ART 4 2-DAY 15 December v.9.b0
Died on 15 December 1713: cavaliere Carlo
Maratti (or Maratta), Italian painter, draftsman, and printmaker,
born on 15 (18?) May 1625.
— He was the last major Italian artist of the classical tradition that had originated with Raphael, and his pre-eminence among the artists of his time marks the triumph of classicism. Nonetheless his art unites the virtues of disegno and colore, and he created a grandiose and decorative style that satisfied the demands of the Church. At the same time his late works had a grace and refinement that anticipated the development of the Rococo and Neo-classicism.
Carlo Maratti (Maratta) was the leading painter in Rome in the latter part of the 17th century. As the student of Andrea Sacchi he continued the tradition of the classical Grand Manner, based on Raphael, and he gained an international reputation particularly for his paintings of the Madonna and Child, which are reworkings of types established during the High Renaissance. The rhetorical splendor of his work is thoroughly in the Baroque idiom, however, and the numerous altarpieces he painted for Roman churches (many still in situ) give wholehearted expression to the dogmas of the Counterreformation. Maratta was also an accomplished fresco painter, and the finest portraitist of the day in Rome. He had a large studio and his posthumous reputation suffered when the inferior works of his many students and imitators were confused with his own paintings.
— Sebastián Muñoz and Johann Ferdinand Schor were assistants of Maratti.
— Maratta's students included Sir Godfrey Kneller, Francesco Trevisani, Antonio Balestra, Giacinto Calandrucci, Giuseppe Passeri, Martino Altomonte, Cosmas Damian Asam, Girard Audran, Giovanni Raffaello Badaracco, Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari, Johann Jakob Frey I [1681-1752], Hugh Howard, Johann-Rudolf Huber, Jacob Christoph Le Blon, Agostino Masucci, Domenico Parodi [1672-1742], Pierre Parrocel, Giuseppe Passeri, Girolamo Pesci, Paolo Gerolamo Piola, Tommaso Redi, Joseph Werner II [1637-1710].
Self-portrait (1684, chalk, 37x27cm)
Adoration by the Magi (in Garland) (75x61cm) _ The flower garland was executed by Mario Nuzzi, nicknamed Mario dei Fiori (1603-1673). He painted the flowers on several other paintings by Maratti, too.
Adoration by the Shepherds (1696, 95x98cm) _ The painting is a variant of the fresco executed for the gallery of the Palazzo Quirinale in 1657, revised in 1696. Another variant is in the Louvre, Paris.
Assumption and the Doctors of the Church (1689) _ The tranquil calm of this scene was derived from cleverly following Raphael's model. It sums up the way that Maratti managed serenely to dominate the image he painted. Pietro da Cortona's exuberance had by now subsided. From this we can deduce that Roman art was losing its impetus after the death of Bernini (1680) and was about to enter a phase of soporific academicism.
Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels and Saints (1690) _ This altarpiece possesses a richness of color that is unusual for Maratti. He was, in fact, influenced by looking at Venetian painting, which can also be seen from the way the composition is laid out as well as the expressions and gestures of the characters. Maratti had an eclectic ability to quote from others but always toned it down in a sober and controlled fashion. Indeed, this might be seen as his main claim to fame. Otherwise he was an isolated figure trying to handle the difficult passage between one style and another, between one generation and the next.
Pope Clement IX (1669, 158x118cm) _ Apart from demonstrating the favors granted by important Roman patrons, Maratti's portraits are also perhaps the most lively and penetrating part of his work. He took pains to capture the exact physiognomy of his sitters in whom he sometimes seemed to uncover an incurable feeling of melancholy hiding just below the surface. Here his admiration for Raphael's portraits is evident, but he has added a more stylish air to suit the tastes of the high Baroque The painting was executed shortly before the death of the Pope who was on the throne from 1667 to 1669. It is signed on the paper sheet on the table.
Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well (1657, 47x62cm) _ A leading figure in Rome's cultural world in the second half of the seventeenth century, Carlo Maratti is a good example of both the strengths and weaknesses of the Baroque. His technical ability was unsurpassed as was his knowledge of formal models. At the same time he seemed to struggle to be creative in a truly innovative fashion. He grew up in the classically-inspired atmosphere of Nicolas Poussin's circle and had close contacts with Bellori, a man of letters. Maratti studied sixteenth-century painting admiringly (especially Raphael and Correggio) and joined the group of Emilian artists who had succeeded the Carracci. Most of his career was spent in Rome where he painted numerous large altarpieces, excellent portraits and fresco cycles, such as the one in Villa Falconieri at Frascati. He was praised as "Raphael reincarnate" and became leader of the Roman school after the deaths of Pietro da Cortona and Bernini. His painting was typically polished and flawlessly stylish. He attracted imitators and admirers all over Italy.
Apollo Chasing Daphne (1681, 221x224cm) _ The story is taken from the Metamorphoses of the Roman poet Ovid. After Apollo had offended Cupid in his capacity as an archer, the god of love shot two separate arrows out of spite. One of these struck Apollo himself, who became inflamed with love for Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus. With the other, with opposing effect, he hit Daphne, who as a result fled Apollo's advances. Maratti depicts the point at which Apollo almost catches up Daphne and she is rescued by changing into an olive tree. In the foreground lies Peneus, recognizable as river god by his crock of flowing water.
Carlo Maratti, a native of the Marches and a student of Andrea Sacchi, was one of the leading painters of the Rome of his day. The prestigious commission for this painting came from Louis XIV of France. In it the king consciously followed the image of the Sun King by selecting a theme with the sun god Apollo in the main role. The moment in the story chosen here is very traditional and well-loved in the pictorial arts. A famous and virtuoso model is Bernini's group in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Even so, Maratti's work was rejected by the French court when his work arrived in 1681. The Académie that the king had founded, with its ideals of unity of place, time and action, reproached Maratti for depicting the river god Apianus in the background, although Ovid mentions only later in the story that this god lamented Daphne's lot together with Peneus.
In accordance with the art theory of the time, which encouraged rivalry between artists, many French artists attempted to improve Maratti's composition by observing the academic rules in their own works with the same theme. In this way Maratti's painting became not only one of the first, but, ironically enough, also one of the most influential manifestations of classicism at the French court. Maratti's figures also contain various borrowings from classical antiquity and Renaissance models. His Apollo follows the Apollo Belvedere in the Vatican. The nymph to Apianus' right strongly resembles a print by Marcantonio Raimondi based on Raphael. Later Ingres and Manet sought inspiration from similar sources for their Odalisque and Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe respectively.
Buried on 15 December 1675: Jan Vermeer
(or van der Meer) van Delft, great Dutch painter who was born shortly
before his 31 October 1632 baptism.
The esthetic tastes of nowadays rank Jan Vermeer as one of the most original painters of 17th century Holland, despite the fact that he created no more than forty or so paintings. He remained relatively ignored during his own brief lifetime, and only in the 19th century did his work become highly appreciated.
Jan Vermeer was born the second child of Digna Baltens and Reynier Janszoon Vos, who, besides other businesses, was an art dealer and had relations with some artists of his time, including Balthasar van der Ast, Pieter Steenwyck, and Pieter Groenewesen. Maybe these contacts gave the young Vermeer his first artistic inclination. Nothing is known about his training as a painter, but in 1653 he was admitted as a master to the Guild of St. Luke, which united painters in all genres, glass makers, faience makers, embroiderers and art dealers; as a precondition for being admitted was an obligatory six-year training with a master, recognized by the Guild.
