Johannes Vermeer | Officer and Laughing Girl /Il Soldato con ragazza sorridente, ca. 1657

Officer and Laughing Girl, also known as Officer and a Laughing Girl, Officer With a Laughing Girl or De Soldaat en het Lachende Meisje, was painted by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer between 1655 and 1660. It was painted in oil on canvas, typical of most Dutch artists of the time, and is 50.5 by 46 cm. It now resides in The Frick Collection in New York.
Officer and Laughing Girl includes many of the characteristics of Vermeer's style. The main subject is a woman in a yellow dress, light is coming from the left hand side of the painting from an open window, and there is a large map on the wall. Each of these elements occur in some of his other paintings, although this painting differs slightly with the man also sitting at the table. Art historians, who have suggested conflicting interpretations of the work, believe that a painting by Gerard van Honthorst inspired the composition, and that Vermeer used a camera obscura to create the perspective in this painting.

  • Subject and interpretation
The main subject is the woman, and soft, direct light falls on her face. She resembles Vermeer's wife, Catharina Bolnes, who is believed to have posed for many of his paintings. With x-ray photographs, art historians can see that Vermeer had planned to paint the woman with a large white collar which would have hid much of her yellow dress. Also, her cap was later extended to cover all of her hair, in order to draw attention to her face and expression. This yellow bodice with braiding has appeared in many of Vermeer's other portraits. It is called a schort and was usually worn as an everyday, common dress. The woman is also wearing a blue apron over her dress, but it is hidden in the shadows caused by the table. Blue aprons were common attire at that time because they hid stains well. Art historians have interpreted this to mean that the soldier surprised the girl with an impromptu visit during her morning chores. The woman is holding a wine glass, usually used for white wine. Because at that time, wine cost more than beer, it illustrates her wealth.
The man in the painting is a cavalier wearing a red coat and an expensive hat, showing his wealth and rank. His hat is wide- brimmed and made of beaver pelt, which was weather resistant and good for snowy and rainy conditions. The pelts for these hats were imported from the New World. This hat was probably from New Netherlands, which was then under the Dutch West India Company's control. The red in his uniform is associated with power and passion, bringing a passionate and emotional mood to the painting. His rank as an officer is identified by the black sash he wears. However, his presence in the immediate foreground is what the viewers notice first. His striking presence adds drama and mystery to the mood of the composition. This artistic device-in which an object is placed in the foreground to increase the depth of field of the overall painting-is called repoussoir. Caravaggio often used this technique and Vermeer probably learned it from a Caravaggist's painting.
The meaning of the interaction between the woman and the soldier is unknown. Many art historians believe that it only portrays a woman being innocently and honorably courted by this soldier. However, some have argued that her open hand and smile could be asking for payment before coitus.
"The Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer of Delft (1632-1675) holds a position of great honor among map historians. Several of his painting illustrate maps hanging on walls or globes standing on tables or cabinets. Vermeer painted these cartographical documents with such detail that it is often possible to identify the actual maps. Evidently, Vermeer was particularly attached to a Willem Blaeu - Balthasar Florisz van Berckenrode map of Holland and West Friesland, as he represented it as a wall decoration in three of his paintings... Though no longer extant, the map's existence is known from archival sources and second edition published by Willem Blaeu in 1621, titled "Nova et Accurata Totius Hollandiae Westfriesiaeq. Topographia, Descriptore Balthazaro Florentio a Berke[n]rode Batavo". Vermeer must have had a copy at his disposal (or the earlier one published by Van Berckenrode). Around 1658 he showed it as a wall decoration in his painting "Officer and Laughing Girl", which depicts a soldier in a large hat sitting with his back to viewer, talking with a smiling girl who holds a glass in her hand. Bright sunlight bathes the girl and the large map on the wall. Vermeer's gift for realism is evidenced by the fact that the wall map, mounted on linen and wooden rods, is identifiable as Blaeu's 1621 map of Holland and West Friesland. He captures all of its characteristic design, decoration, and geographic content".
  • The window
The window and lighting is characteristic of Vermeer's interior paintings, most likely because it is modeled after the room he painted in. This window is extremely similar to the window in the Girl Reading a Letter and Open Window and the Milkmaid. The glass in the window has many variations of color, showing Vermeer's precision in the details of this painting. Only bright light comes in from the window and no outside scene can be observed, as Vermeer never allows the viewer to see the outside world.
  • Camera obscura
Art historians believe that Vermeer used a device called a camera obscura to help him create the perspective in his painting. Instead of using a mathematical formula or a vanishing point, Vermeer probably used this mechanical device to show him what the relative size of the people should be. A camera obscura is similar to a camera as it projects and image seen through the aperture into a dark chamber. There is no historical evidence that Vermeer used such a device but the way he portrays perspective in many of his paintings, including Officer and Laughing Girl, suggests that he did.

