The Art of Painting

(De Schilderkonst)

c. 1662–1668
Oil on canvas
120 x 100 cm. (47 1/4 x 39 3/8 in.)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
inv. 9128
there are 25 hotspots in the image below

The Art of Painting, Johannes Vermeer

critical excerpt

Vermeer signature on Art of Painting
signed on the map, behind Clio's collar: IVerMeer

Albert Blankert, Vermeer: 1632–1675, 1975

c. 1666–1667
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. Vermeer: The Complete Works, New York, 1997

c.- 1666–1669
Walter Liedtke Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, New York, 2008

c. 1667–1668
Wayne Franits, Vermeer, 2015

The support is a plain weave linen with a thread count of 11.1 x 16.5 per cm². Cusping shows that the canvas was secured to the strainer with 11 (wooden?) nails at the sides and 9 at top and bottom. The canvas vas lined with a glue lining and strecher construction probably from the 19th century.

Recent examination has detected the date, applied by the artist, immediately following his signature, and can be interpreted as MDCLXVI(I I ?). The lettering is consistent with selected inscriptions in both The Astronomer (1668) and especially The Geographer (1669). A signature of Pieter de Hooch, applied in the 18th century, is still present and can be clearly seen through infrared reflectography, positioned along the lower cross support of the artist's stool.

The ground is made of a single (principal) layer containing coarsely ground lead white with admixtures of chalk, ochre, umber and charcoal black. The color of the ground is a mid level, somewhat neutralized, greybrown. Earlier binding media analysis of the preparation layer in the Vienna canvas suggested that it contains both protein (glue) and drying oils (mixed). Recent analysis reveals that the dominant medium for the ground is linseed oil.

The x-ray of the painting does not reveal any detectable changes in composition. Examinations with infrared reflectogram reveals that the initial modeling of the forms is constructed through the characterization of the shadowed areas first.

Fine black lines of underdrawing have been detected, defining the contours of various design elements, for example at the arms of the chandelier, at the framing of the single city views in the wall map or at the easel.

The vanishing point of the complex composition is marked with a pinhole just under the knob at the left edge of the map. Recent examination has detected a second deformation (similarly positioned at the right side of the map) that acts as a vanishing point for the stool upon which the artist is sitting.

Yellow earth, umbra or ochre was detected within the leaves of the tapestry with indications of additional ultramarine in areas of shadows. Lead tin yellow is the primary pigment present in the chandelier—most likely together with lead white (subsequently glazed)—or with pure lead tin yellow. Lead tin yellow has been detected for the highlights of the chair tacks and umbra or ochre for the boarder fringe. Ochre is the chief pigment in the book Clio is holding.

A copper (soap) based underpainting (verdigris) can be seen covered with a semi transparent layer of ultramarine, for the teal covered textile draped from the table at left. Ultramarine has been detected in the blue of the ships within the right side of the map and the veining in the marble floor. The leaves within the tapestry would originally have a stronger green coloration. The color was almost certainly made with the admixture, or application of, an organic based glaze that was light or solvent sensitive.

Vermilion was found as the pigment for the leggings of the painter. Additionally a possible red organic glaze over a medium brown under-layer within the tapestry can be seen.

Charcoal (vine) black is used almost exclusively, except for one area where a pentiment in the right shoe of the painter is located. Here boneblack is the principal pigment. Copper is found as an admixture as well as iron oxide in the paints of the painter to lend a warmer tone.

present condition

In the early 1950s, on a travelling exhibition from the Kunsthistorisches Museum's paintings collection the considerable adhesion problems with minute flaking above all in the lighter areas, were noticed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and drawn in a diagram in 1968 during Herman Kühn's study of Vermeer's pigments and grounds. The first in-depth study concerning the delicate condition of the painting was made 1994/95 in connection with the large Vermeer-exhibition of 1995/96 in Washington and The Hague. The examinations of the binding medium, ground and paint layers revealed an oil-rich tempera mixture with additions of small amounts of proteinaceous material used by Vermeer to render the lighter colored passages in the painting. In addition with the resins, gums and proteins, detected in the overlying coatings this resulted in increased mechanical forces. The process of flaking seems to resist under stable conditions, but was activated by external (climatic and mechanical) factors.

* see Robert Wald, "The Art of Painting. Observations on Approach and Technique," 312–321, and Elke Oberthaler, Jaap J. Boon et al., +The Art of Painting by Johannes Vermeer. History of Treatments and Observations on the Present Condition," 322–327, in: Vermeer. Die Malkunst. exh. cat. ed. by Sabine Haag, Elke Oberthaler, Sabine Pénot. Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna 2010.


