In the 19th century, artists, writers and musicians discovered Montmartre’s bucolic charms and low rents. Lively bars, raucous cabarets, and sleazy bordellos soon followed, all the necessities for a Bohemian lifestyle.
February 03, 2009
"Lick your lips, Griet."
I licked my lips.
"Leave your mouth open."
I was so surprised by this request that my mouth remained open of its own will. I blinked back tears. Virtuous women did not open their mouths in paintings.
--Tracy Chevalier, from Girl with a Pearl Earring
I’ve gone to Delft for a few days to see how the 14th century burghers lived and perhaps to buy some of their famous china.
It’s a balmy day and friends suggest we take a short flat ride to the Hague. I consult the train schedule. They dig up an extra bike.
We follow the Schie River, peddling along a busy two-lane bicycle path, complete with signs indicating the distance and direction to various cities and villages. Thirty minutes later we’ve locked up our transportation outside the public library. We walk the short remaining distance to the Mauritshuis.
Built between 1636-41, for Prince John Maurice, then governor of Dutch Brazil and a cousin to the Prince of Orange, it currently houses the Royal Cabinet of Paintings. Among the collection of 800 works by Dutch and Flemish masters, there are masterpieces by Rembrandt, Bruegel, Rubens, and Vermeer. Of the 35 or 36 paintings attributed to Vermeer, three of them are under this roof.
The Mauritshuis is a perfectly self-contained jewel of a museum.
I love how its compact symmetry forces you to admire and appreciate each painting on its walls.
I love that it has a unifying theme, one that can be viewed in less than two hours.
Most of all, I love the “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”
She watches me and I her, although she could well be looking at her creator’s “View of Delft” hanging on the opposite wall. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.
I think if I stare at her long enough she’ll reveal her mysteries to me.