HOOCH, Pieter de
(b. 1629, Rotterdam, d. 1684, Amsterdam)

Woman and Maid in a Courtyard

c. 1660
Oil on canvas, 73,7 x 62,6 cm
National Gallery, London

Pieter de Hooch has gone down in art history as a painter who rendered Dutch domestic life with great precision. The private everyday life of the bourgeoisie in all its ordered tranquility, a world whose calm is never shattered by any sensational event, is the subject of his works. De Hooch opens a window on narrow alleyways, small gardens and courtyards, and gives us a glimpse into the antechambers and living-rooms of the Dutch citizens. Like Jan Vermeer, de Hooch specialized in the portrayal of interiors.

Yet, whereas the paintings of Vermeer tend to be dominated by a self-absorbed figure pausing momentarily in some activity, de Hooch's paintings are dominated by the room itself, by its perspectives and views through doors and windows where people become an integral part of the interior. Light is an important factor, especially daylight, as in the work of Vermeer, with its refractions and reflections adding vitality to the rooms. Whereas people and animals interpose in their activities, light itself becomes the active element, permeating and moving over walls, floors and tiles, illuminating objects or casting them in shadow.

Like Vermeer, de Hooch also draws upon religious paintings, translating them into scenes of everyday life. His painting of the housewife and her maid cleaning fish in a neat backyard, for example, recalls the topos of the Virgin Mary in the hortus conclusus. Rooms flooded with light take on aspects of the Annunciation or recall Jan van Eyck's Madonna in a Church Interior, lit by stained glass windows.