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A Girl Asleep
1657,  87x76 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum

 


Here, for the first time, we see the light, mood, complex composition, and the symbolism characteristic of mature Vermeer. The girl is well-dressed, perhaps the lady of the house, and we are separated from her by a table and chair. There is a white pitcher, and in front of the girl is an almost invisible wine-glass: presumably she is sleeping off the wine.

When the painting was sold in 1696, it was entitled Een dronke slafende Meyd aen een Tafel, [A drunken sleeping maid at a table], then in 1737 it was sold again, but as Een slapent Vrouwtje [A sleeping young woman].

The table is covered in a rich oriental carpet, with a bowl of fruit, symbolic of the Fall of Eve, and a partially wrapped egg, implying unbridled lust. Broken eggs on the floor are a common symbol in the work of another 17th century Dutch artist, Jan Steen. Above the girl is a dimly lit picture with a masked face visible-- it is thought to depict deception and sincerity in love. X-rays reveal that a man framed in the doorway has been painted over.

There is a strong contrast between the rumpled look of the foreground and the spare ordiliness of the back room, implying that the lady of the house is not doing her duties. Presumably her disappointment in her extra-marital affair made her hit the sauce and ignore her wifely duties.


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