On 20 April 1653 Vermeer married Catharina Bolnes, who bore him 15 children, 4 of them died when still very young.
Vermeer probably painted very little for the public art market, most of his work being produced for those patrons who particularly valued his work. This may also account for the modest number of paintings he produced.
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (1655) is one of Vermeer’s earliest paintings. Paintings of biblical themes were classified as histories, which were described in treatises on art as most distinguished tasks. Vermeer probably wanted to demonstrate his abilities in this genre upon entry to the Guild of St. Luke. Diana and Her Companions (c.1655-1656) is another early work by Vermeer; the theme on this occasion derives from mythology. These themes are not typical of Vermeer. He almost always chose as subject matter glimpses of daily life, and almost invariably interiors, though there are in his heritage a couple of views of Delft: Street in Delfi (1658), View of Delft (1661). His paintings are calm with very few figures, generally no more than one or two, usually women alone (women in love, reading or writing love letters, playing musical instruments; women at work). Vermeer offers the most impressive reflection of the sophisticated side of seventeenth-century Dutch life; its love for fine furniture, attractive women, lavish clothing, and maps decorating interiors: The Art of Painting (1670), Woman with a Water Jug (1665) and others. The role of maps was twofold; on the one hand, they indicated wealth, in the seventeenth century, maps were an expensive luxury; on the other hand, they refer to a good level of education.
Vermeer’s pictures are also moralizing, thus women who had become intoxicated on wine were considered to be the embodiment of sin, and this is a central motif to some of Vermeer’s works: The Glass of Wine (.1659). Soldier and a Laughing Girl (1658), Woman and Two Men (1660). On each of these pictures men are trying to seduce young women by giving them wine. Evidently Vermeer supported the view of his time that alcohol was the first step towards whoring and women should be forbidden drink altogether. There are also many hints and symbols in Vermeer’s pictures, which his contemporaries understood, but we, not knowing their meanings, see in his painting artistic representation of the everyday life of those times.
In almost all his pictures Vermeer is experimenting with light, radiant light comes from somewhere beside or behind the canvas. Jewelry gleams prettily in the light; wet lips, bright eyes catch the light; reflections from window glass, kitchen utensils fall on surrounding objects, creating an atmosphere of peace and serenity. Vermeer preferred cool tones of blue, white and yellow: Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665), The Milkmaid (or Kitchen Maid, 1660), The Lacemaker (1670), Lady Seated at a Virginal (1674) and many others.
Only three of Vermeer's pictures: The Procuress (1656), The Geographer (1669) and The Astronomer (1668) are dated. Some art historians consider the left man on The Procuress to be the self-portrait of Vermeer. The Geographer and The Astronomer were produced as a pair, and remained together until 1729.
Besides painting Vermeer also worked as an art dealer. He presumably took over the running of his father’s inn, the “Mechelen”, once his father died.
Vermeer’s later years were overshadowed by a dramatic deterioration of his personal financial position. He got into debt. In 1672 war between France and the Netherlands started. The only way the Netherlands could defend them was to open dikes and flood the land, but this ruined the agriculture. Vermeer’s family was among those who suffered financially, because it could not get rent for its estate any longer. His wife later commented, “Because of this and because of the large sums of money we had to spend on the children, sums he was no longer able to pay, he fell into such a depression and lethargy that he lost his health in the space of one and a half days and died.” Vermeer was buried on 15 December 1675 in the family grave at the Oude Kerk, Delft.
Vermeer is one of the great Dutch artists of the 17th century, he is now second in renown only to Rembrandt, but he made little mark during his lifetime and then long languished in obscurity. Almost all of the contemporary references to him are in colorless official documents and his career is in many ways enigmatic. Apart from a visit to The Hague in 1672 (to act as an expert witness concerning a group of Italian paintings of disputed authenticity), he is never known to have left his native Delft. He entered the painters' guild there in 1653 and was twice elected 'hooftman' (headman), but his teacher is not known. His name is often linked with that of Carel Fabritius, but it is doubtful if he can have formally taught Vermeer, and this distinction may belong to Leonaert Bramer, although there is no similarity between their work.
Only about thirty-five to forty paintings by Vermeer are known, and although some early works may have been destroyed in the disastrous Delft magazine explosion of 1654, it is unlikely that the figure was ever much larger; this is because most of the Vermeers mentioned in early sources can be identified with surviving pictures, whilst only a few pictures now attributed to him are not mentioned in these sources thus there are few loose ends. This small output may be at least partially explained by the fact that he almost certainly earned most of his living by means other than painting. His father kept an inn and was a picture-dealer and Vermeer very likely inherited both businesses. In spite of this he had grave financial troubles (he had a large family to support his wife bore him fifteen children, and she was declared insolvent in the year after his death).
Only three of Vermeer's paintings are dated The Procuress (1656), The Astronomer 1668), and its companion The Geographer (1669). (Another signed and dated work, St Praxedis mopping up the Blood of the Martyrs of 1655, appeared in the 1970s, but it is of doubtful authenticity. It is in a private collection.) It is difficult to fit his other paintings into a convincing chronology, but his work nevertheless divides into three fairly clear phases.
The first is represented by only two works Christ in the House of Mary and Martha and Diana and her Companions both probably dating from a year or two before The Procuress. They are so different from Vermeer's other works - in their comparatively large scale, their subject matter, and their handling - that Diana and her Companions was long attributed to the obscure Jan Vermeer of Utrecht (1630-after 1692), in spite of a genuine signature. The Procuress marks the transition to the middle phase of Vermeer's career, for although it is fairly large and warm in tonality like the two history paintings it is a contemporary life scene, as were virtually all Vermeer's pictures from now on.
In the central part of his career (into which most of his work falls) Vermeer painted those serene and harmonious images of domestic life that for their beauty of composition, handling, and treatment of light raise him into a different class from any other Dutch genre painter. The majority show one or two figures in a room lit from the onlooker's left, engaged in domestic or recreational tasks. The predominant colors are yellow, blue, and gray, and the compositions have an abstract simplicity which confers on them an impact out of relation to their small size. In reproduction they can look quite smooth and detailed, but Vermeer often applies the paint broadly, with variations in texture suggesting the play of light with exquisite vibrancy his paint surface looks like 'crushed pearls melted together'. From this period of Vermeer's greatest achievement also date his only landscape - the incomparable View of Delft, in which he surpassed even the greatest of his specialist contemporaries in lucidity and truth of atmosphere and his much-loved Little Street. Another painting of this period is somewhat larger in scale and unusual in subject for him The Artist's Studio, in which Vermeer shows a back view of a painter, perhaps a suitably enigmatic self portrait.
In the third and final phase of his career Vermeer's work lost part of its magic as it became somewhat harder. There are still marvelous passages of paint in all his late works, but the utter naturalness of his finest works is gone. The only one of his paintings that might be considered a failure, the Allegory of Faith, belongs to this period. His wife was a Catholic and he may well have been converted to her religion, but his rather lumbering figure shows he was not at ease with the trappings of Baroque allegory. There are symbolic references in other of his paintings, but they all - except for this one - make sense on a straightforward naturalistic level.
No drawings by Vermeer are known and little is known of his working method. It is virtually certain, however, that he made use of a camera obscura; the exaggerated perspective in some of his pictures (in which foreground figures or objects loom unexpectedly large) and the way in which sparkling highlights sometimes appear slightly out of focus are effects duplicated by unsophisticated lenses. The scientist Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), celebrated for his work with microscopes, became the executor of Vermeer's estate and it may well have been an interest in optics that brought them together.
