VERMEER, Johannes
(b. 1632, Delft, d. 1675, Delft)

Portrait of a Young Woman

Oil on canvas, 44,5 x 40 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Signature: Not signed.

Provenance:The catalog of the 1696 sale in Amsterdam enumerates three different tronies (one described as in antique dress) that may or may not be identical with this painting. Neither this young woman, nor the Girl with a Pearl Earring in the Mauritshuis, wears antique costume. People in the seventeenth century were sufficiently aware of Easterners, such as Turks, so as not to have mistaken a turban for an antique dress. The adducing of the Rotterdam sale, 1816, by Blankert, seems more probable. Certitude starts only with the painting's presence in the collection of Prince Auguste d'Arenberg, Brussels, 1829. Hidden during World War I (the d'Arenbergs owned vast estates in Belgium but had always retained their German citizenship. Hence, all their belongings there were seized after 1918 as "enemy property" and sold. The Vermeer escaped this fate), it was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. Wrightsman, of Palm Beach, Florida, and Houston, Texas, in 1955. It was presented by them to the museum in 1979.

This painting, as opposed to the Girl with a Pearl Earring, is very well preserved and permits us to judge Vermeer's approach, both technical and conceptual, in all its brilliance. Though more discreet, there is another pearl earring in this picture. The composition is also related to the other painting. Once again, we see this woman from the side, looking over her shoulder, though her face is turned further towards us. Her black hair is combed back severely from her forehead, and is plaited together with her (bridal?) veil. An additional variant is the position of her left arm, which is bent up against a parapet. Vermeer is following a style of portrait which was introduced by Titian's Ariosto. We certainly do not have here a portrait, but again, as in the Girl with a Pearl Earring, a generalized type that communicates with the spiritual world almost as if in a trance. This part of the painting is delicately executed, while the light-blue robe or loose cloak that the young person is wearing has been more broadly and crisply treated.

Interestingly, this painting was certainly the prototype that inspired the Girl with a Red Hat in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (According to some critics this painting is not by Vermeer but a later pasticcio.)

This painting of Vermeer does not enjoy as much favour as the "Gioconda of the North," although it is, in many respects, a much better picture.