Vermeer's A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman (c 1662-65)
on loan at Dulwich Picture Gallery from the Royal Collection
Scribbled in my notebook: The muted light and limited, toning palette. The 'caught in the moment' illusion. The pattern on the floor tiles that is like the pattern on the window panes. The carpet throw woven with the same red as her skirt, the same red painted on the virginal's lid. The chair whose blue upholstery is a darker version of the barely-blue walls. The dim, delicate reflection in the mirror. The multiple frames of tiles, pictures, mirror, square-contoured instrument. Everything here has its opposite, its diagonally opposite corner. The odd, questioning, tempting angle of the viewer to the room. The enigma of abandoned cello. The light on the white pitcher, which is brighter, more in focus, than the two figures. The subtlety, almost frustration, of it all, against the pure, strong beauty of the lines, the play of verticals, horizontals and diagonals. A game of perfection that builds and builds as you look, like a rising counterpoint. No desire, afterwards, to look at any other painting. The utter inwardness of this echt interior, and yet the other focus where the eyes are drawn is the window at top left, and thus the light, the world outside. So carefully staged that its careful staging makes it not one whit less 'real'. So timelessly lovely it floats above the fissure between fact and fiction and the fissure between now and then. How can the light of this day be 350 years old? So caught am I in the visual, only after some time does the aural imagination open, catch the tinkling of the keys - once heard, it persists. Is this the least luminous, and thereby the most luminous, most subtly luminous, of his paintings? Somewhere else, today, I saw the phrase: "the artifice of naturalness".