The Lacemaker (1669) by Johannes VermeerOriginal Source: Agence photographique de la Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais
A young woman works at her lacemaking table in deepest concentration. She is completely absorbed in her craft and is unaware of the viewer watching her work.
The lacemaker is surrounded by the equipment and materials required for bobbin lacemaking, such as the sewing cushion and bobbins.
The young woman gazes down at the threads of her lacework.
A soft light falls on the side of her face, her yellow jacket and her worktable.
The woman appears to be quite well-to-do, indicated by her clothing and fashionable hairstyle. Vermeer modelled her image by positioning light and dark sections of colour next to each other.
The table at which the woman is working was intended specifically for bobbin lacemaking. The height of the table was adjustable and the tabletop could be inclined to create the desired working area.
The woman’s hands rest on a flat, pale blue bobbin lacemaking cushion, upon which lays a salmon-coloured ‘lace paper’. Pins were pricked into this parchment template, which served as a framework to help create the lace pattern.
Vermeer must have studied the woman’s hands closely while she worked before he started painting. He ensured that each finger appears to play a role controlling the threads.
In her left hand, the woman holds two bobbins between her thumb, index finger and middle finger, tightening the two threads.
She rests on her wrists and the sides of her palms for extra stability. The most refined detail can be seen in the little finger on her left hand, which is raised slightly to regulate the tension on the threads.
A small book is depicted in the foreground, which can be tied shut with the two blue ribbons.
The image of a woman making lace is traditionally associated with the notion of domestic virtue, so this book may be a small bible or prayer book. However, it may also be a book containing patterns, inspiring the design for the lacework.
A dark blue tasselled sewing cushion lays next to the book. Cushions like these had a wooden frame with hinges, and were upholstered with down and fabric. They were used to store bobbins and other sewing supplies
A blurry rug
The rug on the table is depicted in several of Vermeer’s works. For example, similar rugs feature in Girl with a Red Hat and The Astronomer. The motif on the rug is usually blurred.
Here, Vermeer once again depicts the rug and the threads flowing out of the cushion out of focus.
This directs the viewer’s eye towards the woman’s industrious hands and the bobbins, which are clearly defined.
The painting features an example of lacework: the woman’s yellow jacket has a delicate lace collar.
Vermeer allowed the collar to rise up slightly from her shoulder, so we not only glimpse the yellow jacket through the lace, but also the wall. This further emphasised the translucency of the lace and its gossamer-thin structure.
The remains of Vermeer’s signature are visible on the wall behind the woman. At a certain point, the paint of this work has been transferred from canvas to panel, and part of the signature was lost in the process. However, the pattern of the canvas is still evident in the paint.
This exhibition is part of the Google Vermeer Project.