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The old lace-maker (detail), painted by Nicolaes Maes, Mauritshuis/The Hague

An old woman is sitting in a simple room, bowed over her handiwork. She is absorbed in lace making. In the seventeenth century, handiwork was seen as a feminine virtue and was symbolic of domestic diligence. So this painting shows how things were supposed to be: an industrious woman in a tidy home. The small painting exudes an intimate, tranquil atmosphere. This is partly due to Nicolaes Maes’ use of subdued colours (brown, red, black and white) and the subtle lighting in the dark room.

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