The textual material contained in the Essential Vermeer Interactive Catalogue would fill a hefty-sized book, and is enhanced by more than 1,000 corollary images. In order to use the catalogue most advantageously:
1. Slowly scroll your mouse over the painting to a point of particular interest. Relative information and images will slide into the box located to the right of the painting. To hold and scroll the slide-in information, single click on area of interest. To release the slide-in information, single-click on the painting again and continue exploring.
2. To access Special Topics and Fact Sheet information and accessory images, single-click any list item. To release slide-in information, click on any list item and continue exploring.
Nowhere in Vermeer's oeuvre has iconographic interpretation proved so complicated as in The Art of Painting. Experts generally believe that the glittering golden chandelier surmounted by a double-headed eagle, the imperial symbol of the Habsburgs, refers to an earlier era when that dynasty ruled the Netherlands. The fact would bring it into relation with the vertical crease in the map (made before the wars and Treaty of 1648) which accentuates the divisions between the Spanish South and the United Provinces of the independent North.
One critic suggested that the eagle may have been an allegorical symbol of sight, one of the five senses meant to strengthen the focus of the painter's activity. It has also been seen as an image of the phoenix, a symbol of a resurrected and reunited Netherlands.
Whatever its iconographical meaning, it is hard to imagine that Vermeer, perhaps the most "optical" artist of the Netherlands, was not attracted by the formidable technical challenge it posed to his eyes and craft. The highlights are painted with astonishingly thick opaque blobs of light-toned paint that seems to dance above the surface of the painting imitating the shimmer of sunlight.
Prof. Willemijn Fock, a Dutch historian, noted that such chandeliers permitted artists to demonstrate their expertise at rendering shimmering and refractive brass under changing light conditions. However, multibranch chandeliers were rarely found even in the houses of the wealthiest burghers (which had one at most), and in the very few inventories where chandeliers are listed they, are called kerkkroon (church chandeliers), because examples of this type were more often hung in churches or civic buildings than in houses.
Vermeer's fellow painter Gerrit ter Borch repeatedly utilized a very similar chandelier as a prop in his compositions even though he never dedicated as much attention to it as Vermeer.
From a purely visual point of view, the drawn-back tapestry functions as a so-called repoussoir. Repoussoir is a means of achieving perspective or spatial contrasts by positioning a large figure or object in the immediate foreground, to the left or right. By covering only small portions of the map, the trumpet and still life, Vermeer entices the observer to pull back the tapestry all the way thereby involving him not only visually, but physically in the painted illusion. The pervasive illusionism in The Art of Painting is based on a firm understanding of perspective and awareness of optical laws.
Vermeer must have been familiar with the famous contest of Greek antiquity held between two renowned painters Parrhasius and Zeuxis to see who was the finest. This story was cited by Plinius the Elder from a Greek source in his Naturalis historia, 77 A.C. Zeuxis had produced a still life so convincing that birds flew down from the sky to peck at the painted grapes. Parrhasius then asked Zeuxis to pull aside the curtain from his painting. When Zeuxis discovered that the curtain was a painted one and not a real one, he was forced to concede defeat, for while his work had managed to fool the eyes of birds, Parrhasius had deceived the eyes of a human beings.
A popular story goes that Rembrandt's students had once painted coins on the floor of his studio for the pleasure of watching him bend down and try to pick them up.
Dutch painters working around the same themes as Vermeer had pioneered and perfected the curtain devise years before him. Gerrit Dou, the renowned fijnschilder included such curtains in a few of his more ambitious compositions.
Willem Weve, a Delft architectural historian, notes that although domestic construction was not standardized in the city in the mid-17th century, the type of ceiling shown in this painting is one among several arrangements used in houses, and surviving examples can indeed be found. The timber members are small beams, probably of pine, supported by a wall plate over the windows, as seen at top left in The Music Lesson. It is likely that the beams were supported at their other ends on a wall which would be on the right of Vermeer's pictures, but it is always out of sight. The ceiling beams in Vermeer's Music Lesson, Allegory of Painting and Allegory of the Faith can be seen to slope downwards from left to right. The fact that they slant in all three cases suggests the possibility that this is a physical property of the room and not an inaccuracy in Vermeer' drawing.
