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Pieter de Hooch, The Mother (1659-60)

Heedless of her mother’s gentle call the little girl stares outside, into the very far her gaping eyes can perceive. Always when a door is blown ajar by some intractable wind the little girl will rush towards it in excitement, but stands stationary before the threshold as if awestruck by something wondrous or foreign to her yet unspoiled mind. And the sun will flood in, shafts of them will penetrate her tender heart like swords. Blinded by such gilded haziness the little girl forgets to moan. Nor does the mother, kept busy rocking a restless baby, notice the Lights are creeping into the house like troops in encroachment. The little girl is no sooner aflame as Deities are within her.

This painting is a typical example amongst Pieter de Hooch’s oeuvre- like the most characteristic of Vermeer’s, the depth of space is enhanced by the division of the room, and always there is an opened door that leads to the unknown. The focal point should be on the mother but our eyes are trained to follow the curious- in this case it is the little girl, on the point of walking calmly into a perilous adventure, with sunlight enveloping her ominously, as what often admonished in various cautionary tales, that the most beguiling is always the most dangerous.

Why do we always want to chase after the most glorious? Is it merely because of vanity? Or the mirage of the eternal happiness? Outside of her snugly home is a world enmeshed with evil and dangers. The little girl is well aware of that, as her ears are already burnt with the lurid tales of how the world is consisted of forests of thorns. But every time she stands before the gateway opened to a view that is so impregnated with Lights, nothing but Lights, that any precaution of potential harms dissipates.

The mother hums a lullaby as the final means of appeasement to the growingly silent baby. Labyrinthine melodies with refrains like the most monotonous chant, the lullaby is an invisible force that spurs the little girl onto her own adventure. Just go, run, leave your old home, the music seems to tell her. But first of all she needs to be divested of all Deities reside within her. The golden light gently surges out of her bosom to mingle willingly with the blinding light of the world. And a fox straggles furtively in the wake of the hesitant little girl, ready to give advice.


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