Johannes Vermeer's Art of Painting with frame

  • The artist's widow, Catharina Bolnes (1675–1676);
  • transferred to her mother, Maria Thins (24 February, 1676);
  • evidently sold at auction in Delft, 15 March, 1677;
  • possibly Baron Gerard van Swieten, prefect of the Imperial Court Library, Vienna (d.1772);
  • his son, Gottfried van Swieten (d. 1803);
  • his estate, as by Pieter de Hooch (1803–13, sold to Czernin);
  • Count Johann Rudolf Czernin (1813–34, as by De Hooch);
  • by descent to Count Eugen Czernin (d.1955) and Jaromir Czernin (d.1966);
  • Adolf Hitler (1940–1945); Munich Central Collecting Point (1945);
  • transferred on 17 November, 1945 to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, in 1958 to the museum's permanent collection (inv. 9128).
  • Zurich October 1946–March, 1947
    Meisterwerke aus Oesterreich
    no. 426
  • Brussels April–June, 1947
    Art Treasures from the Vienna Collections
    no. 148
  • Amsterdam July–October, 1947
    Art Treasures from the Vienna Collections
    no. 193
  • Paris November 1947–March, 1948
    Art Treasures from the Vienna Collections
    no. 193
  • Stockholm May–October 1948
    Art Treasures from the Vienna Collections
  • Copenhagen December 1948–March 1949
    Art Treasures from the Vienna Collections
  • London 12 May–3 September, 1949
    Art Treasures from the Vienna Collections
    Tate Gallery
    no. 191
  • Washington D.C November 20, 1949–January 22, 1950
    Art Freasures from the Vienna Collections
    National Gallery of Art
    34, no. 124 and ill.. color, plate iv, as "The Artist in his Studio"
  • New York February–May, 1950
    Art Freasures from the Vienna Collections
    Metropolitan Museum of Art
    34, no. 124 and ill. color, pl. iv, as "The Artist in his Studio"
  • San Francisco July–October 1950
    Art Freasures from the Vienna Collections
    M.H. De Young Memorial Museum
    34, no. 124 and ill.. color, plate iv, as "The Artist in his Studio"
  • Chicago November 9,1950–January 19, 1951
    Art Freasures from the Vienna Collections
    The Art Institute of Chicago
    34, no. 124 and ill.. color, plate iv, as "The Artist in his Studio"
  • St Louis March 4–April 22, 1951
    Imperial Vienna Art Treasures
    Saint Louis Art Museum
  • Toledo May–June, 1951
    Art Freasures from the Vienna Collections
    Toledo Museum of Art
  • Toronto August–September, 1951
    Art Freasures from the Vienna Collections
  • Boston October, 1951–January, 1952
    Art Freasures from the Vienna Collections
    Museum of Fine Art.
  • Philadelphia February–April, 1952
    Art Freasures from the Vienna Collections
    Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • Oslo May–July 1952
    Art Freasures from the Vienna Collections
    no. 176
  • Innsbruck August–November, 1952
    Art Freasures from the Vienna Collections
  • Vienna 1953
    Österreichs Amerika: usstellung "Kunstschätze aus Wien"
    Kunsthistorisches Museum
    no. 264
  • Zurich 1953
    Hollander des 17. Jahrhundert
    no. 173
  • Rome January 4–February 14, 1954
    Mostra di pittura olandese del seicento
    Palazzo delle Esposizioni
    90, no. 177 and ill. in cover, as "L'atelier"
  • Milan February 25–April 25, 1954
    Mostra di pittura olandese del seicento. Palazzo Reale
    90, no. 177 and ill. in cover, as "L'atelier"
  • Delft/Antwerp 1964–1965
    De schilder in zijn wereld: Van Jan van Eyck tot Van Gogh en Ensor
    Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft/Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp
    no. 113 (shown in Delft only)
  • Paris September 24–November 28, 1966
    Dans la lumière de Vermeer
    Musée de l'Orangerie
    no. IX
  • Washington D.C November 24, 1999–February 8, 2000
    Johannes Vermeer's The Art of Painting
    National Gallery of Art
  • New York March 8–May 27, 2001
    Vermeer and the Delft School
    Metropolitan Museum of Art
    no. 76
  • London June 20–September 16, 2001
    Vermeer and the Delft School
    National Gallery
    no. 76
  • Madrid February 19–May 18, 2003
    Vermeer y el interior holandés
    Museo Nacional del Prado
    178–181, no.38 and ill.
  • The Hague 25 March–26 June, 2005
    De Weense Vermeer, een bijzonder bruikleen (The Vienna Vermeer, an exceptional loan)
  • Tokyo August 2–December 14, 2008
    Vermeer and the Delft Style
    Metropolitan Art Museum
    184–188, no. 30 and ill.
  • Vienna 25 January–25 April, 2010
    Vermeer: The Art of Painting
    Kunsthistorisches Museum
    no. 1 and ill.
Johannes Vermeer's Art of Painting in scale
vermeer's life

The Concert presents a very similar deep spatial recession similar to the earlier Music Lesson. Vermeer's interest in the accurate portrayal of three dimensional perspective to create such an effect was shared by other interior genre painters of the time, however, only Vermeer seems to have fully and consciously understood the expressive function of perspective. The two paintings' underlying theme of music between male and female company is also analogous although few critics believe they were conceived as a pendant.

