The Elements of Design
Line and Shape
There is a mixture of curved and straight lines interacting with each other. The shapes are mostly geometric, with the chair, desk, and dark paneling in the background. The organic shapes are mostly contained within the figure of the lady and the cloth drooping on the table. Vermeer used tonal values and hue to define the shapes rather than lines.
Physically, the painting appears smooth. The objects in the painting appear smooth as well, which is generally true to life. The light reflecting off her robe gives the impression of a satiny texture. Her skin appears smooth and unwrinkled, assuring the audience of her relative youth.
The light source is from the extreme left, giving the lighting effect common in many Baroque paintings. Chiaroscuro is used to create a three-dimensional effect. Tenebrism and sfumato abound in the painting. There is highlight on her forehead, her left hand, and on the gold ribbon lying on the desk. There are shadows everywhere due to the extreme lighting, and umbra is very dominant in the painting.
Local color is used in this painting. Dull browns are dominant, and the brighter colors are concentrated on the subject of the portrait, drawing the eye to the lady. The painting is predominantly warm due to the browns and yellows, and has heavy tones.
This painting has shallow space due to the wall in the background. The few linear perspective lines converge on the left of the painting, creating depth, as does the overlapping of objects. A lot of space is given around the subject and the table so as not to detract from the focus of the painting.
Principles of Design
The similar hues give a sense of unity, but there are no patterns in the surroundings. The light also unifies the objects in the painting.
The contrast of lines, shapes, and values create interest. There is some contrast of texture in the figures softness and the harder objects around her.
This painting is very asymmetrical. It is predominantly negative space, and there is little balance between light and dark.
Dominance and Center of Interest
The focal point of this painting is obviously the lady, which is highlighted by her placement the middle of the composition, the brighter hues, and the lighter values in comparison to the majority of the painting.
Vermeer does not include many elements in the composition, keeping it very simple. A limited palette and the dominance of negative space also contribute to the economy of the painting. There is very little, if any, detail on the objects surrounding the lady and her desk.