The Young Vermeer

  • 8th December 2010 − 13th March 2011 | Scottish National Gallery (Scottish National Gallery) | Admission free

‘The Procuress’

Vermeer painted ‘The Procuress' (dated 1656) three years after becoming a member of the Delft painters' guild. This is the first time that Vermeer created a genre painting, that is, a composition with human figures engaged in everyday activities (as opposed to theactions of figures in history paintings).

In ‘The Procuress', a name given to this painting only at the end of the nineteenth century, the act of handing over money is the focal point of the composition. What seems at first to be a tête-à-tête is, in fact, a brothel scene. To the left of the young couple is an older woman, the procuress, who has arranged the meeting and will take a share of the proceeds. Unlike the figures in the previous two works, these people are not portrayed full-length. Instead, the lower half of the painting is completely taken up by an oriental rug, the yellow and red of which are mirrored in the couple's clothing to create a striking image.

In choosing the theme of the procuress, Vermeer was carrying on the pictorial tradition popularised in the 1620s and 30s by Utrecht painters who produced numerous paintings, later euphemistically referred to as ‘merry companies', which were actually brothel scenes.