Not to be confused with Jan Vermeer III [1656-1705] nor with Jan Vermeer van Utrecht [1630after 1692]
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1655, 160x142cm, the signature, lower left on the small bench, differs considerably in the writing from authentic ones. It can be considered spurious) _ It seems likely that we have here an Italianate copy after a not yet identified original by a minor Italian master. The numerous borrowings from other artists that were easily discovered by art critics point to a pasticcio more than to the youthful work of a potential great. Italian sources, such as the figure of Christ in the picture by Andrea Vaccaro, the Christ in another painting by Alessandro Allori , or the gesture of the Christ's right arm in a work by Bernardo Cavallino, join evident derivations from the Fleming Erasmus Quellinus. This figure of Christ belongs to the repertory of Italian painters and was used in many studios in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Saint Praxidis (1655, 102x83cm, two dubious signatures: MEER 1655 lower left. MEER N... .R. lower right). _ The painting is probably not of Vermeer, but is an Italianizing copy after a minor Florentine artist. Some connoisseurs believe that this copy was executed by an Italian in his customary technique. Others are inclined to admit that the painting could have been done by a northern artist, in close imitation of the Florentine original. The latter exists: it is by Felice Ficherelli (1605-69?). In any case, it is a mediocre painting. The main difference from the Florentine original is the cross in the hands of the saint, which was probably added at the request of a convent or church that had commissioned the work.
An attribution to Vermeer finds its sole basis in the two signatures, because neither style nor pictorial quality are anywhere close to the artistic level of Vermeer. It is extremely important to remember in this context, that false Vermeer signatures occur often and were probably affixed sometime during the eighteenth or nineteenth century. If such an inscription is two hundred years old, as compared with the age of roughly three hundred years for the painting, the contemporaneity becomes almost impossible to prove either way by so-called scientific methods.
The Procuress (1656) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _ This painting has been attributed to Jan van der Meer van Haarlem, Jacques van der Meer van Utrecht, Jan van der Meer van Delft. Both the signature and the date are old, but not necessarily contemporaneous. There is no relationship between this painting and other authentic works by the master, neither in the conception nor the execution.
One has attempted to establish a connection between this work and The Procuress by Dirck van Baburen from 1622. However, aside from the subject matter, they have nothing in common with the one in Boston. Van Baburen's seems to have been part of Vermeer van Delft's stock in trade and appears as such in two of his paintings. At one time, it must have been the property of his mother-in-law. The fact that Vermeer van Delft was a dealer and thus owned a number of works by other masters does not necessarily imply that he took them as models for his own productions; even if he used some of them as background decorations in his paintings.
View of Delft (1660, 99x118, signed with monogram, below left on the boat) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _ detail 3 _ detail 4 _ This is the most famous painting by Vermeer. Topographic views of cities had become a tradition by the time Vermeer painted this. Hendrik Vroom was the author of two such works depicting Delft, but they are more archaic because they followed the traditional panoramic approach of two cityscapes by Hercules Seghers. The latter artist was one of the first to make use of the inverted Galilean telescope to transcribe the preliminary prints and their proportions (more than twice as high as wide) into the more conventional format of his paintings.
Vermeer executed his View of Delft on the spot, but the optical instrument pointed toward the city and providing the artist with the aspect translated onto canvas, which we admire for its conciseness and special structure, was not the camera obscura but the inverted telescope. It is only the latter that condenses the panoramic view of a given sector, diminishes the figures of the foreground to a smaller than normal magnification, emphasizes the foreground as we see it in the picture, and by the same token makes the remainder of the composition recede into space. The image thus obtained provides us with optical effects that, without being unique in Dutch seventeenth-century painting, as often claimed, convey a cityscape that is united in the composition and enveloped atmospherically into glowing light.
We admire the town, but it is not a profile view of a township, but a painting, an idealized representation of Delft, with its main characteristics simplified and then cast into the framework of a harbor mirroring selected reflections in the water, and a rich, full sky with magnificent cloud formations looming over it. This is chronologically the last painting by Vermeer that was executed in rich, full pigmentation, with color accents put in with a fully loaded brush. The artist outdid himself in a rendition of his hometown, which stands as a truly great interpretation of nature.
Kitchen Maid (1660, 46x41cm) _ This picture ranges among the most highly
appreciated paintings by Vermeer, since shortly after his demise and also
in subsequent years, second only to his View of Delft. Although the
genre of "kitchen pieces" belongs to a long tradition in the Netherlands,
Beuckelaer and Pieter
Aertsen in the sixteenth century being its initiators, it lost favor
in the subsequent century, with the exception of Delft, where it endured.
Vermeer's realization, however, has nothing in common with his archaic forerunners.
His vision is concentrated on a single sturdy figure, which he executes
in a robust technique, in keeping with the image that he wants to project.
The palette features a subdued color scheme: white, yellow, and blue. But
the colors are far from frank or strident, and are rather toned down, in
keeping with the worn work clothes of his model.
The still life in the foreground conveys domestic simplicity, and the light falling in from the left illuminates a bare white kitchen wall, against which the silhouette of the maid stands out. One gains from this deceptively simple scene an impression of inner strength, exclusive concentration on the task at hand, and complete absorption in it. The extensive use of pointillé in the still life lets us presume the use of the inverted telescope in an effort to set off this part of the painting against the main figure and alert the viewer to the contrast between the active humanity of the maid and her inanimate environment.
The Love Letter (giant size) _ The Love Letter (1668, 44x38cm, signed on the wall, to the left of the servant) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _ In this painting, the use of the inverted Galilean telescope is apparent without doubt. We look at the principal scene through a doorway. The foreground is enhanced, dark, and lacks precision in the map on the left wall. The identical map recurs distinctly rendered in the Officer with a Laughing Girl . The other objects nearest the viewer are also muted and almost blurred. On the other hand, the mistress and her maid, as well as the room in which they are placed, are well defined in spite of their recession into space.
The composition is attractive and treated in a decorative manner, although the two figures are devoid of individualization and resemble puppets rather than persons. Part of this shallowness may be due to damage from the theft and subsequent holding for ransom of the painting, which occurred at an exhibition in Brussels in 1971. The picture suffered much more than was later admitted, and no restorer, however skilful, can equal Vermeer.
View of Houses in Delft (The Little Street) (1658, 54x44cm, signed left below the window: I V MEER) _ This is one of the rare paintings that are correctly attributed to the Delft Vermeer since its earliest documentation. Although the painting represents in truth two houses and was initially described as one house only, there does not seem to be any doubt about the identification. It is a very simple and appealing painting, which conveys to the viewer a typical aspect of Dutch life as one encountered it in the period. The habitation ensconces and protects its dwellers, while the façades show the viewer nothing but the outside of their intimate existence. This essential simplicity is translated by the artist into a representation of a quiet street imbued with dignity.
Contemporaries like de Hooch and Jan Steen also painted bricks and mortar, but their treatment is close only in appearance. Vermeer, as usual, elevated his aim into regions of philosophy that surpassed the pedestrian attempts of others by his calm majesty and feeling for shared intimacy, of which he alone was capable. If superficially, Vermeer resembles his Delft colleagues, he easily surpasses them by the depth of his mastery of light and mood. The painting must be chronologically ranged rather early, because he was the initiator of the genre in this particular fashion. An X-ray shows that the artist had initially planned to add a standing girl to the right of the open alleyway, but eliminated her subsequently so as not to disturb the stillness and equilibrium of the composition. There are numerous painted and watercolor copies after this composition.
Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (1657, 83x65cm) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _ In this painting, a young woman stands in the center of the composition, facing in profile an open window to the left. In the foreground is a table covered with the same Oriental rug encountered in the Woman Asleep. On it is the identical Delft plate with fruit. The window reflects the girl's features, while to the right the large green curtain forms a deceptive frame. She is precisely silhouetted against a bare wall that reflects the light and envelops her in its luminosity.
We are here confronted with one of the salient aspects of Vermeer's sensibility and originality. It is the stillness that stands out, the inner absorption, the remoteness from the outer world. She concentrates entirely upon the letter, holding it firmly and tautly, while she absorbs its content with utmost attention.
In the technique, the artist avows again Rembrandtesque derivation. He paints in small fatty dabs to model the forms, and obtains the desired effects by means of impasto highlights opposed to the deeper tonalities just as the master from Leyden was wont to do. The painting is relatively large, and the smallness of the figure as opposed to its surroundings stresses immateriality and depersonalization. Vermeer considerably changed the composition in the course of execution.
Much has been written about the trompe-l'oeil effect of the curtain. It is a pictorial artifice used by many other Dutch masters and in keeping with an old European tradition. Rembrandt, Gerrit Dou, Nicolaes Maes, and many still-life and even landscape painters made use of such curtains as a means of simulating effects that now seem theatrical. The light background can be found in many paintings by Carel Fabritius, The Goldfinch from 1654 being the most famous example.
in Blue Reading a Letter (giant size) Woman
in Blue Reading a Letter (1664, 47x39cm) _ detail
_ As in the Woman with a Pearl Necklace, a solitary figure of a woman
is standing immersed in her thoughts, this time in the center of the composition.
She reads a letter and seems completely absorbed by it. This painting stands
out by the simplification of the composition, which does away with the previously
mandatory leaden window to the left. Even the chairs and table surrounding
the principal and single figure have lost in importance. Only the map on
the wall breaks the uniformity. Vermeer's palette has become very delicate
and sophisticated. Blue predominates by its widespread use in the woman's
jacket. The foreground again gains in emphasis according to the precepts
derived from the inverted telescope. Otherwise, the viewer is only confronted
with the pure majesty of the main figure, set against the clear wall, whose
luminosity is balanced by the brownish map. In its classical simplicity,
grandeur, and almost abstract conception, this is one of Vermeer's masterpieces.
Woman Asleep at Table (1657, 88x77cm) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _ detail 3 _ detail 4 _ This painting is the earliest indisputable work by the master. Vermeer's earliest phase was Rembrandtesque. This can easily be ascertained from the rich and heavily impastoed pigments used in this painting. His subjects are always deceptively simple. He shows us in the left part of the composition a table covered with a glowing Oriental rug pulled up in front. On it is a Delftware plate with fruit, a white pitcher, and an overturned glass or roemer in the foreground. At the far end of the table is a young woman asleep, her head resting on her propped-up right arm and hand; the left one lies negligently flat. To the right is the back of a chair, and in the distance a half-open door that allows the viewer to see into another room.
The theme goes directly back to Rembrandt. One of his drawings, A Girl Asleep at a Window, shows a very similar pose. This, and the type of model, were also adopted by Nicolaes Maes in his Idle Servant, dated 1655, although there the maid sleeps on her left arm and hand. An identical stance can also be found in Maes's Housekeeper from a year later, 1656. It has been suggested that Nicolaes Maes stayed in Delft after having left Rembrandt's studio, perhaps in 1653 or even later, to move to Dordrecht afterward. In any event, there were ample possibilities for Vermeer to have had access to Rembrandtesque drawings, from a possible stay in the Rembrandt studio to Leonaert Bramer and Carel Fabritius. The handling of the light, as well as the deep coloring and heavy paste in the execution, derives from Rembrandtesque techniques of the early 1640s.
Technical examinations revealed that Vermeer made major changes in the course of execution. Thus, he initially put a man in the second room instead of the mirror, and a dog in the doorway. He also enlarged the picture on the wall, which shows part of a Cupid in the style of Caesar van Everdingen, which we shall encounter in toto in other of Vermeer's paintings. There have been various attempts at emblematic interpretation of the scene, but unless we have a clear case of double meaning, such as we shall encounter in a few isolated instances, this type of interpretation has to be taken with a grain of salt. The paint surface of the still life on the table has suffered from abrasions and restorations.
Officer with a Laughing Girl (1657, 50x46cm) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _ During the second half of the 19th century, this painting was erroneously attributed to Pieter van Hooch. While painting with a brush loaded with pigments and applying them in a granulous fashion by thick dabs, Vermeer ingeniously develops his mastery as a luminist. The young woman is bathed in light, which streams in through the half open window to the left, and reflects itself from the cream-colored background that is enhanced to the left by very thin glazes of slightly pinkish tonalities. Her face, exceptionally conveying expression - joy and laughter - appears framed in a kerchief and the collar of her dress. That part of the figure, especially, reveals itself as a symphony of luminosity, set off by the dark sleeves of the yellow jacket on which glittering highlights dance. In contrast, the soldier in the black hat and red jacket is placed close to the viewer, from whom he turns his back. He is hardly more than a silhouette, but rather overpowering, given the relative importance accorded his bodily appearance.
The nearest foreground the soldier on his chair and the dark-green part of the table cover are so strongly enhanced that the use of an optical instrument by Vermeer for the structuring of the composition seems indisputable. We have here the typical effect of the inverted telescope: the foreground standing out in the manner of stage scenery, while the figure of the girl recedes into space. On the back of the wall, we find for the first time a map. This element of decoration reappears frequently in the artist's subsequent works.
Lady Drinking and a Gentleman (1658, 66x76cm) _ detail
1 _ detail
2 _ detail 3
_ detail 4
_ This was the time when genre painting flourished, and artists like Pieter
de Hooch, Jan Steen, Frans
van Mieris, and Gerard
Terborch, to name only a few, placed their figures into a light-filled
room or courtyard, showing them either socializing or preoccupied with domestic
chores. Vermeer's works set the tone for representations of the upper bourgeoisie,
a social level more refined than that depicted by his contemporaries. This
type of setting required finer and smoother pictorial rendition than, for
instance, The Milkmaid.
Consequently, Vermeer adapted his brushwork to the new needs, and more than equaled a Frans van Mieris, for instance, in the delicacy and finesse of the execution. It is proposed by some critics that Vermeer was the originator of the genre. It was he who influenced Pieter de Hooch, not the other way around, as was previously assumed. His elegance, sophistication, and majestic stillness assert the primacy of his conceptions over the more pedestrian de Hooch, who attained brief artistic heights only under Vermeer's impetus during his Delft sojourn in the late 1650s. Like A Lady and Two Gentlemen, this seduction scene contains an open window which features the warning figure of Temperance.
A Lady and Two Gentlemen (1659, 78x68cm) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _ detail 3 _ At one time this painting was erroneously attributed to Jacob van der Meer. A young woman wearing an elegant red dress is seated in the foreground turned toward the left and looking half-smilingly at the viewer. It is one of the rare instances when Vermeer animates one of his figures with a semblance of expression. She seems to be courted by a fine gentleman, bent over and encouraging the young lady to take a sip from the wine glass that she holds in her hand. Farther back, another. gentleman sits behind a table featuring an exquisitely painted still life of a silver plate, fruit, and white pitcher. The second male figure sits in a pose reminiscent of the Girl Asleep, apparently befuddled by too much wine. A man's portrait in the background may be one of the family portraits mentioned in the inventory of Vermeer's widow in 1676, which was part of his stock as a dealer. As to the coat of arms prominently displayed in the window, it belonged to a former neighbor's family that used to live in a house next to the Vermeers.
