A Maid Asleep, ca. 1656–57
Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632–1675)
Oil on canvas; 34 1/2 x 30 1/8 in. (87.6 x 76.5 cm)
Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.611)
This large canvas is probably Vermeer's earliest picture of everyday life, and dates from slightly before The Milkmaid. The differences in scale and technique between the two works reflect the young painter's program of reviewing alternative styles in the Netherlandish art world of the time. Here the warm palette, rich shadows, and frontal presentation of the figure, the table, and walls recall genre scenes of the mid-1650s by Nicolaes Maes (14.40.612).
Vermeer's subject is an overdressed maid, dozing and dreaming of love (the painting above her, with Cupid's leg, stands for "Love unmasked"). The recent presence of a male companion is suggested by the large glass (which has suffered wear) to the lower left, the bowl of fruit, the chair shoved aside, and the open door. This picture, The Milkmaid (where a discreet sign of Cupid also accompanies the maid), and the approximately contemporary Cavalier and Young Woman (Frick Collection) were evidently purchased by the Delft collector Pieter van Ruijven, who eventually owned as many as twenty-one works by Vermeer.