In the paintings of the 1660s the painted surfaces are smoother and less tactile, the lighting schemes tend to be less bold. These pictures convey and impalpable air of reticence and introspection, unique among genre painters with the possible exception of Gerrit ter Borch.

dutch painting Frans Hals, eminent Dutch portrait painter, dies. It was formerly believed that he died in the Oudemannenhuis almshouse in Haarlem which was later became the Frans Halsmuseum.
european painting & architecture

François Mansart, French architect, dies.

Apr 9, 1st public art exhibition (Palais Royale, Paris).

music Dec 5, Francesco Antonio Nicola Scarlatti, composer, is born.
literature Le Misanthrope by Molière is palyed at the Palais-Royal, Paris.
science & philosophy

Laws of gravity established by Cambridge University mathematics professor Isaac Newton, 23, state that the attraction exerted by gravity between any two bodies is directly proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Newton has returned to his native Woolsthorpe because the plague at Cambridge has closed Trinity College, where he is a fellow; he has observed the fall of an apple in an orchard at Woolsthorpe and calculates that at a distance of one foot the attraction between two objects is 100 times stronger than at 10 feet. Although he does not fully comprehend the nature of gravity, he concludes that the force exerted on the apple is the same as that exerted on Earth by the moon.

Calculusis invented by Isaac Newton will prove to be one of the most effective tool for scientific investigation ever produced by mathematics.

Nov 14, Samuel Pepys reported the on first blood transfusion, which was between dogs.

The plague decimates London and Isaac Newton moved to the country. He had already discovered the binomial theorem at Cambridge and was offered the post of professor of mathematics. Newton formulates his law of universal gravitation.

A French Academy of Sciences (Académie Royale des Sciences) founded by Louis XIV at Paris seeks to rival London's 4-year-old Royal Society. Jean Baptiste Colbert has persuaded the king to begin subsidizing scientists. Christiaan Huygens, along with 19 other scientists, is elected as a founding member. After the French Revolution, the Royale is dropped and the character of the academy changes. It later becomes the Institut de France.


Sep 2, The Great Fire of London, started at Pudding Lane, began to demolish about four-fifths of London when in the house of King Charles II's baker, Thomas Farrinor, forgets to extinguish his oven. The flames raged uncontrollably for the next few days, helped along by the wind, as well as by warehouses full of oil and other flammable substances. Approximately 13,200 houses, 90 churches and 50 livery company halls burn down or explode. But the fire claimed only 16 lives, and it actually helped impede the spread of the deadly Black Plague, as most of the disease-carrying rats were killed in the fire.

Because almost all European paper is made from recycled cloth rags, which are becoming increasingly scarce as more and more books and other materials are printed, the English Parliament bans burial in cotton or linen cloth so as to preserve the cloth for paper manufacture.

vermeer's life

Vermeer's name is mentioned in a poem by Arnold Bon in Dirck van Bleyswijck's Beschryvinge der Stadt Delft (Description of the City of Delft) published in 1667. It is the most significant and direct reference to Vermeer's art to be found. The poem written by Arnold Bon, Bleyswyck's publisher, was composed in the honor of Carel Fabritius who had died in the famous ammunitions explosion. Vermeer's name is lauded in the poem's last stanza.

Thus did this Phoenix, to our loss, expire,
In the midst and at the height of his powers,
But happily there arose out of the fire
Vermeer, who masterfully trod in his path.

Maria Thins empowers Vermeer to collect various debts owed to her and to reinvest the money according to his will and discretion. Vermeer's mother-on-law evidently maintained her moral and financial support of Vermeer and his family.

Another of Vermeer's children is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft.

dutch painting Gabriel Metsu, ecclectic Dutch painter, dies.
european painting & architecture

Francesco Borromini, Italian sculptor and architect, dies. Borromini designed the San Ivo della Sapienza church in Rome.

Alonso Cano, Spanish painter and architect, dies.

music German composer-organist-harpsichordist Johann Jakob Froberger dies at Héricourt, France. His keyboard suites will be published in 1693, arranged in the order that will become standard: allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue.

Paradise Lost is written by John Milton, who has been blind since 1652 but has dictated to his daughters the 10-volume work on the fall of man, Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. Milton's Adam questions the angel Raphael about celestial mechanics, Raphael replies with some vague hints and then says that "the rest from Man or Angel the great Architect did wisely conceal and not divulge His secrets to be scann'd by them who ought rather admire." The work enjoys sales of 1,300 copies in 18 months and will be enlarged to 12 volumes in 1684, the year of Milton's death; Annus Mirabilis by John Dryden is about the Dutch War and last year's Great Fire.

Nov 7, Jean Racine's Andromaque, premiered in Paris.

science & philosophy National Observatory, Paris, founded
history Pope Alexander VII dies. Giulio Rospigliosi becomes Pope Clement IX.

c. 1667 In France, during the reign of King Louis XIV, the fork begins to achieve popularity as an eating implement. Formerly, only knives and spoons had been used.

Jun 18, The Dutch fleet sailed up the Thames and threatened London. They burned 3 ships and capture the English flagship.

