Vermeer’s Girl Sleep

Girl Sleeping (circa 1656-16570 -  Johannes Vermeer

Girl Sleeping (circa 1656-16570 –
Johannes Vermeer

Each Vermeer I see becomes my favourite Vermeer, Girl Sleeping is no exception to this rule. In Hinges: Meditations on the Portals of the Imagination, Grace Dane Mazur writes:

Her eyes are closed, but despite the title, I do not think that she is sleeping. She ignores the platter of fruit and the carafe of liquid in front of her as she relaxes, forming a diagonal, her slightly bowed head propped up by her right hand. Her left hand rests on the carpeted table. The chair beside her is empty, the absence of another freeing her to explore within. On the wall hangs a painting but it is hard to see what it depicts, though it is thought to contain Cupid, whose leg can just be seen along with a mask, Behind the girl, an open-door leads to the room beyond. This is more illuminated, with a drop-leaf table, another painting or a mirror, and what looks like a window because of its heavy wooden frame. It is as though as we gaze on her, in her reverie, we are allowed only hints of what she is imagining, ion that room beyond consciousness. She is too pensive to be sleeping. The mood of utter quiet-despite the intricate texture and colour of the carpet she touches-shows that she is daydreaming, imagining. For her, that chair in front of her is no longer empty, but filled with the presence of the someone we cannot yet see, for she is still writing him into existence. That this occurs in an ordinary room surrounded by ordinary things, chairs and tables and food and drink, indicates that incubation can happen anywhere that one can achieve the necessary stillness.

I prefer Mazur’s reading of Vermeer’s painting to the more customary interpretation that the carafe suggests an image of drunken lethargy. When sold in 1737 the painting’s title was A drunken girl asleep at a table. Most scholars identify this particular model as Vermeer’s wife.

Incidentally I am unlikely to write directly about Grace Dane Mazur’s Hinges. I read to discover books precisely like this. It is unspeakably beautiful.

2 thoughts on “Vermeer’s Girl Sleep

  1. Thank you so much for the Vermeer and for introducing me to Mazur. I agree with Mazur in that the girl doesn’t seem to be sleeping, her body is in a way to composed. The redness in her cheeks signal some kind of emotional state or memories.
    It’s really strange how Vermeer managed to transform everyday life into such lavish scenes of beauty – .

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