The room where the artist placed the composition resembles others frequently used by him. Patterns, windows, and walls reappear with minor changes. In this respect, Vermeer did not show much originality. His mastery resides in the delicacy of the execution, the use of light, and the grouping of his figures.
Girl Interrupted at Her Music (1661, 39x44cm) _ detail Owing to its very poor state of preservation, already noticed in 1899, it is difficult to determine whether we have here an old copy or an almost completely ruined and overpainted original. The best part of the painting is the still life. In the background, we find the Standing Cupid, which is already familiar to us from A Woman Asleep at Table. The bird cage on the rear wall is a 19th century overpainting. In the composition we find a new twist the interruption in the interaction of the two figures. The young girl looks out at the viewer, and takes time off from the making of music. It has been suggested that the Cupid on the wall conveys the emblematic meaning of unrequited love. Only the gentleman seems to be fully absorbed by his feelings, whereas the young woman appears distracted and inattentive. The treatment of light, falling in from the left, is also Vermeeresque.
A Lady Writing a Letter (1666, 45x40cm, signed on the frame of the painting in the background) _ We have again a single-figure composition. A lady dressed in a yellow jacket with borders of ermine occupies the center of the composition. She is seated at a table, turned toward the left. Her right hand firmly secures the quill that she is prepared to use. In the meantime, she gazes at the viewer. This is a very elegant, though somewhat dark, interior, the only light coming from an unseen source at the left. It bathes the lady and the table, leaving everything else in a warm penumbra. One used to think that this was a portrait in disguise, an assumption that cannot be maintained in view of the quizzical expression of the sitter, who looks pensively beyond the picture frame into space. The painting on the rear wall, probably representing a skull and other paraphernalia, has plausibly been identified with a work by C. van der Meulen.
Vermeer shows himself here again as an exquisite painter of detail. The style is that of his mature years. Having abandoned the clear back wall "à la Fabritius," he envelops the composition in warm brown tonalities that foster feelings of intimacy, and for once stresses a certain degree of individualization in the model depicted.
Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman (1664, 73x64cm, signed along
the lower edge of the frame of the painting on the extreme right: IV Meer
[IVM in monogram], inscribed on the underside of the lid of the virginals:
MVSICA LETITIAE CO/ME/S/MEDICINA DOLOR/IS/ ) _ detail
1 _ detail
2 _ detail 3
_ This painting was at one time attributed to Frans van Mieris. The greatness
of Vermeer is dependent upon the economy of his style and the precision
of his technique, which served to create an enigmatic mood that has become
the hallmark of his mature paintings. The apparent simplicity of the compositions,
which to a large extent rely on a limited number of studio props, and a
restricted number of settings, belie artifice.
There is general agreement that A Lady at a Virginal dates from the 166Os, but it is difficult to be more exact. The subject prompts comparison with Vermeer's Concert Trio in Boston , but the bolder, more dramatic use of perspective, emphasizing the longitudinal axis of the room, is closer to paintings of the late 166Os such as Lady writing a Letter with her Maid, The Love Letter and The Geographer, dated 1669. This treatment of perspective is typical of the style developed by painters working in Delft during the 1650s.
The relationship between music and love as a theme was frequently explored by Dutch seventeenth-century painters with varying shades of meaning. Vermeer's subject matter is often understated, but at the same time objects contained within the picture reinforce the meaning, which in some instances is interpreted on a quasi-philosophical basis. Thus, the two instruments the virginals and the bass viol here signify the possibility of a duet symbolizing the emotions of the two figures.
Similarly, the painting behind the man can be identified as Cimon and Pero (also known as Roman Charity) in which a daughter feeds her father, who has been imprisoned, from her own breast, a theme that clearly has connotations that are open to interpretation in the context of love. Cimon and Pero is in the style of a Dutch follower of Caravaggio (possibly Utrecht school), although the original has not been identified. Interestingly, a painting of this subject is listed in the 1641 inventory of items belonging to the artist's mother-in-law, Maria Thins. [Cimon and Pero by Rubens]
The keyboard instrument has been identified as being comparable with those built by Andries Ruckers the Elder. The lining paper on the keywell, decorated with flowers, foliage and sea-horses, also occurs on instruments depicted by Metsu (A Man and a Woman seated by a Virginal) and Steen (A Young Woman playing a Harpsichord). There are specific sources for the patterns used on the lid and the fallboard, but no source for the pattern on the keywell has yet been discovered.
The mirror above the woman reflects not only her head and shoulders, but also the artist's easel. The fact that there is a diminution in scale of the head in the mirror and that the image itself is slightly out of focus denotes the use of a camera obscura. However, while the box visible behind the easel in the reflection may indeed be a camera obscura, it may also be a paintbox.
The mood of this interior by Vermeer is created as much from the confrontation of the two figures as from the juxtaposition of mundane objects within a space precisely proportioned and subtly lit.
Woman with a Lute near a Window (1663, 51x46cm) _ detail We have here a much skinned and damaged painting, to the point where it is possible that we are in the presence of a copy only. Very little in this work seems to indicate Vermeer's original technique, brush stroke, and savoir faire. The composition seems to belong to Vermeer. The left part (from the viewer's perspective) of the lady's figure is bathed in strong light, whereas the rest falls abruptly into penumbra, in concordance with the chiaroscuro pattern derived from the master of Leyden by many of his disciples, such as Leonaert Bramer. On the back wall, a large map on which the word EUROPA can be made out. This map was first published by J. Hondius in 1613 and republished by J. Blaeu in 1659. The artist obviously made use in this work of an optical instrument such as the inverted Galilean telescope, to obtain the emphasized foreground, set against the recession of the lute player into space.
Woman with a Pearl Necklace (1663, 55x45cm) _ detail _ In this painting, along with Woman in Blue Reading a Letter and Woman Holding a Balance, Vermeer attempted a composition in which he showed a single woman concentrating on some kind of occupation. In each case, the woman is shown turning inward with her thoughts, and using some minor physical activity to give herself some countenance. In this case, she gazes into a mirror while holding two yellow ribbons attached to a pearl necklace around her neck. The distance between the solitary figure to the right and the mirror on the wall, next to the window to the left, is filled by a heavy table slightly to the fore. This part of the painting is very dark, with nothing more than a Chinese vase and a rug irregularly covering the table to occupy the space. The light falling in from the left, dispersed by the creamy bare wall, illuminates the meditative young woman admiring her reflection in the distant mirror.
In this instance, as well as in the above mentioned two, all emblematic explanations or identifications, such as truth, prudence, or others, do not apply. During these years, the artist was obviously preoccupied and influenced by Eastern thought. The stillness and introspection of the models reflect the search for aloof withdrawal and serenity as taught by Buddhist writings. It is in this sense that we must understand and appreciate Vermeer's creations during his maturity.
