The Lacemaker

4 04 2008


This painting was one of my favorites from the Dutch Masters exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. I stood in front of it for a long time, amused by the little guy’s fall hat (though I’m not sure how he’d ever escape that citadel of a high chair to actually hit his head) and the mother’s focus on her work. Her mouth is slightly open and in real life she might have been sticking her tongue out just a little, as Kate does when she’s focused on mashing something under the mechanical hammer.

I imagine this as a warm, spring day after a long spell of cold, wet weather. They were both glad to have a breath of fresh air and the sun on their face. I like the fact that his things are strewn on the floor, a degree of disorder that seems unusual for these kinds of paintings. His mother was enjoying her project and didn’t notice that he had tossed these things on the floor. I’m pretty sure that the piece of bread in his hand was the next to go, but the dog, just outside the frame, made quick work of it. She didn’t notice that either.

Oh yes, and it was painted by Nicolaes Maes, who studied with Rembrandt in Amsterdam. This one was painted in 1656 or 1657. He also made a very nice painting of a young woman peeling apples. You can almost smell them.




One response

7 04 2008

Many of the Dutch genre paintings, particularly by Jan Steen, show disorder – including things strewn about the floor – as a symbol of personal, familial or social disintegration. It’s a warning and a morality tale.

Yet in this picture, the mother’s intense focus on work and home and her child shows exactly the opposite. In fact, she is the prototypical Dutch mother.

At a time when infant mortality reached levels at which we would be aghast, even this picture shows life’s ultimate uncertainty and fragility . . . at which the helmet and high chair – and close maternal attention – hint broadly.

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