Pieter Codde was an Amsterdam painter who specialised in genre scenes of everyday life. And this is just how A Woman Holding a Mirror of 1625, his earliest known work, can be seen. An attractive and well-dressed woman has tried on various outfits – a discarded dress lies on the table – and is now checking her appearance. In looking out at the viewer she invites us to approve of her choice.
Around this central scene Codde has added little distractions for the eye, such as a flash of her gown’s red lining, a cat by her feet staring at an unsuspecting mouse, and paintings on the wall that are pictures within the picture. Codde was also a portraitist so the woman may perhaps be based on a real person. But whoever she was, it is a pleasure to observe her as she goes about her daily routine.
Pieter Jacobsz. Codde specialised in small-scale genre paintings showing interior scenes such as games of backgammon, music-making or ‘merry company’ pictures of tavern revellers. His pictures show him to be a close observer of human life and he often set his figures in grey-brown rooms in which they stand out against the buff background.
A Woman Holding a Mirror is a calm and reflective work showing a fashionably dressed young woman who has paused from trying on outfits (a discarded dress lies on the table) to check her appearance in a mirror. She looks out at the viewer as if to seek our approval for her choice. It is just the sort of simple and comforting domestic scene that would have been familiar to Codde’s buyers.
It is perhaps tempting to see the presence of the mirror as a symbol of vanity and the painting as an allegory of transitory beauty. However, the woman does not look at the mirror so it is more likely that Codde was not aiming for layers of meaning but intended the scene to be taken at face value. This is also a painting about the artist’s skill. He enlivens what could be a static scene with bright touches such as the flash of the gown’s red lining and the elaborate and expensive lace. In the corner he adds a small, jokey aside of a cat staring fixedly at a mouse. He also invites us to look at the paintings on the walls, pictures within a picture.
As well as painting genre scenes Codde was also a portraitist, so the woman in the picture was perhaps based on a real person. But whoever she was, it is a pleasure to observe her as she goes about her daily routine.
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