Holding a Balance (1663, 42x38cm) _ This painting has been known until
recently as The Goldweigher or Girl Weighing Pearls. Microscopic
analysis, however, has revealed the pans of the balance to be empty. The
highlight on the pans is not rendered with lead-tin yellow, which is used
elsewhere on the canvas to depict gold. Vermeer represented pearls with
a thin gray layer topped with a white highlight. The pan highlight is a
single layer. In addition, there are no loose pearls on the table that would
indicate other pearls waiting to be weighed.
This seemingly trivial analysis as to what is being weighed actually bears importantly on the meaning of the work. For Woman Holding a Balance is overtly allegorical. The woman stands between a depiction of the Last Judgment hung in a heavy black frame and a table covered with jewelry representing material possessions. The empty scale stresses that she is balancing spiritual rather than material considerations. Vermeer's portrayal does not impart a sense of tension or conflict, rather the woman exudes serenity. Her self-knowledge is reflected in the mirror on the wall. Vermeer's point is that we should lead lives of moderation with full understanding of the implications of a final judgment.
The composition is designed to focus attention on the small and delicate balance being held. The woman's arms act as a frame, with the small finger of her right hand extended to echo the horizontal lever of the balance. The bottom of the painting frame is even altered to provide a partial niche for the scales. The frame ends higher in front of the woman than it does behind her. The complex interplay between verticals and horizontals, objects and negative space, and light and shadow results in a strongly balanced, yet still active composition. The scales are balanced, but dynamically asymmetrical. A cleaning in 1994 revealed previously undetectable gold trim on the black frame that provides a tonal link to the yellow of the curtain and the woman's costume.
Vermeer has endowed Woman Holding a Balance with more overtly allegorical context than his other domestic scenes. As such, it loses some of the invitingly subjective interpretation of a less direct work such as Woman in Blue Reading a Letter. Nevertheless, Vermeer's masterful composition and execution produced a powerful and moving work.
Young Woman with a Water Jug (1662, 46x41cm) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _ This painting was incorrectly attributed first to Metsu, and then to Pieter van Hooch, until the late 19th century. The perfect balance of the composition, the cool clarity of the light, and the silvery tones of blue and gray combine to make this closely studied view of an interior a classic work by Vermeer. It is characteristic of his early maturity and dates from the beginning of the 1660s. The composition is simple: a young woman standing in the corner of a room, turned to the left, opening a window with her right hand and holding in her left hand a brass water jug. The jug is placed on a bowl of the same material, standing with some other paraphernalia on a table covered with a red Oriental rug. The whole appears as a symphony in yellow and blue; standing out against the white headdress and large collar worn by the young woman. The background is light, in imitation of Carel Fabritius. A map animates the right corner of the wall. The very simplicity and Oriental stillness of the model make this work one of the most significant compositions by the master. There is light, grace, and distinction here, a tendency toward abstraction that characterizes the master's maturity, and a delicacy in the execution that accompanies his evolution from:the early works toward a more artful manner of pictorial expression.
Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665, 47x40cm) _ zoom in _ zoom in some more _ This charming portrait of a girl is unfortunately in a very poor state of conservation and suffered from numerous extensive restorations. It is furthermore marred by an ugly pattern of cracks. Nevertheless, it became famous after its rediscovery and was dubbed the "Gioconda of the North" by many enthusiastic critics. Fortunately, enough of the original is left to permit the savoring of a truly outstanding and partly exotic work. Its non-Western character is stressed by the blue and yellow turban, which clearly reflects Asia and has nothing in common with "antique dress." This painting and the Portrait of a Young Woman are the most outstanding examples of Vermeer's adaptation of Indonesian patterns of thought and artistic rendering into his own form language.
One must admire the artist's technique, which features application of the pigments in juxtaposition and melting, avoiding precise lines, and therefore blurring the contours of different colors so as to obtain effects that foreshadow those of the impressionists. The dark backgrounds that Vermeer chose in these two portraits enhance the plasticity of the models; while the color gamut echoes Oriental prototypes: in this case, the frescoes of Ajanta. Both paintings stand out for the depersonalization of the sitters. Expressionless, they gaze into the void in search of ultimate salvation.
The Concert (1666) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _ This painting superficially resembles A Lady at a Virginal with a Gentleman in that it features the making of music in a domestic environment. But there the likeness stops. The Lady at a Virginal was very rigidly constructed, pruned to the point of abstraction, and allowing the viewer only a glance from afar upon the principal scene. In The Concert, we are again part of the happening, although separated from it by the table covered with the familiar red Oriental rug and the bass viol on the floor.
However, the music-making trio in a compact group presents itself sufficiently close to our vision so that the viewer shares in the earnest concentration of the figures. This slightly removed part of the painting is particularly rich in details, almost pictures within the picture. On the far wall to the right, we find Baburen's The Procuress which was part of Vermeer's stock as an art dealer. To the left is a landscape in the style of Jacob van Ruisdael. The two are linked by the landscape on the raised cover of the clavecin done in the then-fashionable style of the Italianizing Dutch landscape painters such as Jan Both.
For Vermeer, such a crowding of decorative elements is rather unusual, and has therefore encouraged critics to attempt various interpretations of the meaning of the scene. They range from calling it a brothel to a domestic scene with the lady to the right being the personification of temperance! In any case, the amateur seeking purely aesthetic pleasure will find delight in the perfection of the composition, the delicate execution of the figures, as well as of the paraphernalia, and the masterly use of diffused light enveloping the actors. In this work, Vermeer stands greatly above his contemporaries de Hooch, Jan Steen, Metsu, and many others, in harmony, grandeur, and artistic skill.
Portrait of a Young Woman (1667, 45x40cm) _ This painting, as opposed to the Girl with a Pearl Earring, is very well preserved and permits us to judge Vermeer's approach, both technical and conceptual, in all its brilliance. The sitter has obvious Indonesian traits: a moon face, compressed lips; and relatively narrow eyes. We certainly do not have here a portrait, but again, as in the Girl with a Pearl Earring, a generalized type that communicates with the spiritual world almost as if in a trance. This part of the painting is delicately executed, while the light-blue robe or loose cloak that the young person is wearing has been more broadly and crisply treated. Interestingly, this painting was certainly the prototype that inspired the Girl with a Red Hat (which according to some critics is not by Vermeer but is a later pasticcio.)
This painting of Vermeer does not enjoy as much favor as the "Gioconda of the North," although it is, in many respects, a much better picture. What moves most critics and viewers adversely is the fact that they are, without knowing it, confronted with a non-Western person. The face, criticized by many as too broad and flat, and the small nose correspond to an Eastern, not an Occidental, ideal of beauty. Once this obstacle is removed and accepted as such, this painting should receive all due admiration, as soon as it is approached within a new aesthetic framework.
The Art of Painting (1666, 120x100cm, signed on map, to the right of the girl) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _ detail 3 _ detail 4 _ detail 5 _ This painting was at one time attributed to Pieter de Hooch, but in 1860, it was recognized as a Vermeer. It was stolen for Adolf Hitler after 1938, and hung at his residence in Berchtesgaden.
This painting was long called The Artist in His Studio, and we may in effect presume that the artist seen from behind was himself. However, the intention of representing an allegory is stronger here than in all other Vermeer's works. The heavy curtain on the left, which lets the viewer partake of the scene, has decidedly theatrical connotations. So does the young girl whom the artist portrays, and whose crown of laurel easily identifies her as Fame. A connection with Clio, the muse of history, also exists. She holds a trumpet and a book of Thucydides.
