13 January 2015

In recovery: The woman in a hurry

This wonderful 17th-century Dutch painting narrates a fragment of a story about a woman in a hurry whom we cannot see. 

We are standing in a room that looks through the pantry, the front hall, and into a formal parlor. We see the elaborate wrought-iron handle and latch on the door we would go through into the pantry, the fine frame on the pantry door with a string of onions (there is another string of onions on the other side of the door, a towel, then the light from the front door into the hallway, and then the door which has just been unlocked opening into the parlor . 

The woman we cannot see is in a hurry, but we will take some time to look at the details she sees a hundred times a day.  Such as the backsplash tiles around the base of the pantry wall where the water splashes when someone is scrubbing the tiled floor with that broom.

17th-C tiles very like these are for sale on eBay. They have the common oxhead tile motif in the corners as do the backsplash tiles. 

The front door is hinged on the left, as you are coming in, and judging from the shadow it casts, the woman left it half-open.  She took off her shoes in the hallway and left them on the doormat, before going into the parlor.  

She is coming back immediately, as she did not take the time to put her shoes away, and she has left her keys in the parlor door. 

This is a moderately well-off household. They have a gilded leather chair -- possibly more than one of them, and at least one high-quality painting in which a lady possesses considerable affluence of her own. (Look at all that red fabric in the bed canopy, tablecloth, and upholstery.) She seems to be about to undress for the benefit of the gentleman to her left, but she will do so slowly. She has no need to hurry.

The unseen woman who is hurrying has left other signals of affluence and haste in the parlor.  She owns a cloth-of-gold table cover with a fringed and embroidered edge.  There is another painting whose content we cannot see.  Someone has put an open book face-down on the table, and whoever pinched out the candle flame knocked the candle crooked. 

The unseen woman will be back in a moment, lock the door to the parlor, slip on her outdoor shoes -- never glancing in our direction, and go back out, closing off the light from the hallway, and we will never know why she is in such a hurry.

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