Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Virtuous Young Woman?

Since the theme of this blog is all things crafty I thought it might be fun, and a little different, to highlight a painting in The Wallace Collection, where I am currently a student, called 'The Lace Maker' in today's post. 'The Lace Maker' was painted in 1662 by Caspar Netscher, who was from the Netherlands and a contemporary of the famous Vermeer.

Netscher's painting depicts a young woman, seated and wearing simple clothes. As viewers we are directed around the painting by Netscher's clever use of light. First we notice the ray of light on the girl's bowed neck which in turn leads us to her shadowy profile, set against a stark white wall. Our gaze follows the sitter's gaze, down to her lap where her hands, emerging from the shadows cast by her red jacket, work skilfully at lace making.

The painting appears to depict a virtuous young woman engaged in a craft that will bring income to her family. However a closer reading of the work points to a deeper level of meaning, characteristic of such 17th Century Dutch genre scenes. Notice how the girl is surrounded by various objects. Each one has been included as a symbol, intended to be considered and thus an understanding of the girl's personality or circumstances drawn.

The mussel shells on the floor are a motif more familiar in brothel scenes. Shellfish were considered aphrodisiacs at this time and so are provokers of lust. The inclusion of the broom resting against the wall could be an indicator of the housework that fills her days but it is also a reminder of the story of The Prodigal Son which was well known at this time. In one episode of the biblical story the whore uses a broom to beat out the prodigal son once the inheritance is spent. Finally the shoes, which have been cast off untidily, remind the viewer of the act of undressing. They are meant as an indicator of the girl's questionable moral compass, which, it seems, isn't exactly pointing north.

Natalie Voorheis