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Young Woman at an Open Half Door

Atelier of Rembrandt, 1645

Editing heightens data significance. When we're bombarded by fifty pieces of information, we don't know what to think. But when we only get one or two, we have whole stories.

A young woman stands at an open half door, leaning out and peeking sideways. She looks like an ordinary member of whatever they called the social class with a lot of people in it back in Rembrandt's day, except that she has something special. In a world where everybody lived in black clothes with white collars all the time, period, she has a sumptuous treasure: a double strand of red beads! How frivolous, how festive, how gay! Plus you never see red in Dutch paintings of the time, so its inclusion tells us about the inner state of the woman. She must be exceptionally passionate and vibrant. The beads make her look like a ripe jewelled fruit, presumably ready for the plucking.

And the door. I love the idea of a door half open, especially because in my culture that doesn't exist architecturally, so for me it's like being half pregnant. Anyway, doors are liminal states, literal thresholds, invitations from public into private worlds. As soon as you have a door, the question is, what lies beyond it? When you have what looks like a door from the street into the interior privacy of someone's home, and on the private, interior side there's a beautiful young woman with red beads, whatever lies beyond is clearly more alluring than what you'll get if you stay on the street. But will you get your chance? A door half open...how many of us have experienced people opening the door and inviting us in halfway. We got kind of lucky, but are we lucky enough to join the woman in her private sanctum? We are stuck in an agonizing balance of hope and uncertainty.

And whom is she looking at? It must be a “whom,” not a “what,” because you wouldn't quietly peek at a “what” that way. If something were interesting enough to look at, you would open the whole door and turn your body to look at it straight on. At the very least you would lean over the partition and turn your head to look at it straight on. The way she holds herself back and directs only her gaze suggests that she very much wants to see whomever may or may not be over there, but doesn't want to be caught in the act of looking. How many of us have done just such a quiet peek.

I say it is a lucky man whom she is waiting for. She has made herself beautiful, and her private world beyond the door glows with light. But even Mr. Lucky does not a big obvious smile and a wide open door (if we're calling them “doors” these days). Even he will have to earn access to her inner sanctum.

Nothing says "hey, baby" like Dutch Renaissance restraint.

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