“Lick your lips, Griet.” I licked my lips. “Leave your mouth open.” I was so surprised by this request that my mouth remained open of its own will. I blinked back tears. Virtuous women did not open their mouths in paintings.
Girl with a Pearl Earring is Vermeer’s most famous painting. It is not a portrait, but a ‘tronie’ – a painting of an imaginary figure. Tronies depict a certain type or character; in this case a girl in exotic dress, wearing an oriental turban and an improbably large pearl in her ear. Johannes Vermeer was the master of light. This is shown here in the softness of the girl’s face and the glimmers of light on her moist lips. And of course, the shining pearl.
Women in the Garden was painted at Ville d'Avray using his wife Camille as the only model. The goal of this large-scale work, while meticulously composed, was to render the effects of true outdoor light, rather than regard conventions of modeling or drapery. From the flickers of sunlight that pierce the foliage of the trees to delicate shadows and the warm flesh tones that can be seen through her sleeve, Monet details the behavior of natural light in the scene. In January 1867, his friend Bazille purchased the work for the sum of 2,500 francs in order to help Monet out of the extreme debt that forced him to slash over 200 canvases to avoid them being taken by his creditors.
One of Leonardo da Vinci’s female portraits is the Lady with an Ermine which portrays an image of a woman identified to be Cecilia Gallerani who was the mistress of the Duke of Milan. Dated circa 1489 – 1490, this was the time when Leonardo da Vinci was under the service of Lodovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan.
The painting depicts Gallerani holding a weasel in its winter coat which is a portrayal of the sitter’s character as a chaste and wholesome lady. The ermine may also be a pun to Gallerani’s name since the Greek word used for the weasel is “galee”, a name to the family name of Cecilia “Gallerani”. Another meaning for the presence of the ermine may refer to the Duke himself who has a nickname of “Italian Moor, White Ermine” after receiving the insignia of the Order of the Ermine given by the King of Naples.