Various painters represented this same map of the Netherlands in their compositions. The city views and title scripts were each printed separately and then glued together as were the nine separate sections which compose the body of the map. The city views may be linked to the notion that a successful painter bestows fame and glory on the cities where he was born, a concept greatly appreciated in Vermeer's time. Vermeer's hometown, Delft, is not represented. However, the two lateral strips of town views featured in The Art of Painting are not present in the works of other painters.
It is curious that Vermeer, who was at the height of his powers, was mentioned only briefly in Beschryvinge der Stadt Delft (Description of the City of Delft) published in 1667 by Dirck van Bleyswick, while other painters, now considered far less important, receive great praise. Ironically, Van Bleyswick also lamented that at times the fame due to great artists comes only after their death. Located precisely to the left of the standing Clio is a view of the Hof in The Hague, seat of the government of the Seventeen Provinces.
Various painters represented this same map of the Netherlands in their compositions. The city views and title scripts were each printed separately and then glued together as were the nine separate sections which compose the body of the map. The city views may be linked to the notion that a successful painter bestows fame and glory on the cities were he was born, a concept greatly appreciated in Vermeer's time. Vermeer's hometown, Delft, is not represented. However, the two lateral strips of town views featured in The Art of Painting are not present in the works of other painters.
It is curious that Vermeer, who was at the height of his powers, was mentioned only briefly in Beschryvinge der Stadt Delft (Description of the City of Delft) published in 1667 by Dirck van Bleyswick, while other painters, now considered far less important, receive great praise. Ironically, Van Bleyswick also lamented that at times the fame due to great artists comes only after their death. Located precisely to the left of the standing Clio is a view of the Hof in The Hague, seat of the government of the Seventeen Provinces.
The female figure on the top of the cartouche symbolizes the "unity and separation" of the Seventeen Northern and Southern Provinces. She is holding the coat of arms of the North and South in her left and right hands respectively.
A number of unused chairs populate Vermeer's interiors. Some critics have supposed that they allude to someone missing from the scene. In this picture, the chair seems to have a function as a repoussoir device to augment the illusion of depth.
The two red velvet, fringed chairs in this painting seem identical to the one in the foreground of Vermeer's Woman with a Pearl Necklace. Walter Liedtke has supposed that the foreground chair in The Art of Painting may have been provided for a hypothetical connoisseur visiting the artist's studio. Perhaps the second background chair was included to offer the observer a comparison of relative sizes to enhance the sensation of depth.
When this map was made, the official separation and resulting peace of the Northern (today's Netherlands) from the Southern Provinces (today's Belgium) which it represents was about to be officialized. The map may be seen as an extensive panorama of the military history of the war of liberation of the Seventeen Provinces from Spanish rule. The inscription inside the decorative cartouche addressed the map's military theme: "The tremendous wars waged in these countries in bygone days, and still waged in these days, bear sufficient witness to the whole wide world of the great strength, power and wealth of these very countries." Naturally, this inscription cannot be read on Vermeer's representation.
Only one complete original print of this map has survived. It was discovered in the double bottom of a chest that had been locked for years, in "Skokloster" a house built by the Swedish admiral Wrangler, near Uppsala in Sweden. Vermeer's map includes a title band on the top, a series of town views along the sides, which frame the central part of the map. The central part was printed with nine separately engraved sheets. 17th-century catalogues advertised maps that could be purchased "with or without their ornamentation." A single map could be composed in several ways making it a made-to-order-work-of art and some makers offered custom hand coloring Very few wall maps of this kind have survived even though catalogues, inventories, interior paintings and other documents tell us that they must have been printed in great numbers. All the maps in Vermeer's painting were printed in Amsterdam which was then one of the principal centers of map-making in the world.
