Young Woman with Water Pitcher
Ever since I read Girl with a Pearl Earring, I’ve been a fan of Johannes (Jan) Vermeer. Vermeer (1632-1675) was a Dutch painter best known for interior scenes and for his use of lighting. He tended to use the same one or two rooms in his own home for his paintings, and many of them show the same backgrounds and floor pattern.
In this painting Vermeer used the natural light coming through the window to illuminate the face of his model. The window was used in several of his paintings, as was the map on the wall and the tablecloth. He was one of the few artists at the time to use the brilliant ultramarine blue of the young woman’s dress. The blue pigment was made from lapis lazuli, a gemstone, which made it very expensive. Vermeer was hardly rich—he did not make many paintings in his short lifetime and had eleven children--but his mother-in-law was quite well to do and probably provided him with some financial support. He may also have received some support from a wealthy patron. Nevertheless, his financial troubles mounted, and upon his early death his wife was left in debt; she attributed his death to financial pressures.
It’s unfortunate that Vermeer’s slow and deliberate style of painting coupled with his brief life span deprived the world of more of his paintings, but we can be grateful for the ones we do have.
As a footnote, one of Vermeer's paintings was stolen in the robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The paintings remain unrecovered.