The Macksey Journal


Although Johannes Vermeer’s paintings have long been labelled “ambiguous” in the canon of Western Art History, this research aims to challenge the notion of ambiguity. By shifting the conception of Vermeer’s works from ambiguity to indeterminacy, divergent narratives emerge which inform a more complex understanding of Vermeer’s oeuvre. These divergent narratives understand Vermeer’s paintings as turning points in stories that extend beyond the canvas; moments where the possibilities of a situation diverge in different directions. Thus, a myriad of narratives might be contained in a single painting, all of which simultaneously have the possibility of existing, but not the actuality. This interpretation of Vermeer takes evidence from seventeenth-century ways of seeing and the iconographic messages suggested by the paintings within paintings that occur across Vermeer’s oeuvre. Here for the first time, an aporetic approach is utilized to explore how contradictions and paradoxes within a system serve to contribute to holistic meaning. By analyzing four of Vermeer’s paintings – The Concert, Woman Holding a Balance, The Music Lesson, and Lady Seated at a Virginal – through an aporetic lens, an alternative to ambiguity can be constructed using indeterminacy and divergent narratives that help explain compositional and iconographical choices.