A young girl leans on something that looks like a stone pedestal but the exact nature of the space she inhabits is difficult to discern. The Dulwich Gallery have named this picture Girl at a Window, but it is exceedingly difficult to detect where this window might be. The stone object on which she leans may be part of a balcony but we really can’t tell. Rembrandt’s prime concern is to concentrate our attention on the subject of the painting, so he uses one of his favourite devices and dissolves the background into shadow and darkness while focusing his light source on the face, arms and upper body of the girl. In fact it is not easy to determine what sort of light could illuminate her face and her upper body as well as the wall next to the pedestal but at the same time fail to fall on the wall directly behind her head. But this is of no concern to him. It is better for his purposes that the young girl’s face be lifted from the gloom by this peculiar radiance — a luminosity which seems almost to emanate from the girl, rather in the manner employed by his countryman Geertgen almost two centuries before in his enchanting Nativity at Night.
She is of indeterminate age — her round face and rosy cheeks would seem to suggest that perhaps she has not yet left her childhood entirely behind. It looks as though her hair, full of reddish brown highlights, has been braided and it seems that the end of one braided strand is hanging on her shoulder. She may have a small hat on her head but it is difficult to make out its precise character against the darkness of the background. Her left hand strokes her neck and plays with the fastenings for her white linen blouse. She gazes intently out of the picture — her eyes engaging the viewer with a searching empathy. No painter can better construct this intense rapport between the subject of a painting and the viewer than Rembrandt. He seems to imbue the very paint with humanity in a way that is impossible to understand.
Image: Courtesy of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
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