuality of space and time and langer it's just so gloriously beautiful