Jan Vermeer - The Sleeping Girl

by Sylvi Weidlich


The left hand of the girl, who has perhaps just dozed off, lies wearily on a table on which precious carpets are piled up almost like a protective shield against all too curious glances. While the upper part of the room lies in penumbra, a source of light not visible in the picture gently moves the girl into the center of the work.

Painted in the same year as the Letter Reader at the Open Window, Jan Vermeer in 1657 allows us to look through a peephole into a 17th-century Delft. But unlike the Letter Reader, in which we see only one room, Vermeer works here with a special means for spatial depth: an open door with a room behind it. In the process, he dispenses with obtrusive furnishing details. In delicate shades of beige and brown, the contents of the room are set off from the sumptuous carpets and the sleeping woman in the background.


Did the contents of the nearly emptied wine glass make the girl's cheeks flush like that? Is she possibly not asleep at all, but melancholically introverted? Or are we dealing here with a lazy maid who has only briefly stolen away from her strenuous work?


The state of research in art history sees in the depiction of the sleeping girl a connection to one of the seven main vices: sloth (acedia). The tiredness and the head, which is about to slide along the upraised arm, as a result of the alcohol consumption, as well as the untidily pushed together carpet, would speak for this. Vermeer owes us a final answer.


But he does not leave the viewer completely in the dark: Only apparent at second glance, a painting slides out of the upper left half of the picture, revealing to us a leg and a mask that has fallen to the ground. According to Hajo Düchting, it deals with deception in love. Whether the sleeping woman is the deceiver or the deceived, however, is left to our imagination....


Jan Vermeer - The Sleeping Girl

Oil on canvas, 1656 / 57, 88 x 76 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York