A young woman takes a moment from her spinning to look out from a dark room, her gaze direct. Although she holds a long length of raw half-spun wool, her mind isn‘t on the task. She’s more interested in whoever has taken her by surprise.
Netscher specialised in small genre scenes before he took to portrait painting, and such pictures of women alone in a domestic setting seem to bridge the gap between the two – half genre, half portrait. This seems like a real woman looking out at us, though we don’t know who she was.
Like his teacher, Gerard ter Borch, Netscher took pains to portray texture faithfully, especially the rich fabrics of the fashions of his day. Here, he has added a subtle erotic nuance – in the wool she brushes against her lips, the pearl nestling against her cheek and the white satin slipping over her knee.
A young woman takes a moment from her spinning to look out from a dark room, her gaze direct. Although she holds a long length of raw half-spun wool between her hands, her mind isn‘t on the task. She is more interested in whoever has come in through the unseen door and taken her by surprise.
Caspar Netscher specialised in small genre scenes before he took to portrait painting, and such pictures of women alone in a domestic setting seem to bridge the gap between the two – half genre, half portrait. This seems like a real woman looking out at us, though we don’t know who she was. Netscher took infinite pains to portray texture faithfully – like his teacher, Gerard ter Borch – especially the rich fabrics of the fashions of his day. In this picture, the young woman’s white satin skirt gleams in the light of a candle or an oil lamp, the fur and velvet of the jacket is sumptuous and tactile. He shows exactly how hair was styled at this point in the seventeenth century, curl for curl, ribbon for ribbon and not a hair out of place. Although less distinct in the background, we sense the slick polish of the wood of the spinning wheel and its mechanism, glinting as it picks up the light.
Because of her costly dress, it’s easy to assume that the young woman is either the wife or daughter of a prosperous merchant or official. Spinning would certainly be one of her household tasks. But this is a posed picture made to be sold as a decorative item and the clothing may have been a prop kept in the artist’s studio for a model to pick up and wear. Similar red jackets were in fashion and appear in other pictures, such as Frans van Mieris’s A Woman in a Red Jacket feeding a Parrot. At the time, maids too might own such garments. These maids were to be found mostly in very prosperous families and were reasonably well paid, often buying jewels or expensive clothes as an investment for the future – a kind of pension.
The direct, faintly enquiring gaze of the young woman adds another dimension to the picture. She leans forward, one hand brushing a frond of soft wool against her half-smiling lips. A single pearl nestles against her cheek under her ringlets and the white shift pushed back over the jacket reveals her pale neck. She toys with the length of wool, and the white satin gleams silver in the light as it slides over her knee.
The erotic hint is subtle. This is the young Netscher still near the beginning of his career, anxious to make his work marketable to a wide audience and providing for everyone in a household: a fashion plate, a lesson in domesticity, an example of his skill in portraying reality – and just enough allure to make some wish they were the unexpected visitor to the quiet room.
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