Saturday, 18 July 2009
We are accustomed now to consider needlework a chaste activity - and more, we are accustomed to believe that earlier generations considered needlework a guarded activity for young girls to keep them 'neat and tidy' - a euphemism still used in the UK for virginity. It might surprise us then to learn that the Dutch for stitching which is naaien has another, more carnal, meaning which I blush to write here, but which is linked to prostitution. While working on the Judith Hayle Samplers book with Edwina Ehrman, we included an image by Metsu, showing a young woman at her stitching pillow - to show the link between stitching pillow and the cartouche which is familiar to us as used on the Judith Hayle school of samplers. On the surface it can be interpreted as a quiet domestic interior, and yet I was perturbed by its incongruities, by what appear to be quite direct significations. What of the single, discarded, empty slipper which seems to invite a foot to fill it? The thimble lying on the floor? What of the maid holding a bucket with a lid which is arrowed so conspicuously to show it must be kept upright, and yet is being held carelessly at a tilt - perhaps risking loss of its precious content, as anticipated by the dog? And why is the maid lingering and making bold by uncovering the painting while her mistress reads the contents of the envelope she is holding (which bears the artist's name:Metsu)? Are we being asked to admire a chaste young woman whose husband is perhaps absent at sea, then, or a prostitute?
Posted by N E E D L E P R I N T at 08:53