|With great concentration a mother searches her child’s hair for lice and other vermin. Gerard ter Borch became famous for this kind of scene, showing people totally absorbed in an activity.
The child, probably a boy, wears the kind of long-sleeved pinafore boys usually wore until the age of six or seven. He leans back patiently, waiting for his mother to finish. He holds a red apple which, together with his mother’s red skirt, enlivens this sober depiction with a bit of colour.
Light enters the room from a window on the right. Ter Borch took pains to let the materials and fabrics come to the fore in the subdued light, as evidenced by his masterly rendering of the woman’s fur-trimmed jacket of shining velvet.
It was not only the poor who were plagued by lice. This woman, with her fashionable jacket, clearly belongs to the upper-middle class. Ter Borch’s stepmother, Wiesken Matthys, was probably the model for this picture. The woman’s face, at any rate, bears a strong resemblance to that seen in portraits of his father’s third wife. The child could well be one of his half-brothers.