The pleasure of being there

Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, Delft 1632–1675 Delft)
Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, ca. 1662
Oil on canvas; 18 x 16 in. (45.7 x 40.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889 (89.15.21)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/437881

My favorite painting is “Woman With a Water Jug” by Johannes Vermeer. The painting itself is fairly simple: it portrays a woman in everyday 17th century Dutch costume and surroundings, holding a gold pitcher in one hand and a leaded glass window pane in another. Compositionally, the woman acts as a bridge between the room and the world outside. The painting has been analyzed in depth elsewhere, and such analysis is not my purpose here.

I love this painting not only because of the sheer skill of execution, or the beauty of its composition, or the richness of texture and light, though without these things, the painting would not be the visual and contemplative jewel that it is. I love this painting most because it portrays in the purest form I have ever found, a moment during everyday life (in this case, likely during a woman’s routine morning toilette) when someone stops and notices–not the glass of the window, or its frame, or the light that filters through it, though these things are plainly there and beautifully rendered. This painting portrays a moment of awareness of awareness itself–a moment when a woman pauses to see not only the beauty of what’s around her, but something beyond that–a moment of appreciation, and even insight, into the nature of existence–the texture of the universe. This painting portrays a moment when someone experiences the pleasure of being there. And such is Vermeer’s skill in every detail that the more one studies this painting, both as a whole and detail by detail, the more one is drawn into its intricacies and its calm, serene, and yet, very “present” mood. The more you look, the more you see there is to look at, and the more you experience the pleasure of looking.

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