Other painters, including Jacob Ochtervelt and Nicolas Maes, appear to have used the same map six times in their paintings. Only in Vermeer's painting do we find it attached with the vertical series of town views.
Vermeer's easel was identical to those represented in countless Dutch paintings of artists' studios, such as the one pictured in an early self-portrait by Rembrandt. The crossbar on which the painting is poised could be lowered and raised by a very simple system of pegs and holes. Some critics have noted that the left-hand leg of the easel seems to have been omitted as it approaches the tiled floor. However, if one carefully projects the upper contours it can be seen that in reality, it fits snugly, unseen, behind the two left legs of the stool on which the painter is seated.
Although Vermeer specialists do not believe that The Art of Painting was conceived primarily as a self-portrait, there is no reason why the artist would have not wished to leave at least some testimony of himself. Perhaps the artist's long, soft hair which gracefully flows out from under the beret, was his own. The manner in which it blends imperceptibly into the colors of the background is one of the most suggestive but least noticed passages of the work.
It has been remarked more than once that the black beret, despite its realistic appearance, has been barely modeled. Simple berets of this kind were, and still are, considered a typical attribute of painters. There exist other paintings in which the artist turns his back towards the viewer but only rarely do they completely conceal his face. The viewer must imagine what he looked like.
Specialists generally agree that the demure young model represents Clio, the muse of history, as described in Cesare Ripa's 16th-century book of emblems and personifications, Iconologia. Translated into Dutch in 1644, Ripa's volume was widely consulted by history painters. Vermeer also used it for at least one other allegorical painting, the late Allegory of Faith.
Clio's crown of laurel denotes glory and eternal life. Her trumpet signifies fame. The thirst for fame was considered a fundamental stimulus to artistic production. By placing Clio at the center of his allegory, Vermeer emphasizes the importance of history to the visual arts. Theorists argued that the highest form of artistic expression was history painting which comprised biblical, mythological, historical and allegorical subjects. Curiously, Vermeer himself practiced true history paintings only at the outset of his career. By placing this allegory in a contemporary setting, he may have wished to prove that the lofty values of history painting could also be achieved when represented in modern settings. In any case, The Art of Painting demonstrates that Vermeer was aware of the major artistic debates which circulated among the cultural elite of the time.
History, obviously, was related to the concept of fame. The ancient Greek artists understood their work held potential as a vehicle for fame and by the fourth century B.C., had begun to incorporate their own likenesses into their works. The self-portrait served as a prominent and sophisticated signature for artists like Phidias, who, for example, included his image in the guise of a warrior on the massive cult statue of Athena in the Parthenon. Even Plutarch, writing on the most distinguished names in Greek history in his Lives, notes Phidias' great fame and how his works "brought envy."
The young woman, who represents the muse of history Clio, holds in one hand a trumpet and in the other a large book, perhaps a volume by Thucydides or Herodotus. Vermeer portrays the back side of the volume where one would not expect to see an inscription, thus, avoiding the risk of becoming overtly didactical and precluding our purely visual enjoyment of the work.
The trumpet stands for fame. In Samuel van Hoogstraten's Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst (Introduction to the Art of Painting, 1678) an image of Clio is depicted, almost exactly as described in Cesare Ripa's Iconologia, a famous early iconographic dictionary which was widely used by painters of historical and allegorical subject matter.
Dutch costume expert Marieke de Winkel challenges the long-held idea that the artist's peculiar dress was outdated and was meant to reflect gone bye times. Although this kind of slashed doublet was not universally worn, it was nonetheless an item of contemporary dress. This fashion had occurred in earlier times and had become popular again in the 1620s and 1630s but had reached its extreme form in the 1660s, when Vermeer made The Art of Painting.