Jun 21, The Peace of Breda endsthe Second Anglo-Dutch War (1664–1667) and sees the Dutch cede New Amsterdam (on Manhattan Island) to the English in exchange for the island of Surinam.

De Verstandige Kok (The Sensible Cook) is published for the first time. Geared towards middle- and upper middle-class families, the book advises a regular and balanced diet, including fresh meat at least once a week, frequent servings of bread and cheese, stew, fresh vegetables and salads. While simple dishes, such as porridge, pancakes and soup with bread are eaten by all classes, studies reveal that only the affluent have regular access to fresh vegetables during the period; the less wealthy depend on dried peas and beans.
vermeer's life Vermeer signs and dates The Astronomer 1668. Some scholars believe that Delft citizen Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who was by then internationally recognized for his studies in optics and scientific observations, posed for The Astronomer, although portraits of Leeuwenhoek bears little resemblance to the seated man in Vermeer's picture.
dutch painting

Rembrandt paints Return of the Prodigal Son.

Gabriel van de Velde paints Golfers on the Ice.

Philips Wouwerman, Dutch painter, dies. He was the most celebrated member of a family of Dutch painters from Haarlem, where he worked virtually all his life. He became a member of the painters' guild in 1640 and is said by a contemporary source to have been a pupil of Frans Hals. The only thing he has in common with Hals, however, is his nimble brushwork, for he specialized in landscapes of hilly country with horses, cavalry skirmishes, camps, hunts, travelers halting outside an inn, and so on. In this genre he was immensely prolific and also immensely successful.

european painting & architecture

Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, Austian architect, is born.

Bernini sculpts a terra cotta study for one of the angels of Rome's Port Santa Angelo.


Nov 10, Francois Couperin, composer and organist (Concerts Royaux), is born in Paris, France.

Danish organist-composer Diderik Buxtehude, 31, is named organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, succeeding Franz Tunder (whose daughter, Anna, he marries).His sacred Abendmusiken concerts will be presented each year during Advent on the five Sundays before Christmas. Buxtehude's cantatas and instrumental organ work will have a strong influence on other composers.

Mar 5, Francesco Gasparini, composer, is born.


Apr 13, John Dryden (36) became 1st English poet laureate.

science & philosophy

Robert Hooke: Discourse on Earthquakes.

Newton invents the reflecting telescope, building the first telescope based on a mirror (reflector) instead of a lens (refractor).

First accurate description of red corpuscles by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Leeuwenhoek was born in the same year as Vermeer and is often associated to the artist for their interest in optics.

Chemist Johann R. Glauber dies at Amsterdam March 10 at age 63.


Mar 26, England takes control of Bombay, India.

Mar 27, English king Charles II gives Bombay to the East India Company.

Sep 16, King John Casimer II of Poland abdicates his throne.

Louis XIV of France purchased the 112 carat blue diamond from John Baptiste Tavernier for 220,000 livre. Tavernier is also given a title of nobility.

Feb 7, The Netherlands, England and Sweden conclude an alliance directed against Louis XIV of France.

In the groundbreaking The Art of Describing, Svetlana Alpers declared that the interpretation of maps in Vermeer's paintings merely as symbols was too restrictive point of view. An overlooked, but vital characteristic of the Dutch culture and of its art, she suggested, is "the mapping impulse." Thus, the map hanging on the wall—so perfectly rendered that it has no equal in Dutch painting—is filled with multiple meaning. First, it is a "powerful pictorial presence" which catches the viewer's attention in many ways. The details are so specific that the particular map can be identified. It is large, with many visual components, including lettering, pictures, and the lines of the map itself. Finally, Vermeer placed his signature on it. In all these ways, Vermeer likened the painting to the map and, by extension, the act of painting to the act of map-making. For Alpers, this similarity reveals something essential about the Dutch idea of painting.*

The Music Lesson (detail), Jacob Ochtervelt

The Music Lesson (detail)
Jacob Ochtervelt
Oil on canvas, 80.2 x 65.5.
Art Institute of Chicago

In reference to the connection between painting and mapmaking Alpers wrote: "The aim of Dutch painters was to capture on a surface a great range of knowledge and information about the world. They too employed words with their images. Like the mappers, they made additive works that could not be taken in from a single viewing point. Theirs was not a window on the Italian model of art but rather, like a map, a surface on which is laid out an assemblage of the world."

A similar but not identical map of the United Provinces appears on the background in a contemporary work by Jacob Ochtervelt (see image left). However, as usual in Dutch art, it is delineated with scarce attention to the physical properties of the map itself and functions more as a compositional filler.