The whole composition is a panegyric to the art of painting. Set in an elegant room, with a chandelier, chairs, the lush curtain, and a large map on the back wall, which shows the northern and southern Netherlands and indicates the area over which the reputation of the artist could spread, its overall meaning emphasizes the attainment of fame to the benefit of the man in the pursuit of his artistic endeavors as well as 'qua' citizen of his hometown. The uncommonly large painting, considered from the pictorial viewpoint only, is rather decorative but lacks depth. Only its meaning makes it of particular interest. Repeated restorations may have contributed to the narrative rather than painterly excellence of the work.
with Her Maidservant Holding a Letter (1667, 89x78cm) _ detail
1 _ detail
2 _ detail 3
_ The mistress, sitting at a table and turned to the left, wears the same
yellow jacket with an ermine border as the Lady Writing a Letter.
The maid interrupts her writing and hands her a letter. Both figures are
close to the foreground, strongly illuminated, and standing out against
the dark background, which lacks further adornment and remains undefined.
For Vermeer, this is an unusually large composition, which focuses on a moment of interaction and interruption, rather than on a contemplation of stillness and introvert thoughtfulness. This new approach enhances the monumentality of the scene.
Young Girl with a Flute (1667, 20x18cm) _ It is assumed by some critics that this painting is not by Vermeer, but one of the French fakes produced at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In this case it originates from the same faker's studio as the Girl with a Red Hat
Girl with a Red Hat (1668, 23x18cm) _ It is assumed by some critics that this painting is not by Vermeer, but is a later pasticcio. It, and the Girl with a Flute are painted on wood, whereas all authentic Vermeer paintings are done on canvas. This work has been painted on an upside-down Rembrandtesque portrait of a man, and pigments considered to be older than the nineteenth century found in this painting come from the original and not from the modern pasticcio.
The Astronomer (1668, 50x45cm) _ detail _ This painting and The Geographer are probably companion pieces, in spite of the fact that the sitter is looking to the left in both of them. They are the only works in Vermeer's oeuvre that represent male figures involved in scholarly pursuits. Until 1778, they remained together. The signatures and dates on both paintings are questionable, but they must have been executed toward the end of the 1660s. They were therefore commissioned by a patron who was especially interested in astronomy or the celestial sciences. In both paintings, the references to books, scientific instruments, and, in the portrait of The Astronomer, the celestial globe by Jodocus Hondius, are accurately depicted.
The Astronomer features on the rear wall a picture representing the scene of the finding of Moses, which has been interpreted as being associated with the advice of divine providence in reaching, in the case of the astronomer, for spiritual guidance. Although farfetched, it is likely that the content of the painting is associated in some way with the meaning of the work.
Both paintings, with their interiors of scholarly studios and scientific paraphernalia, award Vermeer the opportunity for lighting effects that envelop the scientists in the mystery of an atmosphere that lifts their occupations into the realm of spirituality.
The Geographer (1668, 53x47cm) _ detail _ (See comments on The Astronomer, above). The sea chart on the wall of The Geographer does not have any religious association. It must be remembered that the rise of interest in scientific research at the time, fostered by the newly established University of Leyden, and philosophers like Descartes, did not have any specific religious associations. Quite to the contrary, the aim was to explore the universe, and simultaneously to further Dutch navigation in its conquest of faraway lands.
The Lacemaker (1670, 24x21cm, signed top right) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _
At least four old copies are known, two by Jan Stolker (1724-85). The Lacemaker is another small scale painting, nearly dwarfed by its impressive wooden frame. Unlike the more contemplative figures in Vermeer's work, the subject here is very active, intensely focused on a physical activity. As opposed to the full-figure compositions, where furniture and drapery act to facilitate or deflect the viewer's visual entry, "The Lacemaker" brings the subject dramatically to the foreground. As a result, the viewer is drawn into a powerful emotional engagement with the work. Although the composition is quite shallow, there are different depths of field that draw the viewer into the canvas. The forms nearest the eye are unfocused, which encourages the viewer to pass on to the more distinctly defined middleground.
The intimacy is accentuated by the small scale, personal subject matter, and natural composition. The lacemaker's total preoccupation with her work is indicated through her confined pose. The use of yellow, a dynamic, psychologically strong hue, reinforces the perception of intense effort. Contrasts of form serve to animate the image. For example, her hairstyle expresses her essential nature - both tightly constrained and, in the loose ringlet behind her left shoulder, rhythmically flowing. Another strong contrast exists between the tightly drawn threads she holds and the smoothly flowing red and white threads in the foreground. The precision and clearness of vision demanded by her work is expressed in the light accents that illuminate her forehead and fingers.
The diffused ocular effect of the foreground objects, especially the threads, was definitely derived from a camera obscura image. Vermeer used the informal, close framing of the composition suggested by the camera obscura to accentuate the realistic, immediate impact of the painting. Contemporary Dutch painting portrayed industriousness as an allegory of domestic virtue, While the inclusion of the prayer book pays fealty to this theme, it is a secondary concern to the depiction of the handicraft of lacemaking, and, in the highest sense, the creative act itself. Once again, Vermeer succeeded in transforming a transitory image into one of eternal truth.
Lady Writing a Letter With Her Maid (1670, 72x60cm, signed on the table, under the left arm of the lady writing) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _ detail 3 _ This masterpiece has been stolen not once, but twice within less than fifteen years. The owner, a member of Britain's Parliament, was targeted by the IRA, who broke into his estate in 1974 and took a total of nineteen paintings. It was recovered a week later, having sustained only minor damage. In 1986, the Dublin underworld stole the painting. Only after more than seven years of secret negotiations and international detective work was the painting recovered. This is the second work, together with the Guitar Player , given as security for a debt of fl 617 by the widow of Vermeer to the baker van Buyten, on 27 January 1676.
Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid" exemplifies Vermeer's essential theme of revealing the universal within the domain of the commonplace. By avoiding anecdote, by not relating actions to specific situations, he attained a sense of timelessness in his work. The representation of universal truths was achieved by eliminating incidental objects and through subtle manipulation of light, color and perspective.
The canvas presents a deceptively simple composition. The placid scene with its muted colors suggests no activity or hint of interruption. Powerful verticals and horizontals in the composition, particularly the heavy black frame of the background painting, establish a confining backdrop that contributes to the restrained mood.
The composition is activated by the strong contrast between the two figures. The firm stance of the statuesque maid acts as a counterweight to the lively mistress intent on writing her letter. The maid's gravity is emphasized by her central position in the composition. The left upright of the picture frame anchors her in place while the regular folds of her clothing sustain the effect down to the floor. In contrast, the mistress inclines dynamically on her left forearm. Her compositional placement thrusts her against the compressed space on the right side of the canvas. Strong light outlines the writing arm against the shaded wall, reflecting in angular planes from the blouse that contrast abruptly with the regimented folds of the maid's costume. The mistress is painted in precise, meticulous strokes as opposed to the broad handling of the brush used to depict the maid. The figures, although distinct individuals, are joined by perspective. Lines from the upper and lower window frames proceed across the folded arms and lighted forehead of the maid, extending to a vanishing point in the left eye of the mistress. The viewer's eye is lead first to the maid, then on to the mistress as the focal point of the painting.
Vermeer shuns direct narrative content, instead furnishing hints and allusions in order to avoid an anecdotal presentation. The crumpled letter on the floor in the right foreground is a clue to the missive the mistress is composing. The red wax seal, rediscovered during a 1974 cleaning, indicates the crumpled letter was received, rather than being a discarded draft of the letter now being composed. Since letters were prized in the 17th century, it must have been thrown aside in anger. This explains the vehement energy being devoted to the composition of the response. Another hint is provided in the large background painting, The Finding of Moses.
