Vermeer, The Glass of Wine

There’s nothing subtle about 17th century
Dutch genre painting. So often, we’re
shown interactions that are wonderfully bawdy
and wonderfully explicit. There is an exception, however. Jan Vermeer’s paintings
often are riddles. They give us suggestions
of narratives. DR. BETH HARRIS: And in
this painting, it’s true. We’re not really sure exactly
what’s about to unfold. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER:
What we’re seeing is a man who is still wearing
his hat and outer cloak. He stands beside a table with
a beautiful carpet on it, and he has his hand
on a jug of wine. He looks like he’s ready to
refill the young woman’s glass. She’s got it up to her
mouth, and she’s just finishing it off. DR. BETH HARRIS:
Well, and he looks impatient to pour
her another glass, as though the goal of
this whole interaction is to get her drunk. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: But
across from her at the window that is ajar, we can
actually see a rendering in the stained
glass of temperance, of moderation, in a sense
an instruction to her to watch her step. And so the painting
is about possibility. It’s about her choice. And the man whose face
is shadowed by his hat is a little bit
sinister in that way. DR. BETH HARRIS: There’s a sense
of distance between the two figures, a sense
that they’re not terribly familiar
with one another. And I almost wonder
whether the wine is going to make that happen. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER:
One of the reasons that the flirtation
doesn’t have an opportunity to be represented is
because he’s in shadow. We can just barely
make out his eyes. And her eyes are completely
obscured by the shine in the beautifully
delicate glass that she holds in
front of her face. She can’t speak now. She’s drinking. And she can’t even
see beyond that glass, or at least we can’t see. And yet that shine
is all about vision, and it’s held right at her eyes. This is an early
Vermeer, but already we can see his fascination
with soft light. Look at the way it
infuses the space, comes through that blue curtain. And the delicacy
that he’s lavished on the tonality of the back
wall and the other forms in this room is
just spectacular. DR. BETH HARRIS: So while
Vermeer is interested in light, we also have that
characteristic geometry in the composition, the square
of the window that’s open, the rectangle of the
frame on the back wall, the square on the
back of the chair, and the squares that move
back and the perspective on the floor. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: There is this
kind of checkerboard pattern that does create a clear,
structured interior. And then we have objects that
are placed askew of that. So you’ve got the line that
the window should trace. But the window is
open so that there’s a diagonal that interrupts it. You’ve got the careful
rectilinear tiles on the floor, but then you’ve got the chair,
again, that’s at an angle and is offset from it. In some ways, this painting is
about the disruption of order. And the way objects are
placed in this space are about the tension that’s
created when things are not aligned. And perhaps that functions
as a kind of metaphor for the interaction
between the two figures. DR. BETH HARRIS: Or a kind
of foreboding about what may happen. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER:
There are ways that the figures are linked. Look at the concentric rings
that fall from the man. You have his collar. Then you’ve got a series of
folds in the drapery that catch the light
and sort of expand as they move down
towards his arm. And that motion is picked
up by the beautiful gold brocade in the woman’s dress
and then the folds on her hip. And so there really is a kind of
harmony between those figures. And in some ways,
this painting is about harmony and disharmony. It’s about alignment
and things being askew. DR. BETH HARRIS: And
that’s also symbolized in the musical instrument, which
is used in Vermeer’s paintings to suggest both
harmony and frivolity. So which way is
this going to go? DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: I’m not sure. I think Vermeer is leaving that
question open for the viewer. DR. BETH HARRIS: By
leaving this question open, Vermeer creates an image
that is really poetic. [MUSIC PLAYING]


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *