Study of a Young Woman, ca. 1665–67
Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632–1675)
Oil on canvas; 17 1/2 x 15 3/4 in. (44.5 x 40 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, in memory of Theodore Rousseau, Jr., 1979 (1979.396.1)
Like the celebrated Girl with a Pearl Earring (Mauritshuis, The Hague), this painting probably represents a live model but was not intended as a portrait. In the seventeenth century, pictures of this type were described as tronies (meaning visage or expression) and appreciated for their unusual costumes, intriguing physiognomies, suggestion of personality, and demonstration of artistic skill. Rendering the behavior of light on shiny fabrics was considered a particular test of virtuosity, but here the silken wrap barely competes with the haunting face. The essential element in many of Vermeer's pictures—the viewer's curiosity about a young woman's thoughts, feelings, or character—is found here in deceptively simple form.