The Glass of Wine (around 1661) by Jan Vermeer van DelftGemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Jan Vermeer van Delft, or simply Vermeer, was a Dutch genre painter in the Baroque. Although he achieved only moderate success in his lifetime, today he is renowned for his masterly use and treatment of light in his paintings and is acclaimed as one of the most popular genre painters. His works are characterized by bright colours and pigments, with a particular favouring of cornflower blue and yellow. The settings for his images are mostly domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. It is speculated that he used a camera obscura to achieve precise positioning and this view seems to be supported by certain effects of light and perspective in his paintings, possibly evident in some reflective surfaces. Whether the theory is proven or not, his compositions often have an underlying geometric quality to them.
The seated young woman has lifted her glass and seems to be drinking the last drops of her wine. Elegant and precisely as the etiquette of the time demanded, she holds her glass at the foot, indicating that she is part of society’s upper crust.
Usually, Vermeer painted women in casual wear like for example in the Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace. Here however, the woman wears a lavish red dress with gold brocade. Consisting of a stiffened bodice and a skirt, this sort of dress was only worn on special occasions.
The stained glass window shows a female figure with bridles, a motif that can be identified as a personification of “Temperantia” (moderation). In the context of the scene depicted, Temperantia alludes to the consumption of wine, but also to the dangers of letting oneself get carried away by emotions. Vermeer used the emblem a second time in the Girl with a Wine Glass (Brunswick), in which the man’s advances are much more explicit.
The music sheets and instrument are displayed in a casual yet decorative arrangement. They allude to music making and courtship, but also underline the wealthy and educated background of the couple.
The cavalier is not drinking, but holding the wine jug in his hand, ready to pour more into the girl’s empty glass.
His observant gaze and the confident pose in which he leans onto the table underline his dominant part in the imminent romance. The seduction of a naïve young woman by an older, experienced man was a popular topic in Dutch painting, but Vermeer’s version offers an intriguingly subtle reinterpretation.
Vermeer’s paintings fascinate with their convincing, naturalistic representation. However this is not achieved by minutely rendering every detail of an object. As can be seen in this detail, he rather adds thick dabs in order to capture the flares on the chair, thus creating a particularly lively effect of the sparkling light on the object’s surface.
Together with wooden floors, which offered comfort in cold winters, tiled floors such as this one were common in Dutch houses. Vermeer depicted the ceramic tiles with all their little flaws and scratches. The pattern of the tiles contributes largely to the depth of space of the composition.
The depiction of a painting in a painting is characteristic of Vermeer. Often, these depicted artworks can even be identified. In this case, the painting shows a landscape with trees which evokes the work of Allart van Everdingen although to date no matching existing painting has been found. The sparkling frame accentuates the composition, while landscapes were often used as metaphors for love in literature and music.