* Marjorie Munsterberg, "Historical Analysis," Writing About Art, 2008–2009,

In 1696, two decades after Vermeer's death, twenty-one of the artist's "excellent and artful paintings" were sold in an Amsterdam auction presumably collected by Pieter van Ruijven and inherited by his son-in-law Jacob Dissius. In the sales catalogue, item number 3 was described as "the portrait of Vermeer in a room with various accessories, uncommonly beautiful painted by him." This painting was sold for the relatively low price of 45 guilders, scarcely twice more than that of the tiny Lacemaker in the same auction. Thus, few experts believe it corresponds to The Art of Painting which is many times larger and a far more ambitious composition. In fact, most agree that Vermeer's intention was not so much to make a lasting effigy of himself, but rather to commemorate and define the role of the artist in history and his association with fame through the use of symbols which in those times must have been readily understood by the cultural elite to whom this image was destined.

Clio, Pierre Mignard

Pierre Mignard
143.5 x 115 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

In our own times, when art is often accorded merit on the basis of its presumed originality, it is difficult to imagine a time when artists and writers regularly consulted a book of iconography before starting work. Ever since antiquity artists sought to convey abstract ideas in visual forms through the use of symbols which could be readily deciphered by men of equal cultural standing. Iconologia, originally compiled by the Italian Cesare Ripa in the late sixteenth century, is such a work.

One recurrent question which occupied painters concerned the artist's place in society. Should he be considered a craftsman, on par with carpenters and goldsmiths, or a creative genius, such as poets and philosophers? Another concern was that the great artist could bestow eternal fame to his city or nation through his work.

In The Art of Painting, Vermeer presumably addressed both issues by portraying an allegorical figure, Clio, the muse of History. In antiquity, Clio was one of the nine muses, personifications of the highest aspirations of art and intellect in Greek mythology. The Muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the Titan goddess whose name means memory. When the Romans later separated the muses' fields of inspiration, Clio became the patron of history. Her antique symbols are a laurel wreath and a scroll.

In Vermeer's painting Clio is portrayed as a girl with a crown of laurel that denotes glory, a trumpet and in her left arm she cradles a large yellow volume presumably of Thucydides' Histories. Thucydides' volume can be seen in an etching contained in Samuel van Hoogstraten's Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst, published 1678. Van Hoogstraten believed paintings should strive to become universal science which could represent all things visible.

Scholars believe that Vermeer's Art of Painting addressed a number of weighty issues which regarded both the art of painting in particular and the fine arts in general. One of them was the so-called il paragone, or the comparison of the arts.

In the past, there was an enduring and impassioned debate concerning the hierarchical status of the various arts. In the Quattrocento, Italy was the battleground on which painters, still handicapped by the classical prejudice against manual labor, fought to establish their art on the higher tier of the Liberal Arts. At the time, practicing painters, in fact, were relegated among artisans and craftsmen. The rivalries between painting and poetry, and painting and sculpture were particularly intense although in the course of the Renaissance the kinship between painting and poetry became commonplace so much that they were considered sister arts by some.

Having worked in sculpture and painting, the great Leonardo da Vinci claimed the right to judge the value of each. While painting could imitate sculpture, sculpture could not imitate painting. Furthermore, "painting is the more beautiful and the more imaginative and the more copious, while sculpture is the more durable but it has nothing else." For Leonardo, the limitation to poetic expression lies in its use of verbal language alone: "Painting comprehends in itself all the forms of nature, while you have nothing but words, which are not universal as form is, and if you have the effects of the representation, we have the representation of the effects." that is, one word after another; painting, vice versa, renders the whole of a scene immediately evident through a single image. The artists and scholars who celebrated painting's superiority over sculpture cited painting's ability to imitate and surpass nature, but perhaps most importantly, its ability to deceive nature itself. Furthermore, it offered a kind of permanence that contrasts with the fleeting nature of music.

By Vermeer's time, the debate still raged and had been extended to science as well. It was argued that doctors and astronomers can know the visible world through the use of acquired skills, but artists can not only comprehend the natural world, they can replicate it as well. The painter's art embraces and recreates the entire visible world, or as in the words of painter and art theorist Samuel van Hoogstraten, "the Art of Painting is a science for representing all the ideas or notions that visible nature in its entirety can produce, and for deceiving the eye with outline and color."

Deception as we know, was at the heart of Vermeer's concept of illusionist painting and perhaps nowhere more manifest than in his monumental Art of Painting.

Although Dutch art abounds in self portraits of artists in their studio, it is difficult to ascertain how true to life they were to real circumstances. Two conventions in studio self portraits dominated the 17th-century art market, both were a subtle blending of fact and fiction.

On one hand, history painters, steeped in the memories of classical models, strove to convey an idealistic view of their profession assuming the traditional guise of the learned gentleman artist fostered by Renaissance. Artists depicted themselves surrounded not only with the tools of their trade but crowded with seemingly irrelevant props and even mythological figures brought in and arranged for the occasion to communicate specific concepts about their art through the use of symbolism and allegory. A perfect example of this mode of self portraiture is Vermeer's own Art of Painting.

The Artist in his Studio, Rembrandt van Rijn

The Artist in His Studio
Rembrandt van Rijn
Oil on panel, 24.8 x 31.7cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

However, in the 17th-century Netherlands, a startling new development in self portraiture began to rival the classical model and became one of the most salable subjects matters of all. Painters presented themselves in a more unseemly light than those of the glorious past.

