Dating the action in great expectations a new chronology
Compared to the , this painting reveals a much more rich modeling of the mistress's yellow jacket.The folds are more pronounced and are articulated with increased clarity.The mistress's eye is barely indicated; the shadow along her left arm is an unexpected purple.The result is a powerful image, suggestive of movement and psychological interaction yet maintaining a classical dignity.An interest in calligraphy may be discerned by comparing her fine penmanship with the "unadorned, workaday signature" of her highborn mother.
The enhanced three-dimensional quality also results from the large scale of the figures and the fullness of the modeling.
However, more frequently in seventeenth-century painting in northern Europe, serving maids are represented in a neutral role, supervising children, as in Pieter de Hooch's Woman and , or being themselves supervised by the mistress of the house.
As Wayne Franits has observed, seventeenth-century artists generally presented an ideal construct of the responsibilities of the virtuous mistress and serving maid should mesh with the household. 58 Regarding the paintings' amatory themes, John Michael Montias, seeking to explain Vermeer's demographically unusual marriage to Catharina Bolnes, has suggested that love might have been a strong motive; indeed, love, as we have seen, was thought to be a source of artistic inspiration.
Typically in Dutch art, maids were represented in genre painting, a context that stresses their subservient role within the hierarchy of a bourgeois household.
In emblematic and popular literature of the day, they are often cast as a threat to the honour and security of the home, the centre of Dutch life and the focus of so much Dutch art.The appeal for the painter of reading and writing women might also relate to his marriage.Catharina Bolnes carne from a higher social class than he did, and she signed documents in an elegant hand. Many have thought the work unfinished because of the plain dark background, and therefore that it might be one of the two paintings accepted by the baker, Van Buijten, from Vermeer's widow to pay the which Vermeer could be said to have essayed the dramatic subtlety characteristic of Ter Borch's pieces and on a grand scale.