The Procuress (Vermeer)

The Procuress (Dutch: De koppelaarster) is a 1656 oil-on-canvas painting by the then 24-year-old Johannes Vermeer. It can be seen in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden. It is his first genre painting and shows a scene of contemporary life, an image of mercenary love[1] perhaps in a brothel. It differs from his earlier biblical and mythological scenes. It is one of only three paintings Vermeer signed and dated (the other two are The Astronomer and The Geographer). In 1696 the painting, being sold on an auction in Amsterdam, was named "A merry company in a room".

The Procuress
ArtistJohannes Vermeer
MediumOil on canvas
MovementDutch Golden Age painting
Dimensions143 cm × 130 cm (56 in × 51 in)
LocationGemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

The woman in black, the leering coupler, "in a nun's costume",[2]:224 could be the eponymous procuress, while the man to her right, "wearing a black beret and a doublet with slashed sleeves",[2]:172 has been identified as a self portrait of the artist.[3] There is a resemblance with the painter in Vermeer's The Art of Painting. Vermeer is in the painting as a musician, in the employ of the madam.

It seems Vermeer was influenced by earlier works on the same subject by Gerard ter Borch, and The Procuress (c. 1622) by Dirck van Baburen, which was owned by Vermeer's mother-in-law Maria Thins and hung in her home.[4] Some critics thought the painting is atypical of Vermeer's style and expression, because it lacks the typical light. Pieter Swillens wrote in 1950 thatif the work was by Vermeer at allit showed the artist "seeking and groping" to find a suitable mode of expression. Eduard Trautscholdt wrote 10 years before that "The temperament of the 24-year-old Vermeer fully emerges for the first time".[5]

The three-dimensional jug on the oriental rug is a piece of Westerwald Pottery. The kelim thrown over a bannister, probably produced in Uşak, covers a third of the painting and shows medallions and leaves.[6] The instrument is probably a cittern. The dark coat with five buttons was added by Vermeer in a later stage. The man in the red jacket, a soldier, is fondling the young woman's breast and dropping a coin into her outstretched hand.[7]

According to Benjamin Binstock this "dark and gloomy" painting could be understood as a psychological portrait of his adopted family[2]:81 and does not represent a didactic message.[2]:123,85 In his rather fictional book Binstock explains Vermeer used his family as models; the procuress could be Vermeer's wife Catherina[2]:231 and the lewd soldier her brother Willem.[2]:81–82

Dirck van Baburen, The Procuress, 1622, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The painting was owned by Maria Thins, mother-in-law of Johannes Vermeer, who reproduced it within two of his own paintings.[8]

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