"Il Soldato con ragazza sorridente" è un dipinto a olio su tela (50,5x46 cm) di Johannes Vermeer, databile al 1658 circa e conservato nella Frick Collection di New York.
  • Storia
Forse si tratta del "soldato con una ragazza che ride, molto bello, del suddetto [Vermeer]" che compare al numero 11 del catalogo dell'asta Dissius, tenutasi ad Amsterdam il 16 maggio 1696, e che fu venduto per 44,10 fiorini. Probabilmente proveniva dalla collezione di Pieter van Ruijven, supposto mecenate di Vermeer che ne acquistò 20 quadri. Forse il Soldato con ragazza sorridente è da mettere in relazione con il prestito di 200 fiorini che l'uomo fece al pittore nel 1657, fatto poi rivalere come pagamento anticipato per alcuni dipinti eseguiti per lui negli anni seguenti.
Il dipinto compare documentato per la prima volta a un'asta londinese del 1861 con attribuzione a Pieter de Hooch (autore di vari quadri con soldati), che mantenne anche nelle aste parigine del 1866 e del 1881. Fu ricondotto a Vermeer solo più tardi. Nella collezione newyorkese entrò nel 1911.
  • Descrizione e stile
Si tratta di una scena galante ambientata in un ambiente domestico, dominato dalla luce che entra da una finestra in tralice sulla sinistra e illumina una ragazza sorridente in secoindo piano, mentre lascia in ombra, in primo piano, un uomo di spalle di tre quarti, rivolto alla donna. Essa è abbigliata con una cuffia bianca e un vestito da ricca borghese con un busto in seta gialla con inserti più scuri e un'ampia scollatura colmata dalla camicia bianca sottostante. Tiene inoltre tra le mani una brocca di vino. L'umo invece indossa un grande cappello a tesa larga, un cappotto militare rosso con una cinghia trasversale e ampi polsini a sbuffo.
Il taglio prospettico è lo stesso della Ragazza che legge una lettera davanti alla finestra, che poi si ritroverà in alcune delle opere più tipiche dell'artista. La finestra è pressoché identica, così come la parete intonacata di bianco, su cui però, in questo caso, è appesa una carta geografica dell'Olanda e della Frisia Occidentale, da una pubblicazione di Willem Blaeu (che compare con piccole variazioni in altri cinque dipinti riferibili all'artista). La stessa ragazza sembra la medesima modella del dipinto richiamato, perfino nella foggia dell'abito. Rispetto a tale opera però il Soldato con ragazza sorridente presenta una composizione più articolata ed evoluta, facendo pensare a una esecuzione leggermente posteriore. La posa dell'uomo, col gomito alzato e puntato verso lo spettatore, e lo scalare dei piani con diverse illuminazioni, amplificano infatti la profondità della scena, ed è probabile che l'artista per realizzare la scena si sia avvalso di strumenti ottici, come un telescopio ribaltato, che spiegherebbe la sproporzione grandangolare tra i due piani principali della scena. | Wikipedia

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