Dropping the noble robes of the pictor doctus, they smoked, drank, wore rags in dilapidated studios and chased women. The Dutch artistic literature of the 17th century was rife with interesting, often comical anecdotes about artists' personal lives and working methods which kindled the public's imagination and appetite for images. Dutch artists explored a new mode of self-expression in "dissolute self-portraits," as Ingrid A. Cartwright called them, embracing the many behaviors that art theorists and the culture at large disparaged.

Cartwright wrote that dissolute self portrait also reflects and responds to a larger trend regarding artistic identity in the 17th century, notably, the stereotype "hoe schilder hoe wilder" (if painter, then crazy). Artists embraced this special identity, which in turn granted them certain freedoms from social norms and a license to misbehave.

Self portraits of dissolute artists were extremely popular with the public since they not only portrayed the artist but were considered a specimen of the artist's exceptional talent and a manifestation of his original character. Modern art historians now believe that the numerous self portraits by Rembrandt were intended as much a response to this trend as the inner need for self introspection .

Two Trumpet Duets, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber

performed by Clarino Consort

Natural trumpet made by Paul Hainlein

Natural trumpet made by Paul Hainlein,
Nürnberg 1666
National Music Museum, Vermillion, South Dakota

The trumpet, one of the oldest instruments, is already mentioned in the Bible (the "trumpets of Jericho" or the "trumpets of the Last Judgement"). Its ancient precursors were widespread in Africa and Europe and were principally made from ivory, animal horns or shells (triton) or from tree bark shavings. Long straight metal trumpets were used in the ancient Egyptian culture both for signaling but moreover as cult- and symbolic instruments demonstrating the royal power of the Pharaohs. Two of these instruments, made of silver and bronze, were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (1333–1323 B.C). Similar functions can be traced to the ancient Greek and Etrusco-Roman empire (called there "Salpinx," "Tuba," "Lituus" or "Buccina") as well as in the Byzantine era.

After the fall of the Roman empire the trumpet disappeared from Europe and was reintroduced in the Middle Ages, when the Crusaders took them from the Saracens as war booty and soon became widespread in Europe. The trumpet's most important functions were the military signaling in the battles and the signaling of power and status, as only a king was allowed to have trumpeters at his court.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Royal Trumpeters and Ketteldrummers held a privileged position at the Habsburg court in Vienna and were the first to get the rights of founding a guild, unique in the Holy Roman Empire. The guild regulated the number of trumpeters and ensured the trumpet's exclusiveness by restricting where it could be played and by whom.

Other courts, like that of the Emperor of Saxony in Dresden or that of the Bishop of Olomouc in Kremsier (today Kromeríz, Czech Republic) as well as the courts in Bologna and London, were well-known for their orchestras, especially for the splendid sound of their trumpet choirs. Some of the most renowned trumpet players (P. Vejvanovský, G. Fantini) and composers (J.H. Schmelzer, H.I.F. Biber, J.J. Fux) wrote intricate compositions for the trumpet or complete brass choir.

Trumpets were also used for the warning of fire or other dangers, like the approach of enemies. The so-called "waits," a group of trumpeters and shawm-players, observed the area from the church towers or other central towers to communicate any danger to the bell ringers, watchmen and the citizens in general. Later their task became a more ceremonious and decorative adjunct of civic life, providing musical entertainment at official city proceedings. J.S. Bach appreciated the important tradition of the "Turmblasen" by the municipal "Stadtpfeifer" in Leipzig. Until today a military music corps, consisting mainly of brass instruments, above all trumpets, plays on all official state ceremonies.

The form of the natural trumpet, which had been developed in the late Middle Ages, was a twice folded or closed S-shape, consisting of three yards, with a bell-shaped flare of exact mathematical proportions. The mouthpiece, as the supporting sound generator, is inserted into the first yard. The joint of the first two sections is concealed under a tightly fitted cover which in the Baroque period had a ball-shaped decoration surrounding it. This ball, called the "boss," is not a merely decorative element but strengthens the joint that attaches the bell to the rest of the instrument and serves as a grip to hold the instrument. The mouthpiece has to support and contain the vibrating membrane, i.e. the player's lips, and to produce a complementary edge-tone.

The natural trumpet is able to produce only the notes of the harmonic series. The sound of the trumpet is generally produced by blowing air through closed lips as to produce a "buzzing" effect through vibration with the support of the mouthpiece. The player can select the pitch from a range of harmonic series or overtones through altering the amount of muscular contraction in the lip formation, supported by a certain tongue manipulation.

Boy Blowing Bubbles, Frans van Mieris

Boy Blowing Bubbles (detail)
Frans van Mieris
26 x 19 cm.
Mauritshuis, The Hague

Although the picture of Vermeer's artist's studio is a far cry from the realistic working conditions of a Dutch painter, the artist nonetheless shares with the modern viewer one of his "trade secrets." Near the top of the canvas the painter has begun depicting the model's laurel wreath in fluid brushstrokes. Curiously, the leaves are colored blue instead of the deep green one would expect. This was not a mistake.

