The Meta-paintings of Marianne Schuit?Meta-paintings.html

Some remarks on ‘I know what Vermeer’s kitchen maid did last night!’ read the article


It is true, not only does Vermeer paint the overskirt of the kitchen maid blue, he also paints the cloth on the table blue. So, how about virginity in this case? Well, I do not think the table has much to do with virginity. Once Vermeer decided to paint the overskirt blue, there was not much he could do anymore about the colouring of the table without disrupting the composition colour wise. From a certain point a painting paints itself. Vermeer had to paint this cloth blue, for merely aesthetical reasons.

Vermeer is one of the great colourists of all time and he certainly is one of the boldest -never afraid to push a bright shining yellow into our faces, or a fiery red…

All in all I think the colours in Vermeer’s paintings do represent just as much a purely aesthetical quality as they do represent a psychological quality - presuming that one could more or less separate the both...

Apart from all this, it is obvious, Vermeer loved blue very much. It acts in the clothing of a series of young ladies in a very prominent way. But why does an artist love a certain colour, if not for psychological reasons? The connotations of blue, being linked to purity, the heavenly, virginity, I guess it played an important role in Vermeer’s love for this colour. It is remarkable to see that the young ladies who are dressed in blue, are finding themselves all in the most contemplative paintings of Vermeer: Woman reading a letter (at a window), Woman holding a balance, Young woman with a water pitcher. Especially Woman holding a balance makes us, again, think of virginity, or at least: purity. Her very material balance being mirrored by The last judgement in which, beside her, the souls are ‘spiritually weighed’ to determine if they will get access to heaven.

In general Vermeer uses dark blue a lot. I suspect that he appreciated the ‘nobility’ of this colour, which helped to lift his paintings to a level of distant understanding.That he loved the crispy liveliness of bright yellow as well, helped to fill his paintings with a fresh spirit of vitality, while his figures ‘lose’ themselves in serene motionlessness.

Tanneke Everpoel

It is said that the maid that served the household of the Vermeers for several years, Tanneke Everpoel, has posed for The Milkmaid. Some people think it must be one of the daughters of Vermeer, portrayed as a kitchen maid here.

It will be hard to discover which view is right. The statuesque, forceful posture of the kitchen maid in Vermeer’s painting does seem to point to a woman coming from a family used to hard physical labour. But then again, the wife of Vermeer, Catharina Bolnes, gave birth to fifteen (!) children, but still survived beyond Vermeer himself. It might not come as a surprise that some of her daughters inheritated their mother’s physical strength and endurance.

Tanneke is most certainly portrayed in the painting Maid and Mistress. Remarkable is the blue overskirt the maid is wearing in this painting as well. Still a sign of virginity? Most probably not. Vermeer obviously dressed the Mistress first in her insanely shining yellow-gold dress. And this forced him to choose a colour for the overskirt that would contrast with this lavishly yellow in the best way possible. And so it became dark blue.


For at least 15 years Vermeer lived among women. His mother in law, his wife, a maid, a whole bunch of daughters. He was, on a daily basis, confronted with femininity in all its aspects. This might be an explanation for his deep fascination for femininity. However the basics of this fascination must have already existed before he went living in the house of his mother in law, Maria Thins, and being the father of a series of daughters. The procuress was painted in 1656, while Vermeer is most likely to have moved in with his mother in law in 1660.

However the position of women in the 17th century Dutch bourgeois society was still not in the least the same as the position of men, in those days Holland was widely known for its self-willed women. Dutch women began to count for something. So, there was already an atmosphere in which a more understanding attitude towards women became more common. Look at a painting like The young mother (Mauritshuis, The Hague) of Gerrit Dou, in which the young mother’s face is beautifully portrayed, with all the life-changing experiences she has undergone while carrying her child and giving birth to it ‘carved’ in it. Dou’s painting testifies of an interest in the details of the mental state of this young woman unknown to artists in previous times.

