Vermeer probably painted ‘The Milkmaid,’ ‘Officer and laughing girl’ and ‘Girl reading a letter by an open window’ between 1657 and 1660. Studies have proved that he used a common setting for the three paintings that does not seem to reappear in the artist’s later works. This suggests that this Room was in Mechelen, the family’s inn where Vermeer lived during the early years of his marriage.
This story is placed in that small hotel where Vermeer lived. These are the characters…
|The laughing girl|
Hope you enjoy it.
I was living in Delft, which in those days was one of the most wonderful cities of Europe. It was rich, cultured, cosmopolitan, full of joy. In its port, there were always ships from all around the world with all types of loads and people that gave to my city a extraordinary air. I worked on a small hotel next to the city centre that was owned by my mistress Catharina, the wife of the famous painter of Delft Vermeer.
It was a nice small hotel which enjoyed quite a great prestige due to the fact that my master had been chosen trustee of the Saint Lucas Guild in 1662. This new title made that people that satayed in the hotel were people of money, culture and good manners. You may know the saying that you can catch anything but beauty, and as I was really pretty, I started to learn manners and culture. Due to my distinguished appearance and good manners, my mistress started to entrust me the hotel managing work and she started to leave to me the most important duties of the small hotel. That way, I met very important influential people and above all, I started to know my master Vermeer, because it was him the one I had to show the ledger at the end of the every month.
My master did not paint a lot, just about two works per year. People said that he lived on his wife and mother-in-law’s incomes, but I think that he was so perfectionist that he did not conclude a piece until he was not totally satisfied with it, that is what I saw. Little by little, my master came more frequently to the small hotel. He enjoyed the cosmopolitan atmosphere. He used to sit on the guests’ tables and they freely talked about human and divine subjects, but the most common topic was the imminent war against France. They talked about the king Louis 14th, that wanted the property of our lands.
It was 1672 when the war started and with it our decline. No more important men, no more precious loads on our ports, Delft was full of soldiers and peasants and noblemen that had lost their lands because they were inundated to stop the French army. War changes everything, but I was twenty three years old and I did not want to accept reality. The rooms and tables of the small hotel only had poor people and soldiers recruited for battle. My master Vermeer came to the small hotel but he did not talk any more he just lonely observed us from a corner. I kept doing my duties trying not to see what was changing around me, I was young and inexperienced.
One day, an officer entered, with his red jacket and his wide brim hat. He was handsome, his smart appearance caught my eye. He politely talked to me to ask for a room. He was responsible for the recruitment of more soldiers so he had to spend a couple of months here. It was not very common to see people with these manners in those days and he was the exception. It was love at first sight, it was Cupid, it was… The thing is that I felt at his feet.
Every time he went out or came in, every time he asked for a pint, every time he sat to eat, my heart missed a beat. I found every excuse to be near him, to talk to him, to waste time with him. I neglected the business, I did not care about other guests or the other servants in my charge. My master, who was still taciturn in his corner, noticed his presence and began to struck up a friendship with him. They sat and have a beer or just peacefully chat about war. Little by little, I started to appear in their conversations. My master started to talk about my great worth, my loyalty, my beauty, my culture and the interest in me of the young soldier grew. He paid more attention to me. He looked at me and smiled, he always had a polite flattering comment for me.
When all my chores where done, I liked to sit by the window with the sun’s lights filtered. Then, I would embroidered or sew or dreamed, that was my favourite place because I could see and control the inn and have a rest at the same time. The young officer started to sit next to me and we chatted. He told me his stories, his life around the world. He talked about far away countries, about extraordinary unknown cultures. He had a soft refined voice. He told stories wonderfully as the best narrator. He was handsome and made my imagination fly away. I have never left Delft and I fell in love with him, as a little girl.
One day, my master brought his painting tools. They usually were at his studio on the first floor. There, he had his table, colours and paintbrushes. But he brought everything to the small hotel and placed in his corner, he started to study the soldier and me very carefully. I just had eyes for him, I did not see the rest of the guests and I did not notice how he began to measure the room, he looked and looked, opened and closed the window, moved and removed the map of Holland and West Friesland that decorated the window.
Our romance went extremely well, or at least, that what I thought. As a normal couple we used to go for a walk, or to the theatre. This evening I am referring to, I had paid particular attention to my aspect, as you can see on the picture. My lover approached very gallantly and sat in our place. He passionately looked at me and smiled, I was smiling and looking at him as well. It was the beginning of a wonderful night. But just then, my master shouted, ‘Don’t move! Like that! that is! Stop!’
We had a terrible fright and did not know what to do. Everybody was staring at us. I just asked, ‘What’s going on sir?’ He ran and came near us saying, ‘Smile and look at each other like you were doing. Smile! No, no! don’t look at me! don’t turn! Put your hands like that! just like before!!’ ‘But sir! It’s my free afternoon and we’ve got plans.’ ‘No, no no! we can’t waste this light! It has to be done now!’ the young officer did not know what to do, but my master’s look said everything and we obeyed. We stayed one hour, an another one, an another one until the sunset. Then he told us that the following day he would be expecting us with the same clothes because he had to paint us. The young soldier felt flattered and he said that he was honoured to be painted by Vermeer, he said that the painting would carry our names and that we will be immortal. I protested because I wanted to be with him alone and enjoy his company. I was aware of the time my master spent painting his works. I said that and my lover promised me that he would go to my room everyday when the painting session had finished so we could talk about our future and life in common. I wanted to keep on protesting –I had many tasks to do in the small hotel and I could not spend that much time to pose- but my master said that other maids could do them for me.
So every evening, I dressed up and I repeated the love-look and then we went to my room and enjoyed our love. Morning found us talking about our future, our house and children when this dammed war ended. He would take me to his town and we would start a family. He loved me, that what he said when he made love to me. I devoted myself to him, he was everything to me.
My master was happy. He did not have to gave me orders. I just looked and him and smiled thinking of our future. He was not given orders either. He had a natural pose. One evening, another one and another… until the painting was almost finished. My master did not show it to us because he thought that it brought bad luck so he always had it under lock and key.
One afternoon, the sun shone specially and it came through the window. I almost could not see my lover. My master said, ‘I’m going to finish at last. This is the light I wanted. Now, I have everything. Tomorrow will be my last day.’ That night I told my young soldier that at last we could go out the small hotel. We planned that I will introduce him to my small family and my few friends. I would tell them that we were going to marry as soon as the war end.
The last afternoon posing was special. I dressed up and I felt extremely happy. I went to the room and waited for my lover to enter with his red jacket and broad brimmed hat. My master was also on a happy mood. He was about to finish his painting and he was proud of it. Today, he was going to let us see it for the first time. My lover and me painted for the eternity, as our love.
But I wait and wait and he did not show up. He had left his room that early morning without saying anything. He had just packed and left. My master showed me the painting showed me the painting. I wanted to destroy it. It was a lie. I could not allow that love-look I was having in my eyes to be seen by everybody. My eyes were lying! I had to destroy it! I…
 ‘Reconstructing the Space in Vermeer’s Officer and Laughing Girl’ in Anistoriton journal of History. Retrieved 21:29, April 20, 2010 from http://www.anistor.gr/english/enback/p043.htm