Jan Vermeer’s painting from 1665 is remarkable for what it says and doesn’t say.
I studied it in school many years ago, and have always loved it, but now see it differently, with a back story and another face there. A merger, a gap, a crossing. Scarlett Johansson stares back at me now. She didn’t then. I saw something else. I saw beautiful, lush brush strokes, vibrant, heated colors, and a woman who was bemused, experienced, perhaps even a touch annoyed that her life had been interrupted for a moment or two. An annoyance at first that quickly changed into remembrance, tolerance, and subdued, quiescent, internal laughter.
Scarlett’s girl, on the other hand, is different. She is not experienced. She is truly innocent, but bursting with something she doesn’t yet see. Something that is so deep and personal and real and organic, she has no idea she possesses an allure that transcends time, place, and circumstances. When she takes off that scarf and lets her long hair down for the first time, the shock to the viewer is beyond words. Vermeer should have painted that, as well.
This painting, this young woman, or girl, or muse, or incarnation of the goddess in modest, terrestrial form, deserves as much attention as Da Vinci’s Lisa. Vermeer captured something he knew he could not possess or hold back. Perhaps he knew he could not possess her. Perhaps he realized that the Eternal Feminine is simply the rapturous knowledge of the power of change.