Historical Oriental Rugs & Carpets
in Medieval European Paintings
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VERMEER, Johannes
(b. 1632, Delft, d. 1675, Delft)

A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman (detail)

Oil on canvas
Buckingham Palace, London

In this imposing composition, Vermeer changed for the first time his handling of space, by moving the human figures and the center of the action to the far side of the room. The use of the inverted Galilean telescope becomes evident if one examines the perspective and the relative importance of the table at the right, covered with an Oriental rug, upon which stands a white pitcher on a silver plate. From there on, the bass viol lying on the floor and the figures at the clavecin recede into space.

Vermeer, who indicates his presence by including in the mirror-image on the back wall parts of his easel and paint box, wants us to view the scene from afar: a distant happening that we are allowed to watch as intruders, but in which we may not participate. Vermeer outdoes even Frans van Mieris in the wealth of details. The tile floor, the rug, and the ornamentation of the clavecin are rendered with minute care. The same applies to the human figures. Altogether, the painting lacks the nearness and intimacy of former works, and seems posed perhaps to serve as model for a musical impromptu at some gathering of rhetoricians, who were numerous at the time.