Vermeer's choice of such an elaborate and historical costume was deliberate. By claiming an affiliation with the earlier Netherlandish painters he was literally trying to step in their shoes. He modeled himself on his illustrious Northern predecessors rather than on an aristocratic gentiluomo or poet or even less the rags and poverty of the dissolute self portraits which had become very popular in the Netherlands. Artists, especially successful ones, evidently enjoyed dressing themselves up in similar fanciful garments such as a self portrait by Vermeer's contemporary Frans van Mieris.
Other painters, such as Eglon van der Neer, Caspar Netscher and Gabriel Metsu, depicted very similar garments. By Vermeer's time, they were referred to as "innocents," a term which also means "retarded" or "simpleton" most likely because they had become so short and revealed so much of the undergarment that they appeared somewhat foolish. Thus, it seems likely that does not place the artist outside his time, but as Eric Jan Sluiter noted, "beyond the ordinary, which is fitting for a figure representative of this honorable art."
It was not uncommon to draw on costumes painted in the past. Painter and art writer Karel van Mander recommended the prints of Lucas van Leyden as an excellent resource for historic costumes. "In these, as with all his other prints, one sees pleasant variations of faces and costumes after the old styles: hats, caps and headdresses which for the most part, differ one from another, so that in Italy the great masters of our own time have been able to profit greatly from his works in that they have borrowed from them and applied things in their own works, with occasional small variations."
Most experts believe that Vermeer created this painting with the aid of a camera obscura, a precursor of the modern photographic camera. This device, a marvel of its day, was well known to painters and men of science. One of the most conspicuous indications of the use of the camera obscura can be seen in the unfocused rendering of the drapery which hangs over the edge of the table. The true focus of the painting was further to the background. This optical phenomenon, where not all parts of the image are in focus is known as depth of field, is not evident in normal vision since the eye is constantly refocusing as it scans quickly from one object to the next. Moreover, experimentation with period camera obscuras shows very similar effects when soft materials are viewed out of focus.
The inclusion of this large bound volume may support the idea of art theorists that painting was a liberal art and that the painter was an educated intellectual on the level of poets and philosophers, rather than a lowly craftsman. Leonardo da Vinci's introduction to his Treatise on Painting reads: "Painting has every right to complain of being driven out from the number of Liberal Arts, since she is a true daughter of nature and employs the noblest of all the senses. It was wrong, oh writers, to leave her out from the number of Liberal Arts, because she deals not only with the works of nature but extends over an infinite number of things which nature never created."
This curious, large-scale plaster mask has always intrigued scholars. Some have proposed that it symbolizes the art of painting through its association with the painter's academic training. Drawing from plaster casts of antiquity, considered "more perfect than nature," was a fundamental requirement of an artist's training. The Accademia di San Luca in Rome (founded in 1593) devised a curriculum to combat the decline of art (Caravaggio and his followers who practiced painting directly from nature) which was based on drawing from classical sculpture, perspective, anatomy, and foreshortening. The evident foreshortening in Vermeer's rendering of the mask may allude to this form of training.
It is also possible that the mask alludes to the so-called il paragone, or the comparison of the arts (see Special Topics below) although it has also been associated with the concept of transience.
Recently, art historian Sabine Pénot has noted that "a headband runs above the eyebrows, which blends into a diadem-like element, such that the top of the cast is pointed." She suggests that, taking into account that the head is in direct contact with the brilliantly lit triangle of background wall and the its elusive gossamer rendering, it can be associated with Apollo, the god of light might be reasonably made. Leonaert Bramer, the most respected artist in Delft at the time with whom Vermeer had close contacts, had elevated painting to the Liberal Arts in the decorative program of the new Delft Guild of Saint Luke in which Apollo and the art of painting were united.
The detail to the left of Michael Sweerts' An Artist in his Studio (1652) shows a young painter in front of two plaster casts of classical sculptures of faces similar to the ones in Vermeer's Art of Painting.
Most experts believe that in The Art of Painting Vermeer had not intended to reveal significant information about his own working methods. For example, both the artist's palette and chest with drawers, which would have contained the rest of the necessary materials, are both conspicuously absent.
Vermeer's seated painter applies paint in full color directly to the top of the canvas where the laurel leaves are represented. Instead, we know that after the initial drawing Vermeer, like most fine painters of his school, blocked in the basic forms and lighting of his composition with brownish pigment. Successively, color was added. This monochrome stage is known as underpainting and was widely employed by Northern painters of the time, especially among artists whose drawings and compositions were very elaborate.
Perhaps the only detail which accurately reflects Vermeer's working methods is the so-called maulstick, or painter's stick. The maulstick a standard piece of 17th-century studio equipment and served to steady the artist's hand for detailed work while distancing it from the wet paint on the underlying canvas. In Vermeer's death inventory, one maulstick was noted among the equipment of his studio.
To identify the source for the map in The Art of Painting, we need not look beyond the painting itself. A lengthy Latin inscription found at the top of the map (partially obscured by the chandelier) may be read as follows: NOVA XVII PROV[IN]CIARUM [GERMANIAE INF]ERI- [O]RIS DESCRIPTIOI ET ACCURATA EARUNDEM ...DE NO[VO] EM[EN]D[ATA]...REC[TISS]- IME EDIT[AP]ERNICOLAUM PISCATOREM. Thus, the origins of the map (designed with north to the right), which shows the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands (Germania Inferior), can be attributed to Nicolaus Visscher (Nicolaus Piscator).
To identify the source for the map in The Art of Painting, we need not look beyond the painting itself. A lengthy Latin inscription found at the top of the map (partially obscured by the chandelier) may be read as follows: NOVA XVII PROV[IN]CIARUM [GERMANIAE INF]ERI- [O]RIS DESCRIPTIOI ET ACCURATA EARUNDEM...DE NO[VO] EM[EN]D[ATA]...REC[TISS]- IME EDIT[AP]ERNICOLAUM PISCATOREM. Thus, the origins of the map (designed with north to the right), which shows the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands (Germania Inferior), can be attributed to Nicolaus Visscher (Nicolaus Piscator).
The large, thin folio which hangs over the edge of the table has been variably interpreted as an architectural drawing folio or music manuscript even though its present state of conservation does not permit it to be identified with certainty. In a carefully composed and articulated allegory such as The Art of Painting, it appears odd that Vermeer would have left its meaning unclear. Some critics have also understood it as being a large folio containing preparatory drawings which the artist would have consulted while working. Painters frequently made many drawings from nature which were used during the actual painting process as models. Few painters actually painted directly from life.
In conjunction with this manuscript, Vermeer specialists have noted that in the inventory of Vermeer's house taken after the artist's death, were listed "five books in folio size; another 25 books of all kinds." Unfortunately, none of the books were identified. The draping page, which barely touches the artist, plays an important role in linking the figure of the painter and his model, who would have been physically divided and hence thematically isolated.
The blade-like form of this brilliant patch of white wall energizes the entire composition. Its effect is even more pronounced when the painting is observed directly. The irregularities produced by the notable paint build-up and the vigorous brushstrokes add sparkle to the pure white paint (white lead). Prepared artificially since the earliest historical times and used until the nineteenth century, this warm white is very opaque, has outstanding brushing qualities and mixes well with every color on the artist's palette. As its name suggests, lead white is a by-product of lead, and whatever the form of manufacture used, the purity of the color depends on the purity of the lead. White lead produced in the Netherlands was particularly prized. In the "Dutch" or "stack" process strips of lead rolled up into spirals were placed in closed earthenware jars containing acetic acid, and the pots were then buried under tanner's bark or dung; the heat evolved by fermentation aids in the formation of white lead through an increase of carbonic acid. Very soon a thin coat of white coating forms. The white lead is then washed and thoroughly cleaned. White lead is extremely poisonous and must be handled with care but it mechanical behavior cannot be substituted by other pigments even though today is has been entirely supplanted by titanium white preferred for its cooler tone and superior covering power.