Original mind

Not only as an artist, Vermeer proves to have had an original mind. The fact that he choose to have the many children he and his wife eventually begot (15…), while being gifted with the enormous talents he was gifted with, shows a kind of thinking seemingly not exceedingly bothered with the idea of ‘making a career’ - unless Vermeer was an incurable optimist, supposing from the start that he would be succesfull enough to be able to feed that many mouths...

In 17th century Holland members of the bourgeoisie were already able to keep the number of children they had to feed at 2 or 3. No matter if they were in some way protestant or catholic. The Vermeers were a huge exception to this rule. While they were (probably) befriended with the famous scientist Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek, a man moving at the frontier of biological knowledge of his times, with his self-made microsopes. So it will most certainly not be ignorance that is the cause of the large number of children of the Vermeers.

Vermeer most probably never undertook the grand tour that took Dutch painters to Italy, the Promised Land. With the exception of some business trips to Amsterdam, The Hague, Leiden and the like, he stayed in Delft. Which makes him living proof to the thought that great art in the first place needs a great mind rather than ‘great circumstances’.

Vermeer borrowed his themes from others. At least, so it seems. But in every respect he turned these borrowed themes into something so Vermeerish, that you recognize his paintings almost in an instant. The unsurpassable tranquillity, the bold yet refined colouring, the serene atmosphere of contemplation, the illustrious shining of all things great and small… More than any other painter of his time, including the genius Rembrandt, Vermeer took everything to ‘quite another dimension’.

Living in a household as busy as Vermeer’s it would have been nothing but understandable that his paintings would in some way have testified of the crowdedness of his surroundings, especially taking into consideration that Vermeer painted, more or less, these surroundings, being the inside of the typical Dutch upper-bourgeois house. On the contrary, the paintings of Vermeer are more serene than the paintings of any of his colleagues. Jan Steen, Nicolaas Maes, their paintings are overcrowded with children. In the paintings of Vermeer we really have to look for children to notice them. There are two children playing in Vermeer’s Little street… Vermeer must have had an incredible ability to concentrate amidst all sorts of distraction. His studio was in a house where, at the time of his death (1675), at least 13 other people (most of them young and alive and kicking…) were doing their things as well…

It is an open question if all this liveliness irritated Vermeer, or at least worried him every once in a while. There are no records of Vermeer having been a hermit lost in an extremely crowded family life. The extreme self-evidence of his paintings seems to tell quite a different story: crowded as his daily life must have been, once seated - standing?-  behind his easel, he was able to ‘simply’ slip away in his very own universe.

There are a lot of interpreters of Vermeer’s work who think that Vermeer made a lot of serious preparations for his paintings, drawing sightlines on the canvas, (probably…) looking through a camera obscura, thinking of how every detail of the painting could exactly take its place, composition wise and colour wise, to create a maximum of ‘effect’. I am not at all sure that this is the case. Sure, there are holes in his paintings, showing where he put nails in the canvas to which he tied pieces of rope with which he drew the sightlines. And sure, this testifies of serious preparations. Still, I think that Vermeer did much more intuitively than most of his interpreters suspect. The ‘strict’ ordering of his paintings, being one of the qualities which cause the inevitability of these paintings, would most certainly have been nothing but a drag, if this ordering would not have rested in a most natural feel. No matter how artificial the interventions of Vermeer in his paintings, in order to reach a certain expression, no matter the tricks he does with the light, with the perspective, it all marvellously stays within this natural feel. A natural feel that must have been rooted in a genius intuition capable of sensing how things have to be brought together to get their utmost expression.

I come to this thought thanks to what I see happening all the time when Marianne Schuit is at work. Her Meta-paintings, which often may seem to have come into the light thanks to a lot of thinking, all do come into the light in an all-intuitive way. Some minds – and they are extremely rare… - have this capacity to keep an enormous amount of artistic aspects in the palm of their hand and spread them on a piece of canvas, in a most natural coherence, being complex as hell, like they are only throwing a set of dice. This is true for Meta-artist Marianne Schuit. And I think it is more or less true for Johannes Vermeer. There is, despite all kinds of preparations, much more feeling than there is thinking in his paintings. First of all Vermeer is a great poet.