Let Us Return to Delft, follow Johannes Vermeer, in the wonders he wishes to share with us, in how to better see simple beauty, introspectively, with his artistic brilliance, guided by Margaret Carrigan’s educated eye. As I left you we explored with the firsts five in this artnet ‘Top Ten’, so, here is the number 6, back in Delft, Holland, Little Street (1657–61). The Little Street‘ depiction, sets us off to the ‘goings-on’ of a Delft alleyway. This may appear decidedly prosaic at first glance. Yet, besides the –“Google Maps” Delft City Life Detailing, it allows us to ‘Zoom In’ on, and capture the spirit, Anthony Bailey, describes in his book on Vermeer, where he states : “Time, halted for this instant, and therefore in a sense, for eternity”. He is right, it truly seems to be, the essence of his subject.
With painting number 7. Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (1662–65), as Wheelock points out: “Light comes from two sources, creating both primary and softly diffused secondary shadows on the wall, next to the chair behind the table. With his awareness light’s optical qualities, Vermeer manipulates the flow of light quite arbitrarily, for compositional reasons. This fills us with the pathos he so much wished conveyed by his Woman in Blue Reading a Letter narrative. We feel her riveted to her reading, standing by the map, which hanging on the wall behind her seem to suggests the words she reads, written by a distant lover, for whom she pines, or grieves. It is a wonderfully suggestive way to open this still image to a larger “animated” narrative. Our journey continues with 8. Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665). Girl with a Pearl Earring is one of Vermeer’s most iconic paintings—and one of the most famous paintings in the entire world. Look, it’s an astounding painting. It’s just not Vermeer’s best, yet it even feels as if, having barely left Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, we know this work; we feel its meaning. Would it be that she awaits the one who announced himself by letter? …Indeed, while quite a romance has been built up around the mysterious young woman at its center, Girl with a Pearl Earring was part of a now-forgotten genre called “tronie”—that is, an image not meant as a portrait, but simply to illustrate a stock type. The casual, over-the-shoulder look of the model that gives the work so much personality is actually a standard pose used by Dutch painters to convey three-dimensional depth, which here seems to be an apparatus of Time that measures itself from [and through] expectation.
9. The Procuress (1656) takes us back; another reality ruptures the dialogue, which enraptured this far. The Procuress, depicting a scene of so-called “mercenary love,” otherwise known as sex work, which makes this Vermeer’s work one of his bawdiest painting. In fact, this scene of solicitation is so outside the norm for Vermeer that many doubted he actually painted it, even though scholars suspected the musician on the far left is a possible self-portrait. And so, here comes an end to our Vermeer Top-Ten. A contemplative journey with the one who, so secretive, was once suggested the “Sphinx of Delft”. His tenth best work, could almost be sensed as an instrospective look inside a woman’s life, now retired from the passionate intrigues of her youth. 10. The Lacemaker (1669–70), depicts a woman in deep concentration, bent over her craftwork with bobbins and pins in hand, The Lacemaker is a an oddity in Vermeer’s oeuvre. It is his smallest work, measuring a diminutive nine by eight inches, and only one of two paintings he ever made on wood panel (the other is Girl with a Red Hat). It is, of course, lovely. But what puts it at the bottom of the artnet suggested ranking, is the very odd lighting, unusual for an artist known for command of luminescence. The fact that The Lacemaker light organizes itself in conflicting ways, both on the level of its rendering in paint and on the level of perception” seems to justify even more that this is not just the end of today’s Vermeer review, but also that of a “Narrative”, where, about five years prior to his death, the painter’ is ‘dimming the lights’. Even the size of the work, seems to shape itself into more than a period, an “end point”.
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).
A skim through Liza Picard’s book on London circa. 1740-1770. RE: middle/upper class men. RE: RE: Their sex habits:
• Samuel Johnson was accosted by a “woman of the town” on the Strand (so many men at this time get accosted by a pretty sex worker on the Strand and I think they must have KNOWN that it was often where prostitutes went to curb-crawl but they still insist on complaining) one night, in what he calls the usual enticing manner. He didn’t fancy her, though, so he said “No, no, my girl. It will not do” which, of course, is exactly the way one should reject sex.
