Although the paintings of Jan Vermeer continue to be celebrated, very little is known about the painter himself - and even less about the women he painted. Who were they? What were their lives like? What thoughts, dreams, and desires might they yield up if we took the time to truly look at them?
In this elegant volume Marilyn Chandler McEntyre asks these very questions, and she teases out intriguing possibilities in twenty poems arranged side by side with color reproductions of the paintings that inspired them. McEntyre has chosen eighteen of Vermeer's famous women - including The Lacemaker, The Milkmaid, Girl with a Pearl Earring, and The Girl with a Red Hat - to wonder about.
Rich with imagined detail, each of these poems invites the reader to take a closer look at Vermeer's portraits, to celebrate not only Vermeer's artistry but also the significance of the women themselves. McEntyre thoughtfully imagines the personal lives of these women and attempts to capture what Vermeer himself saw in them - a contemplative exercise that illuminates the presence of grace in the ordinary moments of life.
|Publisher:||Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company|
|Product dimensions:||6.59(w) x 7.74(h) x 0.49(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Artists at Work
The craftsman who made the rose window at Chartres
rose one morning in the dead of winter,
shivered into what layers of wool he owned,
and went to his bench to boil molten lead.
This was not the day to cut the glass or dye it,
lift it to the sun to see the colors dance
along the walls, or catch one's breath
at peacock shades of blue: only, today,
to lay hot lead in careful lines, circles,
wiping and trimming, making
a perfect space for light.
When Wren designed St. Paul's, he had to turn away
each day from the vision in his mind's wide eye
to scraps of paper where columns of figures measured
tension and stress, heft and curve, angle and bearing point.
Whole days he spent considering the density
of granite, the weathering of hardwoods,
the thickness of perfect mortar, all
to the greater glory of God.
And Vermeer with his houseful of children
didn't paint some days, didn't even mix
powders or stretch canvasses, or clean palettes,
but hauled in firewood, cleaned out
a flue, repaired a broken cradle, remembering,
as he bent to his task, how light shone gold
on a woman's flesh, and gathered
in drops on her pearls.
Women work, children play, and in the antique quiet
of the little street every sound echoes.
No white noise here, only white
light and human voices.
Children giggle over their game.
Water gurgles in the courtyard fountain.
The low hum of the seamstress lingers
in the mind of a passerby.
She looks to her occupation; she doesn't notice
the vast sky casting its shadowy portents
over the rooftops or the sudden breeze
that shoots a memory of winter up
the very spines of the sunbeams.
Behind the right angles, beyond
the steep roofs that shelter quiet lives
in filtered light, polished pewter and thick rugs,
linens folded and washed and wooden tables,
women who sew and men who write
or draw or paint or drink their evening pint,
Above the one who bends to wring her cleaning rags
in the fountain, the wide sky circles,
curved and turning.
Nothing is straight up there, or single.
The same light that falls through
windowframes warms the bent back,
dances deftly as a painter's brush
on the rusty surface of reassuring brick
and makes a halo of the matron's cap.
Her hands know what to do:
they dance, winding the threads
around their tiny maypoles, tying
each knot with surprising speed under
the deep calm of that broad, honest face,
suspended like a benevolent moon
over this delicate task.
She is not delicate. Body and bosom
are full-fleshed: her heavy ringlets will uncurl
by sundown. Wool and wood, metal hooks
and folds of yellow fabric are rich
with gravity and massthings
solidly of this world.
Yet in this light that pours
from some high window,
passing beneficence of a northern sun,
those solid things seem fragile:
the light will shift; she will lift her head
and stretch and sigh, the quiet
around her rippled like a pond's surface,
and this graced moment gone.
Gathered on what we see,
filtered through lace, gleaming
on hair and polished wood, what we see
is always the light.
There is no flattery here: this thick-muscled,
broad-bottomed girl has milked
cows at dawn and carried sloshing pails
hung from a yoke on shoulders
broadened to the task. She has kneaded fat
mounds of dough, sinking heavy fists deep
into voluptuous bread, innocent
and sensuous as a child in spring mud.
Evenings she mends and patches
the coarse wool of her bodice, smelling
her own sweat, sweet like grass and dung
in the barn or like warm milk
fresh from the udder.
Her world is grained and gritty, deep-textured,
rough-hewn, earth-toned, solid,
simple and crude. Reed and brass and clay,
wheat and flax and plaster turned to human use
have not come far from the loamy fields
where they were mined and gathered. The things
she handles are round and square, tough-fibered
and strong, familiar as flesh to the touch.
The jug rests in her hand like a baby's
bottom. She bends to her task like a mother
tending her child, hand and eye trained
to this work, heart left to its pondering.
How like tenderness, this look
of complete attention, how like a prayer
that blesses these loaves, this milk
(round like this belly, full like this breast),
given daily into her keeping, this handmaid
on whom the light falls,
haloed in white, hallowed by the gaze
that sees her thus, heavy, thick-lipped,
weathered and earthbound, blessed
and full of grace.
Table of Contents
|Artists at Work||15|
|Girl with a Pearl Earring||25|
|Woman in Blue||27|
|Woman Writing a Letter||31|
|Young Woman with a Water Pitcher||35|
|A Girl Asleep||37|
|Portrait of a Young Woman||39|
|Woman with a Lute||43|
|Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid||45|
|Officer and Laughing Girl||47|
|Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window||49|
|Mistress and Maid||53|
|Allegory of Painting||57|
|The Girl with the Red Hat||59|
|Woman with a Pearl Necklace||63|
|Woman Holding a Balance||65|
|Life Drawing: Advanced Beginners||67|
|List of Illustrations||70|