Vermeer is the poet of domestic life in 17th-century Delft.
There are signs of wealth—the gold-plated pitcher...
... the jewelry box with a string of pearls
the Persian carpet on the table—
but it is the quietness of the moment that he seems to miraculously capture.
And yet in terms of design what do we have here? It's a kind of triangle or cone in the middle of three rectangles: the window, the table, the map on the back wall. So there's certainly a balanced geometry to the picture. The colors are mostly restricted to the primaries: red, blue, yellow.
So in terms of design, color, and light there is this sense of balance and tranquility, and that really suits the subject, which is the peace, tranquility, well-being of a domestic scene, during the decade that was the most prosperous in the Netherlands in its entire history.
And, of course, Vermeer's famously interested in light. You might look at the forearm raised to the window; it's nothing but a flat, blurry shadow with a flare of light coming from behind it.
Such effects must have been introduced at a late stage of execution, for Vermeer may have worked on a picture off and on for some three months, adjusting the composition and often deleting motifs.
That's the poetry of Vermeer: he edits out the obvious and leaves you with something of the psychology. A man would look at this picture and see a woman that he'd like to approach, but there's something about the vision. It's as if it's in a dream. It's kept at a distance. Everything is in the middle ground. He can't really approach her through the table. It's like a daydream to the presumed male viewer of the picture.
Young Woman with a Water Pitcher by Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, Delft 1632–1675 Delft)The Metropolitan Museum of Art
This exhibition is part of the Google Vermeer Project.