Because these splendid marble floors can be seen in most genre pictures from the middle and the third quarter of the seventeenth century, we are lead to believe that they were a standard feature in nearly all well-to-do interiors. However, it is doubtful that Vermeer could have directly observed and painted this type of marble tile in his own studio. Willemijn Fock, a historian of the decorative arts, has demonstrated that floors paved with marble tiles were extremely rare in the Dutch seventeenth-century households and that only in the houses of "the very wealthy where floors of this type were sometimes found, they were usually confined to smaller spaces such as voorhuis, corridors and upper story sleeping or storage rooms." Fock reasons that the almost countless representations of these floors in Dutch genre painting may be explained by the fact that artists were attracted by the challenge involved in representing the difficult perspective of receding multicolored marble tiling.
Clothing has the power to convey many meanings in painting. In formal portraiture, great importance was given to the dress to suit the ideals or culture of the sitter. Although the fanciful styles of past centuries often come to mind when we think of 17th-century painting, the vast majority of formal portraits show sitters in "normal" dress. Occasionally, more original types opted for the so-called portrait historié in which the sitter or sitters sported garments and fashion accessories of historical figures of the past, diverse and remote as those as Anthony and Cleopatra. Through the portrait historié one might proclaim his affinity with virtues of classical times.
The painter generally had little to say about the sitter's choice to dress. Through his art, he manipulated the appearance of the tuck, fold, textural qualities and lighting to convey his own aesthetic concerns. Sometimes, prevailing fashions, such as the typical black clothing of the early 17th century, left the artist few opportunities to indulge in the finer points of his craft. Fanciful, expensive dress and even jewelry might be lent to the painter for the more extravagant portraits. Back in the studio, the artist would duplicate the lighting, pose and dress of the sitter with the aid of a life-size mannequin so that the complex patterns of folds would not be altered every time the sitter moved.
The standing model, dressed in blue silk and a long cream-colored silk gown personifies Clio, the muse of history, a figure drawn from classical Greek literature. The billowing blue wrap, casually draped over her shoulders, does not belong to contemporary fashion. It was meant to recall the Antique and links Vermeer's composition to a central tenet whereby a great work of art brings fame to both the artist and his city, a theme already dear to the ancient Greeks. The figure's long silk gown with three black bands along the lower border, instead, appears to be a contemporary garment seen in similar versions many times in interior genre painting of the time.
Various art writers have linked the silk garments in Vermeer's compositions to his father's dealing with caffa (a mixture of silk and cotton or wool adapted for dress and upholstery) but one only has to look at the hundreds of interior paintings of the time to understand that they were one of the most characterizing elements the school. We can only reason that such garments were both highly desirable objects in themselves and an important calling card for potential art buyers. Gerrit ter Borch, one of the finest genre paintesr of the time, established his flourishing career on his uncanny ability to render every nuance of silk.
* Hiding in the deep foreground shadows of some interiors by Vermeer is a sturdy draw-leaf table, called a balpoottajel or trektajel in Dutch. From its origin at the beginning of the 17th century, the draw-leaf table evolved from a solid everyday object into a richly ornamented showpiece. One of the most characteristic features of the draw-leaf table is its bulbous spherical legs, which are most clearly visible in Vermeer's Art of Painting. Rather than waste an extremely thick piece of wood, the cabinet maker added wood blocks to all four sides of each leg before turning them. Thus, the leg was thickened only at the position of the ball. This process also reduced the chance of splitting the wood. The stretchers between the legs strengthen the table. In the first half of the 17th century, they form a rectangle; in the second half of the century, the stretcher moved to the middle of the table with a V-shaped connection at the two ends, a so-called double-Y form. The tables that appear in Vermeer's paintings appear to have the stretchers of the later type.
