Life and work of Pieter de Hooch

De Hooch was born in Rotterdam to Hendrick Hendricksz de Hooch, a bricklayer, and Annetge Pieters, a midwife. He was the eldest of five children and outlived all of his siblings.Beginning in 1650, he worked as a painter and servant for a linen-merchant. His service for the merchant required him to accompany him on his travels to The Hague, Leiden, and Delft, to which he eventually moved. 
De Hooch was married in Delft in 1654 to Jannetje van der Burch, by whom he fathered seven children. While in Delft, de Hooch is also believed to have learned from the painters Carel Fabritius and Nicolaes Maes, who were early members of the Delft School. He became a member of the painters’ guild of Saint Luke in 1655, and had moved to Amsterdam by 1661.

Woman weighing gold by Pieter de Hoogh

His work showed astute observation of the mundane details of everyday life while also functioning as well-ordered morality tales. These paintings often exhibited a sophisticated and delicate treatment of light similar to those of Vermeer, who lived in Delft at the same time as de Hooch. The motives and compositions are also very similar between the two painters. 19th-century art historians had assumed that Vermeer had been influenced by de Hooch’s work, but the opposite is also possible.
Woman weighing gold (1660)
The woman holds a scale to weigh gold coins, gold or pearls. The interpretation of this painting is different as to what she is doing. It is very likely De Hoogh and Vermeer both lived in Delft for a period of time have met and exchanged ideas. If you look at the painting below by Johannes Vermeer both paintings are linked. Since neither of the paintings are dated accurately and since both artists were contemporary, “who influenced who” has been a subject of debate for critics.

Woman holding a balance by Johannes Vermeer

Woman holding a balance (1664)

Who posed for the young woman?

Owing to the intimate nature of Vermeer’s art, there has been an inclination to link the painter’s family members to the sitters of his paintings, some of which seemed to have posed more than once. The economic advantage of employing sitters from the artist’s family circle willing to pose long hours without pay would be obvious. It is believed that Vermeer’s wife Catharina posed more than once and may be a candidate for this picture. The same woman also posed in the Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window and Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.
She has the same high brow, straight nose and wide-spaced eyes and also appears to be pregnant in the Rijksmuseum work. Perhaps she is the most lovely of Vermeer’s models who have never been held to be beauties in the conventional sense of the word. Their beauty derives from the way they are painted.
Catharina, who was one year older than her husband, would have been approximately 32 years old when the Woman Holding a Balance was painted, in about 1664. However, there are no surviving images of her and therefore we cannot make any comparison. After having lost a child in 1660, Catharina bore her first son Johannes, about three years later, about 1663 – 1664. In the years that followed, she must have spent most of her time pregnant since she bore Vermeer 15 children before the artist died in 1675.

Meaning of the painting

A young woman delicately holds an empty pair of scales in her right hand. She seems to be waiting for them to balance out before she weighs something, probably the gold coins at the edge of the table.
Also on the table are some jewels, pearl necklaces and a gold chain. On the far wall hangs a painting of the Last Judgment while: on the left wall facing the woman is a mirror. The contrast between the valuable objects on the table, the Last Judgment and the scales, symbols of the Judgment itself, are intended to remind the viewer of the importance of resisting the temptation of earthly riches and living moderately in order to obtain salvation. The calmness of the young woman’s feature’s indicates that she is capable of living according to these principles. The subject of moderation appears in other paintings by Vermeer, such as The Girl with the Wine Glass, in which the stained-glass window features a female figure who can be identified as an allegory of Temperance. In the present work, the contrast between the various objects is what fills the painting with meaning.
While the presence of the Last Judgment indicates that the message of this painting has religious connotations, we should not forget its similarities to other works by Vermeer of the mid-1660s; such as Young Woman with a Water Jug, and Woman in Blue Reading a Letter. These two works, as with the present one, depict a young woman in a thoughtful attitude within a domestic interior accompanied by symbolic elements. In conclusion, we are dealing with images in which the artist imbues an everyday context with an atmosphere of idealization and calm that can be related to universal issues such as purity, love and, in this case, moderation.
Vermeer’s paintings of around 1665 reach an unprecedented level of harmony and serenity. The delicate transition between areas of light and shade and the rhythm established by the color relations contribute to the refinement of the scene: the woman’s blue jacket echoes the piece of material on the table, while the color of the curtain on the left reverberates in the ochre tones on the table, the orange and yellow of the woman’s stomach and in the verticals of the picture frame on the far wall. The young woman’s concentrated expression and the strict geometry of the composition, which alternates in a masterful way the horizontal and vertical lines with the diagonal created by the light entering from the window, are other elements which contribute to the exquisite sophistication of this painting. It is likely that when he painted this work Vermeer was inspired by a painting of De Hooch’s, Woman Weighing Coins (right). The similarities of the subject and composition between the two works are not coincidental and indicate the relation between De Hooch and Vermeer, the first often the most innovative, while the second transformed his models by giving them a more spiritual, abstracted appearance. In Pieter de Hooch’s work the spectator focuses on the anecdotal details, such as the gesture of the woman’s hands and the textures of the materials and the geometrical construction of the scene. Vermeer uses these same elements, together with others such as the distribution of the areas of light and shade, converting them into verticals which serve to transcend the everyday and create a scene which conveys the feeling of a timeless truth. (many more fascinating details of the painting on the essential Vermeer).

A picture within a picture

Last Judgement at the back of the painting
The so-called picture-within-a-picture that appears on the back wall portrays a Last Judgment. The artist of the Last Judgment is Jacob de Backer, a late 16th-century Flemish painter. An artist who specialized in similar Last Judgment scenes. One peculiar characteristic of this composition that is often found in De Backer’s works is the image of Christ with both arms raised. Vermeer probably owned this painting, or at least had it as a part of his stock as an art dealer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s