It should be remembered that 17th-century painters had a handful of pigments, a fraction of those available to any artist today. One of the most serious lacunae of his palette was a deep, stable green, indispensable for rendering foliage. Dutch painters remedied this by employing a technique called glazing. First, the area intended to be green was modeled in shades of blue. Once thoroughly dry, the same area was painted over with a syrupy mixture of a transparent yellow pigment and drying oil, usually linseed or poppy oil. This glaze, as it was called, produces an exceptionally natural, deep green without concealing the dark and light modeling beneath, and was utilized extensively by Dutch still life painters. By altering the intensities and proportions of the blue underpainting and the yellow glaze, a wide range of natural greens could be produced which were not available as single pigments.

Unfortunately, this method sometimes had negative consequences. The yellow glaze, if not properly executed or exposed to detrimental environmental conditions, is prone to fade. The foliage in Vermeer's own Little Street has suffered from such a malady. A spectacular example of this defect can be seen in Frans van Mieris' Boy Blowing Bubbles (see image above).

Much has been written about Vermeer's professional and social aspirations. Although family background would be described today as lower middle-class—his grandparents were illiterate and so was his mother—from what we can piece together from his painting and a few clue documents, Vermeer was ambitious.

The Delft artist demonstrated throughout his career the willingness to disengage himself from his original social standing and define himself as an artist/gentleman. On the other hand, many Dutch artists were more than content to churn out less-than-original paintings and, as long as they received adequate pay, were not adverse to considering themselves artisans.

Vermeer married the daughter of a well-to-do Delft patrician, which entailed a significant move from the lower, artisan class of his Reformed parents to the higher social stratum. His mother-in-law seems to have had a discreet art collection and family connections with a few noted Dutch painters. Archival evidence shows that in 1654, the artist is mentioned for the first time as "Meester-schilder" (Master painter) indicating he had by this time improved his professional and social status. By 1655, the "Sr" (signior or seigneur) preceding Vermeer's name in an archival document is a sure sign of the artist's improved social status. Vermeer's father was never distinguished in such a way in any of the numerous documents which regard him. Furthermore, Vermeer was elected various times to head of the St Luke Guild of Delft. In 1663, the French diplomat Baron Balthasar de Monconys visited his studio most likely acting on advice from Constantijn Huygens, one of the foremost connoisseurs of Dutch art as well as an influential politician, musician and poet.

However, the most graphic indication of how Vermeer defined his position as an artist is manifested in his show-case piece, The Art of Painting. In this work, the artist identifies himself with an elitist spiritual and intellectual role of the artist rather than the workaday life of the artisan. Few of the real painter's tools, which would suggest the manual status of the artist, are visible while many of the props denote "inspirational" value and awareness of the issues connected with the art of painting.

Historically, one's occupation was evaluated on the basis of its proximity to, or distance from, physical labor since manual work had been associated with slavery in antiquity. Though early Renaissance artists were certainly not considered slaves, their mechanical labor ranked them firmly on the lower side of the cultural divide.

From about 1400, artists attempted to elevate their status in society. Renaissance painters strove to qualify not only as themselves, but the entire profession as members of the Liberal Arts, seizeing on self portraiture to help them prove their point. This was done by stressing the intellectual components in art and its production, emphasizing the artist's genius inherent and recasting the artist as a member of the social and artistic nobility as well as a part of the "reflected glory" of famous artists in history.

In an effort to prove painting's superiority to sculpture, Leonardo da Vinci argued that painting involved less physical effort than sculpture. Sculpture "causes much perspiration which mingles with the grit and turns to mud." The sculptor's face is "pasted and smeared all over with marble powder, his dwelling is dirty and filled with dust and chips of stone." The painter on the other hand "sits before his work at the greatest of ease, well dressed and applying delicate colors with his light brush." His home is "clean and adorned with delightful pictures" and he enjoys "the accompaniment of music or the company of the authors of various fine works." Vermeer's Art of Painting could not have been too far from what Leonardo had in mind.

Monumnet Man Lt. Daniel kern and mine

"Monuments Man" Lt. Daniel Kern and mine
worker Max Eder inspect The Art of
, found inside the mine at Altaussee.

Adolf Hitler wanted Vermeer's Art of Painting for one of his most ambitious projects, the giant art museum he planned to create in Linz, his Austrian birthplace. In 1940, he purchased it for 1.65 million Reichsmarks from Jaromir Czernin, the brother-in-law of Austria's prime minister from 1934 until Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938. The painting had been in Czernin's family since the 19th century.

As Hitler saw Vermeer as the embodiment the great artist he desired The Art of Painting to be one of the main attractions in the new Führer Museum in Linz, which he intended to fill with the art he had looted from all over Europe. At the end of the war, American troops found it stashed in a vault with a handful of other masterpieces in an Austrian salt mine along with thousands of other plundered works, including Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna and Vermeer's own Astronomer. In the final months of the war, after Hitler issued his famous Nero Decree calling for the destruction of all German infrastructure, orders were issued by the local Nazi gauleiter to destroy the artworks by blowing up the mines. His plan was foiled because lower-echelon Nazis saw no reason to ruin a perfectly good salt mine and, instead, decided to destroy the entrance to the cave.

