The world had become a more serious place since the Counter-Reformation. Now that mannerism was disparaged as indecent, artists had to rely on certain foils in order to depict the 'risqué'.
What better pretext than a young woman searching for fleas, the edifying subject matter of this painting at the Nancy Museum? The seventeenth century was rife with flea-searching servants - by the Italians, the Dutch, the Spanish, and the English. Yet none achieved the same silence, the same intensity of void, as conveyed by Georges de La Tour here.
Certain details stand out: the bent head, followed by the chest and bust of this strange body, continuing downwards to the curled fingers of her hands, tightened to better crush the undesirable guest between her thumbnails.
A major partner in this setting is its lighting.
Today, this lighting is considered a signature feature of Georges de La Tour's oeuvre. Nevertheless, this anonymous painting was not catalogued as a La Tour until 1955: the "rebirth" vaunted to the public in 1934 was only a beginning!