* the information on the Dutch draw-leaf table was drawn from Golden: Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection (2011)
signed on the map, behind Clio's collar: IVerMeer
(Click here to access a complete study of Vermeer's signatures.).
Albert Blankert, Vermeer: 1632–1675, 1975
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer, London, 2000
Walter Liedtke Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, New York, 2008
Wayne Franits, Vermeer, 2015
(Click here to access a complete study of the dates of Vermeer's paintings).
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 the top and bottom. The canvas vas lined with a glue lining and stretcher 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, grey-brown. 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 reveal 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, the framing of the single city views in the wall map or 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 border 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 pentimento 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.
In the early 1950s, following a travelling exhibition from the Kunsthistorisches Museum's paintings collection, considerable adhesion problems with minute flaking above all in the lighter areas were noticed. 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.
(Click here to access all of Vermeer's paintings in their frames).
(Click here to access a complete, sortable list of the exhibitions of Vermeer's paintings).
(Click here to access all of Vermeer's paintings in scale).
In the groundbreaking The Art of Describing, Svetlana Alpers declared that the interpretation of maps in Vermeer's paintings merely as symbols was a 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 meanings. 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.*
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. 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, http://writingaboutart.org/pages/historicalanalysis.html
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.
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 that 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 that 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, but they can also replicate it. 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 the depiction of artists in their studios 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, as fostered by Renaissance culture. 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.
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
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 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 empires (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 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 by altering the amount of muscular contraction in the lip formation, supported by a certain tongue manipulation.
Although the picture of Vermeer's artist's studio is a far cry from the real 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.
Much has been written about Vermeer's professional and social aspirations. Although his 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.
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.
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, no 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, 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.
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 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.
* The theme of the artist in his studio was beloved by the Dutch painters of the Golden Age. The painter Pieter Codde was among those fwho favored it, having made depicted studio scenes in which art lovers are portrayed studying paintings, artists are in a state of contemplation, or in discussion with visitors or clients. Musical instruments were frequent props in such scenes. A particularly interesting variation on the subject is Pieter Codde's recently discovered A Painter in his Studio, Tuning a Lute, which represents a painter tuning his lute in front of an empty canvas. This particular combination of objects alludes to the finding of inspiration—the most essential part of the artistic process—in front of the empty canvas, the tabula rasa, which may be understood as a visual counterpart of popular anecdotes such as the one about the Dutch painter Gerard de Lairesse (1640–1711), as told by Arnold Houbraken in his Groote Schouburgh.
The anecdote raccounts that upon de Lairesse's arrival in Amsterdam, the noted art dealer Gerrit Uylenburgh had the artist sit in front of an empty canvas (een ledigen doek) to witness the artist's exceptional talent. Asked by Uylenburgh when he wanted to start, de Lairesse responded, "what would you want me to paint?" The subject was to be of the artist's choice, after which Uylenburgh gave him the necessary painting materials. De Lairesse then sat down, pulled out a violin from underneath his mantle and played a little tune on it, after which he took his chalk and drew in one go drew a whole stable with beasts, Joseph, Mary and her Child. He then played some more, and before the afternoon had finished he had painted nearly the whole scene, to the amazement of all. Codde's rendition is likewise an allusion to artistic inspiration and creativity, a candid opportunity for the beholder to witness this mysterious process, and as such represents an ode to the art of painting itself.
* drawn from the catalogue entry of Pieter Codde's, A Painter in his Studio, Tuning a Lute. Salomon Lilian Salomon Lilian Dutch Old Master Paintings Gallery (Geneva and Amsterdam) https://www.salomonlilian.com/assets/gallery-images-catalogue-pages/Pieter-Codde-Salomon-Lilian.pdf