Luci LaSombra Vermeer Gallery

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The Little Street

Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

54x44 1657-58

This exquisite study of a quiet street scene has an unusual composition that at first seems undirected and random, but is in fact made with extreme care. The right half of the picture is a brick house, with each brick separately visible, complete with all the cracking and tie-rods that are necessary when houses are built on mud, as the Dutch do. The left side of the facade has closed, green shutters, the right half has open, red shutters. While we can see a woman making lace in the doorway, we can see no further. The left half of the picture features two similar doorways, one open and one closed, echoing the facade of the house. Three groups of people are in the picture, all engaged in private, quiet activity disconnected from the others.

This painting was thought to be a view of the Voldersgracht in Delft, the canal at the back of Vermeer's tavern, the Mechelen. Contemporary maps show that this is not strictly true, but the view may be a compendium of several buildings visible from an upper story if the inn.

The painting is stylistically similar to Pieter de Hooch's Courtyard of a House in Delft, especially with the left-right separation of the composition. Both painters were experimenting with rendering texture with paint, and the brick walls in both paintings seem quite similar; it is not known which of the two was made first.


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