Nissrine, a Moroccan girl, reads an application for a Dutch citizenship course. An alternative version of Johannes Vermeer’s painting Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. Photo by Jan Banning.
“Xenophobia, especially Islamophobia, is rising in many European countries…I feel it is necessary to mobilize against such intolerance. My ‘National Identities’ series gives immigrants the main role, using them as models in my photographic variations on classic paintings.”
The painting hanging on the wall to the right in this scene is Dirck van Baburen’s The Procuress (1622), owned by Vermeer’s live-in mother-in-law. Brothel scenes and paintings of youthful prostitutes with their aging madams were produced by a number of Dutch artists including van Baburen (and Vermeer). Here, this scene of vice and immorality hangs behind a (seemingly) innocent and virtuous group of wealthy sitters. However, Vermeer’s inclusion of the painting may hint at something darker and less innocent - indeed, the sensuousness of music made it a potentially problematic hobby for women, and the presence of the unidentified man raises further questions about the virtue and integrity of both the sitters and the domestic space itself (notice the sword at his side, perhaps suggesting that he is the soldier of ill-virtue that appears in many Dutch genre paintings).