• Bagnios and brothels: there is, apparently, a difference. A brothel was a brothel, usually fairly low-class but still popular amongst all classes of gentlemen because the girls were merry, fun, and pretty, albeit lacking in refinement. A bagnio was a brothel but it also doubled as Turkish swimming baths and as a posh café/restaurant. So you could have a wash, massages, shag and a nice meal all in one. The women at bagnios for the most part tended to be higher class courtesans. The most famous bagnio in London at this time was called The Turk’s Head in Chancery Lane. Most men weren’t choosy but one man, M. Grosley, wrote that he was not in the mood to visit “warehouses” (a simple brothel) and would always choose bagnios.
• Harris’ Guide to Covent Garden Ladies. The prostitution manual of the day, a guide to London’s sex workers and their various talents. Apparently, you could purchase it in ANY bookshop for around 2 shillings and sixpence.
• Casanova on London’s Bagnios: “I visited the bagnios where a rich man can sup, bathe and sleep with a fashionable courtesan, of which there are many in London. It makes a magnificent debauch and costs only six guineas. We went to see the well known procuress, Mrs. Wells, and saw the celebrated courtesan, Kitty Fisher, who was waiting for the Duke of —- to take her to a ball. She had on diamonds worth 5,000 francs! She had eaten a banknote worth 1000 guineas on a slice of bread and button that very day (or so she said)” (Harlots fans, don’t you think it’s now doubly plausible that Casanova could be in Season 2, since it’s set in the years he visited London and he met a procuress called Mrs. Wells?)
• Even though there are fashionable courtesans abound in London that contemporaries comment on observing, one can also see the negative effect that sex work has on women. A Scotsman named Smollett wrote that he had seen naked wretches in rags and filth, huddled together in a dark alley, probably suffering from some kind of venereal disease that had brought them low and had them kicked out of their respective brothels. He said that he knew for a fact that many of them, only months before, had been amongst the fashionable set of society.
• Women prisoners or women living in houses of correction (like the Bridewell) often had to or were forced to prostitute themselves to their prison guards, who often said that these women were their very own seraglio. Men off the street could visit too and have a woman for a small fee. Thank goodness Elizabeth Fry came along a few decades later to reform women’s prisons.
• One of the places one could go if one was looking for mollyhouses AKA brothels for gay men, was Devereux Court in the Temple; apparently, it was a popular haunt.
• Contemporaries write of an occurrence when the parish constables came to search the disorderly houses (brothels) of Covent Garden earlier than expected so the ladies were still in the middle of dressing. They managed to talk their way out of any punishment because the parish constables were too impressed by their breasts to do anything.
• “Fanny Hill” by John Cleland was the most famous pornographic work of its day but it was banned by authorities mainly because Fanny never actually repents of her sins. This didn’t mean it wasn’t read and hankered after however. Apparently, the young Duke of Wellington managed to pack NINE WHOLE COPIES OF it when he went to India.
• Men often had a hard time forming coherent sentences around women, or so they said, because female stays could be pulled down to reveal as much of the bosom as possible; which was quite a lot as they often pulled them right down to just above their nipples. “A state of deshabille” said M. Grosley.
• Contraception: we know that condoms were around but what about the age of “contraception” of coitus interruptus? Georgian men described it thusly: ‘to make a coffee-house of a woman’s privities; to go in and out and spend nothing.“ Charming, as per.
• Men liked to show off their pretty mistresses as much as possible as well as take them on 18th century date nights and where else to do just that than in the various bourgeoisie amusements around London? You could take your girl to the boxing, to do some gambling, to go swimming, to the theatre, to watch a cockfight, to a pleasure garden, for a carriage ride around the park, or if you were feeling really, really generous…..a trip to the lottery office.
• AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: there was a huge barge on the Thames called The Folly that marketed itself as a restaurant and place with the best view of the city. But the second floor apartments doubled as a brothel. Apparently, lecherous Mr. James Boswell never quite got far enough down Westminster Bridge (too many pretty girls) to find out about it.
I found myself incredibly intrigued by the notion of an adult Faith coming back into Claire and Jamie’s life around the time of Voyager.
Here is Part One. Very nervous to post this given how much great Outlander fanfiction there is out there, but I hope you enjoy!
Note: this story takes place in an AU where an adult Faith comes back into Jamie and Claire’s lives around the time of Voyager. General spoiler alerts for Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, The Space Between, and more.
The Procuress (1625). Gerrit van Honthorst (Dutch, 1590-1656). Oil on panel. Centraal Museum.
The procuress happily regards the smart young man, a possible customer who holds his purse in his left hand. With his other hand he gestures towards the girl’s lute, while the girl, too, her décolletage roguishly displayed in the candlelight, points towards her instrument. Under an elegant veil, the painting illustrates - and by implication condemns - illicit love.