Contemporary interpretation of this story equated it with God's ability to conciliate opposing factions. These allusions have led critics to construe Vermeer's theme as the need to achieve reconciliation, through individual effort and with faith in God's divine plan. This spiritual reconciliation will lead to the serenity personified in the figure of the maid.
Allegory of the Faith (1673, 114x89cm) _ detail 1
_ detail 2
_ An unusually large canvas for Vermeer, this is one of the two known paintings
of his that have explicitly allegorical content. Vermeer had converted to
Catholicism at the time of his marriage, and this work may have been commissioned
by a Catholic institution.
The subject matter for this allegory obviously did not suit Vermeer's taste. In The Art of Painting, he produced, in spite of the intrusion of iconographic material, a composition that conveyed a psychological approach joined to artistic execution. Even so, it was not really as successful as other works that imply thoughtfulness or meditation.
The Allegory of Faith is fraught with details that evidently were prescribed by the spiritual fathers (probably the Jesuits, although the first known owner of the painting was a Protestant) of the composition, but that did not fit into an artistic image with which Vermeer could cope.
Hence, we have here an exercise in classicism, of abstract concepts, which led to a mediocre result. The artist's creativity had, in any case, declined by then into a brittle style with no more inner warmth or ability to communicate.
Thus, we are in the presence of a rather dry amalgamate, drawn in the main from Cesare Ripa's book Iconologia, to which a large Crucifixion by Jacob Jordaens on the back wall is added as a backdrop. Hence, this allegorical representation of the New Testament can have served as a didactic introduction to some aspects of the Catholic faith.
The Guitar Player (1672, 53x46cm, signed on the right on the lower edge of the curtain) _ zoom in _ Mentioned in 1676 as the property of Vermeer's widow and given by her as security to the baker van Buyten, together with Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid for a debt of fl 617. There is an old copy, canvas, (49x41cm). The only difference separating this copy from the original version is the coiffure of the guitar player, whose style points toward 1700. Otherwise, both paintings are almost equal as far as pictorial quality is concerned.
Together with the Lacemaker, this painting constitutes one of the best achievements by Vermeer, and certainly a towering success in his late maturity. By now, the artist had attained the mastery of light and colors, together with complete freedom of expressing himself technically by means of looser brushstrokes that are no longer bound to specifics of texture or materials. The model is not drawn inward but looks to the outside world in full communication and radiance of her pleasure simply to make music. Never was Vermeer more able to liberate himself from all constraints and convey his artistic viewpoint in a more masterly manner. The landscape on the back wall seems to be painted in the style of Hackaert.
Lady Seated at a Virginal (1673, 52x45cm) _ zoom in _ Whereas the Lady Standing at a Virginal is bathed in light, this putative companion piece features a subdued atmosphere. The shade is drawn here, and though we can make out every detail in the limpid light, Baburen's Procuress hanging on the back wall furnishes the main contrast. It is curious to observe that while inanimate objects the clavecin, the bass viol in the foreground to the left, and the decorations of the musical instrument are extremely detailed, the curtain to the left is stiff, and the lady making music is devoid of expression, depersonalized, and faultily drawn (see, e.g., her arms). There can be no question that the paintings from these last years are vastly inferior to what we have been accustomed to by Vermeer.
Lady Standing at a Virginal (1670) _ detail 1 _ detail 2 _ detail 3 _ There is no certitude that this painting and A Lady Seated at a Virginal are companion pieces, but they obviously are closely related as to subject matter. The technique exemplifies in both instances Vermeer's late period.
As we might suspect in an artist with his aspirations, Vermeer injected narrative or allegorical significance even into his domestic interiors. The young woman strokes the keys of the virginal a smaller version of the harpsichord but looks expectantly out of the picture. Music, we recall, is the 'food of love', and the empty chair calls to mind an absent sitter, perhaps traveling abroad among the mountains depicted in the picture on the wall and on the lid of the virginal. Cupid holding up a playing card or tablet has been related to an emblem of fidelity to one lover, as illustrated in one of the popular contemporary Dutch emblem books, where the image is explained in the accompanying motto and text. It has been suggested, not altogether convincingly, that the painting forms a contrasting pair with its neighbor, Vermeer's Young Woman seated at a Virginal, where the viola da gamba in the foreground awaits the partner of a duet but the picture of the Procuress (by the Utrecht artist Baburen) behind the woman points to mercenary love. Whether or not the paintings are thus related, both surely portray young women dreaming of love. But the theme seems commonplace beside Vermeer's treatment of it. Cool daylight streams in through the window on the left, as it always does in his pictures. The textures of gray-veined marble and white-and-blue Delft tiles, of gilt frame and whitewashed wall, of blue velvet and taffeta and white satin, of scarlet bows, are differentiated through the action of this light in their most minute particularities and specific luster. Volume is revealed, shadows cast and space created. Yet the real magic of the painting is that all this does not, as it were, exhaust the light. Enough of it remains as a palpable presence diffused throughout the room to reach out to us beyond the picture's frame.
Enterré le 15 décembre 1675: Jan Vermeer van Delft, peintre néerlandais, peut-être le plus grand, qui excellait dans l'art de peindre des scènes d'intérieurs confortables, composées avec une précision mathématique et baignées d'une lumière argentée, douce. Il naquit à Delft et y fut baptisé peu après (31 octobre 1632).
Après un apprentissage de six années, il a été reçu, en 1653, comme maître à la guilde de Saint-Luc de Delft. Membre important de la guilde, il a servi quatre trimestres à son conseil d'établissement et semble bien avoir été connu par ses contemporains. Il gagna modestement sa vie, plus grâce au négoce d'œuvres d'art qu'en tant que peintre.
Seules trente-cinq des toiles de Vermeer ont survécu et aucune ne semble avoir été vendue. Leur petit nombre s'explique par des habitudes d'un travail délibérement méthodique de la part de Vermeer, ainsi que par son décès relativement précoce et de la disparition de nombreuses toiles pendant la période d'obscurantisme suivant sa mort à Delft.
À quelques exceptions près, dont certains paysages, scènes de rues et portraits, la production de Vermeer consista en des intérieurs domestiques ensoleillés, dans chacun desquels on voit un ou deux personnages en train de lire, écrire, jouer d'un instrument de musique ou occupés à une tâche domestique. Ces peintures de genre de la vie néerlandaise du XVIIème siècle, exécutées avec précision et observées objectivement, sont caractérisées par un sens géométrique de l'ordre.
Vermeer était un maître de la composition et de la représentation dans l'espace. La Jeune Fille endormie (1656) illustre son maniement des valeurs tonales et la perspective au premier plan, au second plan, et plus loin, à distance. Dans La Laitière (1660), la Jeune Femme à l'aiguière (1663), Vue de Delft (1660), il perça les effets de la lumière avec une délicatesse subtile, et une pureté de la couleur qui sont quasiment uniques. Parmi ses tableaux figurent l'Officier et la jeune fille souriant (1657) et la Jeune Fille au chapeau rouge (1667).
Vermeer a été oublié après sa mort et n'a pas été redécouvert avant la fin du XIXème siècle. Sa réputation a constamment augmenté par la suite. Il est considéré aujourd'hui comme l'un des plus grands peintres hollandais. De nombreuses copies de ses œuvres ont été réalisées au XXème siècle et ont été vendues aux Allemands pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale.