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Picture of the Month


Ha! For once I catch the month while it's still fresh!


Eglon van der Neer: Breakfast, 1665

It should be obvious that the woman depicted here is a lady of means: a triple bracelet of pearls, a barely visible pearl necklace, and pearl earrings. Those alone would have cost the equivalent of a couple of month's pay of an everage modern-day office worker. The orange-red skirt seems to be made of taffeta, whereas the silvery bodice and strips of sleeve cannot be anything but satin, judging by the shininess. In either case, we're clearly looking at silk, and therefore at a wealthy person.

The oval neckline with the low-riding shoulder straps is typical for the period, as are the elbow-length sleeves. Slashing was quite out of fashion long before the 1660s, so this sleeve, which is made up of strips of satin over a red under-sleeve, is a bit backward. Note how the lining of the sleeves is a far sight redder than the skirt which looks almost brownish by comparison.

What makes this picture valuable is the fact that the seam lines and stitch lines of the bodice are clearly visible. It is almost possible to deduce the makeup of the bodice going by the seam lines visible here. The curved seams of the front seem to have a stitch line running parallel to them. The top fabric is caught to the base along the necline with a line of running stitches done in relatively large stitches and with relatively thick thread, considering the fineness of the fabric. If I didn't know this picture, I'd certainly be reluctant to use thick thread (linen?) and stitches that are this visible on the outside. Yet another example of how the modern eye, being used to hidden stitches, tends to reject things that used to be perfectly normal at some point in time.

Even more interesting is the fact that more of the shift than usual is visible. It's not very unusual that the shift sleeve is considerably longer than the bodice sleeve, or that it reaches well past the elbow. What is unusual is the fact that the shift covers the breast and shoulders up to the neck. In most other paintings, the ladies are bare from the horizontal neckline up. On the other hand, there are a few paintings where the shift shows above the neckline to a greater or lesser extent, e.g. Metsu's "Glass of Wine" (1660), Vermeer's "Lady at the Harpsichord" (1660) or Netscher's "Lace Maker" (1662). All those paintings are of Flemish or Durch origin, and there may be a hint in that: A Protestant sense of decency. It wasn't always followed even in that region, however, as TerBorch's "The Letter" and "Curiosity" (both 1660) show. This girl looks a bit as if she'd been roused from sleep and donned her outer garments on top of her night shirt in the confusion... but probably she's just too conservative to "bare half her breast", as contemporary preachers are reported to have complained about.


Pictures of the month archive

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