The Procuress

By Old Masters Picture Gallery, Dresden State Art Museums

The Procuress (1656) by Johannes VermeerOld Masters Picture Gallery, Dresden State Art Museums

Vermeer's early piece, "The Procuress" (dated 1656), was his first genre painting. It shows a procuring scene consisting of four almost-life-sized figures, including a musician, gathered behind a carpet-covered balustrade.

The girl, the suitor embracing her from behind, and the old lady in black form a compositional unit.

The musician wearing a beret, who is looking at the viewer from the left side of the painting, is slightly separated from this scene.

Vermeer was most likely inspired to present a procuring scene on a large scale by paintings of the Dutch Caravaggisti. The theme of "loose society", depicted through light and dark, was typical of this group of artists. Vermeer, however, renounced superficial expression, and his figure scene radiates serenity and tranquility.

Right in the center of the composition, Vermeer depicts the moment of payment: the handover of the coin into the girl's hand. An X-ray image of the painting shows that the coin was already in the girl's hand in an earlier version. Through this later correction, Vermeer anchored the tense moment of the impending transfer of money.

By introducing a tall, carpet-covered balustrade, Vermeer divided the image into two nearly equal parts with corresponding color values.

The contrast of the two darkly shaded figures with the bright yellow, white, and red of the pair on the right (colors that continue across the carpet) creates a vertical dichotomy in this composition.

The figure of the young girl in the bright-yellow jacket and white lace-trimmed headscarf attracts the attention of both the suitor standing behind her and the viewer.

Her lively, sunny, and cheerful face and clothing hardly fit the preconceived image of a prostitute.

The restoration of the painting from 2002–04 brought back to light the original vibrancy of the jacket that was painted in lead-tin yellow and repeatedly altered during the painting process.

The striking figure of the young man wearing a beret in his old-fashioned, dark jacket with slit sleeves holds a cister

—a string instrument similar to a lute—in his right hand...

... while raising a dimpled glass in his left.

He plays the role of a "fictional narrative figure," ever-present in scenes with negative connotations.

Precise in every detail and perfect replicas of the real things, the blue-and-white Westerwald jug and the Roman glass on the small table behind the balustrade are in stark contrast to the poorly formulated, blurred, and flat-looking forms around the girl's left shoulder.

The carpet hanging over the balustrade is a "Medallion Ushak" with a dark-blue background, a red ogival center medallion, and a blue half-medallion on each side. The pattern is typical of carpets made in the first half of the 16th century in workshops in the western Turkish city of Ushak.

Credits: Story

This exhibition is part of the Google Vermeer Project.

Text: Dr. Uta Neidhardt
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
Conservator

Credits: All media
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