Vermeer

Diana and her Companions (1655-56)
The Hague, Mauritshuis
98x105

A melancholy, shadowed picture, the only one of Vermeer showing classical mythology, with this theme from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Diana, with the crescent moon on her head, is considered the embodiment of chastity, and the bathing goddess scene is thought to show this virgin purity and morality. Two companions wash Diana's feet while another looks on, and a fourth has her back to us, looking into the distance. In the mythology, after the moment depicted here, a prince out hunting, Actaeon, stumbles upon the naked Diana. He is turned into a stag and devoured by dogs; the thistle and dog at lower left represent the impending arrival and devouring.

Washing of feet provides a link with the washing of Christ's feet; another link may be with the washing of Bathsheba's feet (Samuel 2:11), painted contemporaneously by Rembrandt. Titian painted this scene a century earlier, with everyone naked and the crime of Actaeon rather more believable than Vermeer's prudish version. The figures are not painted with the fluid skill of Vermeer's mature period, and there are residual attribution questions about this painting.