Ferdinand Bol, one of the few Rembrandt pupils who produced a substantial oeuvre of prints, executed more than twenty etchings. The Harvard design served as the model for a signed and dated plate of 1651 (Fig. 1). As one of four studies that are directly preparatory to etchings, it belongs to the core group of Bol’s autograph drawings. The dimensions of the sheet correspond exactly to those of the platemark of the print, which reproduces the image in reverse. Bol coated the verso of the drawing with black chalk and meticulously incised the recto to transfer the image to the etching ground, tracing with a stylus the contours of the figure, details of the costume, and some of the outlines of the shutter and window. The study established the composition and overall distribution of light and shadow, but it lacks the pictorial refinements and tonal gradations introduced during work on the plate. There, Bol also added or changed several details: the cross-piece on the shutter, the necklace, the contour of the extended arm, and, on the proper left sleeve, the cuff and decorative trim at the shoulder. He also animated the bland facial expression of the drawing, giving the woman in the etching an alluring halfsmile and replacing her sideways glance with heavy-lidded eyes, enveloped by delicate shading, that directly engage the viewer.
The composition of Woman in a Window with a Pear recalls paintings of half-length figures at a window executed in the 1640s and 1650s by Bol and other Rembrandt pupils. Bol’s The Toper resembles the Harvard drawing and the related etching in more than its setting (Fig. 2). The poses and gestures are virtually identical, as are a few details of the invented, historicizing costumes, such as the slashed sleeves and cuffs on the resting arms of both figures. The Toper is not dated, but evidently preceded the drawing and print. Bol transformed the man on the canvas into a woman in the Harvard study, retaining some parts of the costume and modifying others. The feminization of the costume continued on the etching plate, where he added the necklace and reduced and altered the cuff that he had copied faithfully from the painting into the drawing. Scholars have dated The Toper to circa 1650–51 on the basis of its relationship to the print.
With his coarse features, ill-humored expression, and capacious roemer (drinking glass), the toper must exemplify the negative consequences of excessive drinking. Similarly, the woman’s anachronistic clothing, provocative décolleté, desultory glance, and improbable offering attest that this is not a scene from everyday life, but an allusive representation of morally questionable behavior. The meaning of the pear in this context probably derives from proverbial and emblem literature, where the fruit is invoked to construct a metaphor for a maiden’s conduct in courtship. In his Minne-spiegel ter deughden (1639), Jan Harmensz. Krul likens pears that have fallen from the tree to young women who too readily offer themselves in love.
The pear that one picks, and cuts from the branch
Is better than the pear that has slipped from the stem.
No maiden who all too hastily falls in love
Has ever attracted a keen lover’s fancy.
Far from embodying the modesty and reserve that moralists prescribed for women in courtship, our protagonist emerges from the private realm to make a public display of the metaphorically charged fruit, not to mention her bosom, to the street.