Lady at Her Toilette
Incidental background props in a painting are often meant
to convey symbolic meanings that contribute to the painting’s
story. In works like this, Ter Borch intended to engage the
viewer in a sort of guessing game about his characters’
love affairs. The following are some things to think about
as you try to figure out what’s happening in this painting.
|| Notice the woman’s face is reflected
in a mirror. When someone is lost in her own thoughts,
she is sometimes said to be “in a state of reflection.”
In addition, a mirror is often a symbol of personal vanity
in the art from this time period.
||Dogs are often symbols of either lustful
desire or undying faithfulness. The spaniel props up its
front legs on an empty chair as though looking for someone
||There are two candles in a holder. They
have been snuffed out. Candles can symbolize life or passion.
Even today, when one is said to be leading a life of risk-filled
behavior, we say that a person is “burning a candle
at both ends.”
One of the most intriguing things about Ter Borch’s work
is that, to his credit, scholars still do not agree about what
the artist may have intended to imply in this and other paintings.
The game continues!
Image Details: Lady at Her Toilette, ca. 1660;
Oil on canvas. The Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society
Purchase, Eleanor Clay Ford Fund, General Membership Fund, Endowment
Income Fund and Special Activities Fund. Photo: ©1995 The
Detroit Institute of Arts.