This may be one of the three paintings by Vermeer that were described in an Amsterdam auction of 1696 as "A 'face' in an antique dress, uncommonly artful." Although a live model must have been employed, the artist's goal was not portraiture but a study of character and expression. Dutch pictures of this type, called tronies, often feature curious costumes and artistic effects, such as the fall of light on fine fabrics, soft skin, or a pearl earring.
Until 2001, the MMA canvas was called Portrait of a Young Woman. However, it is certain that Vermeer's bust-length pictures of young women were not intended as portraits, even if a live model was employed. In contemporary inventories, including that of Vermeer's estate, paintings of this type were called tronies, a now defunct term that could be translated as heads, faces, or expressions. Depicting intriguing character types and exotic or imaginary costumes, tronies were made as...
female portraittronieoil on canvas