The Czernins began petitioning the Austrian government for the restitution of the painting in the 1960s, without success. The government argued that the sale was voluntary and the price adequate. The family has now come back with a study of the sale that they claim shows that it was made under duress.

>Art-lovers in a Painter's Studio, Pieter Codde

Art-lovers in a Painter's Studio (detail)
Pieter Codde
c. 1630
38 x 49 cm.
Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart

By the time Vermeer had depicted The Art of Painting he must have been well introduced into the circle of connoisseurs and art dealers that counted. In those times, there existed no international museum circuit, not slew of art magazines and no enthusiastic public lined up in front of every blazoned art exhibition, but a small, fervent and essentially elitist assembly of "Liefhebbers van de Schilderknost," or Lovers of the Art of Painting.

Art lovers and artists frequented one another in the hushed privacy of the artist's studio and not at public art exhibitions, debates or auctions as they do today. Artists could advance their social standing by being associated with influential art lovers who inevitably belonged to society's upper crust while the art lovers had the opportunity to hone their knowledge of the arts which was a central requisite for any self-respecting gentleman. In the oft-quoted Essays on the Wonders of Painting Pierre le Brun advises readers that to "discourse on this noble profession, you must have frequented the studio and disputed, with the masters, have seen the magic effect of the pencil (brush), and the unerring judgment with which the details are worked out."

This symbiotic relationship between artist and art lover can be traced to the Renaissance which had reexamined numerous passages in classical literature about artists. For example, Pliny had described the visit of Alexander the Great to Apelle's studio. The roster of Titian's clients reads like a list of international society in the 16th century: the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, Alfonso d'Este, Duke Federigo of Mantua, Ippolito de' Medici, several ancient and cunning Popes, doges, admirals, art dealers, intellectuals. Even those who were deadly enemies, like Francis I of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, had in common the fact of having been painted by Titian. In 1533 the Emperor Charles V appointed Titian court painter and elevated him to the rank of Count Palatine and Knight of the Golden Spur. This was an unprecedented honor for a painter, and Ridolfi tells a revealing anecdote concerning the respect Titian was accorded even by the emperor himself: Titian dropped a brush and when Charles picked it up for him he protested "Sire, I am not worthy of such a servant," to which the emperor replied "Titian is worthy to be served by Caesar."

Promoted by writers like Baldassare Castiglione in his influential Il Cortigiano (1528), it became fashionable for rulers to patronize the arts and personally frequent the great artists of the time. Later, major Dutch painters like Rembrandt, Gerrit Dou and Frans van Mieris had all made inroads to aristocratic doors. Vermeer himself had a tight relationship with Pieter van Ruijven who had acquired the title of Lord of Spalant for a colossal sum, evidently in order to style himself along the lines of the great mecenas of the past.

Portrait of Pieter Teding van Berckhout, Casper Netscher

Portrait of Pieter Teding van Berckhout
Casper Netscher
Oil on copper
Teding van Berckhout Foundation

Evidently, Vermeer's studio must have been one of the destinations for art lovers of the time. On May 14,1669, Teding van Berckhout, an up-and-coming regent from Delft, had arrived in Delft to see to visit Vermeer's studio. Duly impressed he returned a month later and wrote in his diary, "I went to see a celebrated painter named Vermeer" who "showed me some examples of his art, the most extraordinary and most curious aspect of which consists in the perspective." Van Berkhout had arrived in Delft accompanied by Constantijn Huygens and his friends, member of parliament Ewout van der Horst and ambassador Willem Nieupoort. The cosmopolitan Huygens was an artistic authority in his own day, maintaining contacts with the famous Flemish painters Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck and recording in his own diary some remarkably insightful comments about the art of, among others, Rembrandt van Rijn.

Six years earlier, a well-connected Catholic French diplomat Balthasar de Moncony, probably on Huygens' advise, had also visited Vermeer's studio. He registered his disappointment in his diary so: "In Delft I saw the painter Verme(e)r who did not have any of his works: but we did see one at a baker's, for which six hundred livres had been paid, although it contained but a single figure, for which six pistoles would have been too high a price."

Simply put, De Monconys thought the painting he saw was worth less than a tenth of the price mentioned. Unfortunately, he made no mention of the style and quality of such works. It appears he judged them exclusively on the basis of the number of hours required to do the work. The price of six hundred livres that the baker—presumably Van Buyten—thought reasonable for his painting corresponds to the six hundred livres that Dou had asked from de Monconys two days earlier for his Woman at a Window, clearly also a work with only one figure.

That Vermeer did not suit de Monconys' tastes is less significant that the fact that in prominent circles the artist's studio was considered on par with those of the most renowned Dutch artists.