Girl with a Wineglass (1658/1659) by Johannes Vermeer van DelftHerzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, 3Landesmuseen Braunschweig
In an interior setting a young lady is sitting on a chair, holding up a glass of wine as if she wants to drink a toast to us.
A gentleman seems to stimulate her to consume the alcoholic drink.
A second companion is sleeping in the corner at the backside of the room. Should he originally serve as a chaperon for the visit?
The content of the scene seems ambiguous. Vermeer leaves it open, whether the girl will be seduced or whether she is controlling the situation.
The painting shows many similarities to The Glass of Wine in Berlin. The canvasses have identical dimensions, set in the vertical format. It seems that in the Braunschweig version Vermeer changed and improved his earlier composition of the Berlin painting. The young girl is now definitely set in the main focus, pointedly addressing the viewer. The luminous atmosphere of soft daylight is strengthened, Vermeer here works with a very smooth painting surface. The bright coloring concentrates on the prime colors of red, blue and yellow, culminating in the girl’s fashionable dress in vermillion red. Vermeer brilliantly shows the play of light and (colorful) shadows, extensively using the expensive ultramarine blue pigment, even for the underpainting of many parts of his painting.
Red, blue and yellow are the colors of the image in the stained glass window, presenting a woman with a coat of arms. These colors mirror the colors which dominate the entire composition. The same window is portrayed in the painting Glass of Wine in Berlin, also painted by Vermeer.
Vermeer implemented his signature at the bottom right edge of the window pane.
Formerly the motive in the window was interpreted as a personification of Temperantia (modesty), which was traditionally shown in emblem books as woman with a bridle (for example in Gabriel Rollenhagen). Precise observation by Gregor Weber made it clear, that this is not the case: It is just a traditional coat of arms image, as it can be found in many houses of that time. Nevertheless an allusion to Temperantia remains in this image.
At the back of the room, next to the window hangs a portrait in a style of about 1620 / 1630, which might show an ancestor of the young society. It suggests that the young girl stems from an old and important family of wealthy citizens.
The still-life on the table with lemons on a silver plate are signs of a wealthy household. Lemons were used to spice the wine in these times. Sometimes lemons were also interpreted as symbol for modesty or a warning against immoral behavior.
The manner in which the girl holds the glass reminds on an didactic illustration in Gérard de Lairesses Groot Schilderboek (The art of Painting), where different manners to present different drinks in a variety of glasses are demonstrated for painters in order to choose the proper solution for each context.
The girl wears an expensive silk dress. Only ladies of the upper class possessed such dresses, called tabard. They were worn only for special occasions.
With their tight corsage, they were rather uncomfortable to wear which can explain the straight upright position of the girl.
The white delftware jug and napkin are splendid examples about how Vermeer works with color.
His shadows are really colorful, given in ultramarine blue in this case. With this painting technique Vermeer relates to the colored reflections with which we see things in natural light.
Comparing the two laces at the sleeves of the girl’s dress one notices that one is painted with blueish tints...
... whereas the other one shows yellow tints. This refers to the different reflections of colors on identical material.
Vermeer uses little dots of white, blue and yellow as highlights. These dots are really three-dimensional, like little pearls. It may be that he observed these effects while studying things through the Camera Obscura.
The tile floor helps to create an imagination of deep space in this little part of an interior via rules geometric perspective. In reality such floor tiles were more common in the entrance halls of Dutch houses. In living rooms or dining rooms wooden floors were regarded more convenient because they created a comfortable warm ambiance.
This exhibition is part of the Google Vermeer Project.
Text: Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum Braunschweig, Silke Gatenbröcker
© Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum Braunschweig, 2018