A Maid Asleep, ca. 1656-57. Johannes Vermeer. Oil on canvas. Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913.
The misbehavior of unsupervised maidservants was a common subject for seventeenth-century Dutch painters. Yet in his depiction of a young maid dozing next to a glass of wine, Vermeer transfigured an ordinary scene into an investigation of light, color, and texture that supersedes any moralizing lesson. While the toppled glass at left (now abraded with time) and rumpled table carpet may indicate a recently departed visitor, X-radiographs indicate that Vermeer chose to remove a male figure he had originally included standing in the doorway, heightening the painting’s ambiguity.