Girl Reading a Letter at
an Open Window

(Brieflezend Meisje bij het Venster)
c. 1657–1659
Oil on canvas
83 x 64.5 cm. (32 3/4 x 25 3/8 in.)
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
(Old Masters Picture Gallery), Dresden
inv. 1336
there are 11 hotspots in the image below
Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, Johannes Vermeer

critical excerpt

Signature on Johannes Vermeer's Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window
signed lower right (to the right of the woman's skirt): J Meer [fragmentary]

Albert Blankert, Vermeer: 1632–1675, 1975

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Vermeer: The Complete Works, New York, 1997

Walter Liedtke, Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, New York, 2008

c. 1657–1658
Wayne Franits, Vermeer, 2015

The support is a plain weave linen with a thread count of 12–16 threads per cm². The variation in the number of threads is caused by the slight difference of the threads' denier between 0,2 and 1 mm.

An x-ray photograph shows considerable fabric strain up to 1 cm. in each dimension, reaching up to 15 cm. towards the middle of the picture. The strain had been fixed by the grounding of the support. This unusually strong straining may indicaye that the support was not prepared by a professional "witters."

Although the support no longer has its original tacking edges, the entire fabric used for the painting has been preserved. The painting's 83 x 64.5 cm. (height to width ratio: 1,28:1) format was rarely used by Vermeer.

The white ground is a mixture of lead white and chalk ("lootwit"), bound only with protein and applied in a relatively thick layer of 0.15 mm.

Only few traces of under drawing and underpainting (mainly in a light reddish-brown or light grey) are possible to detect, implying in their execution the ground layer's grade of lightness. The most distinctive area of underpainting is visible in the upper part of the window's inner embrasure, left-side from the red curtain. The underpainting of the carpet initially excluded the bowl with fruit. The row of the pattern in that area didn't leave out the objects' outlines.

The perspectival construction was probably drawn from direct observation without any mechanical aid. This likely explains why the vanishing lines of the window frame do not meet exactly in the vanishing point beyond the girl's head in the right half of the picture.

The colors used for the painting were already determined by Kühn (1968, 181–82). Apart from the lead white, for the shadowed parts mixed with umber and traces of charcoal, Vermeer employed lead-tin yellow for the girl's bodice and sleeves as well as for a great part of the highlights (including those for the brass nails at the back of the chair). The red paints for the curtain and the tablecloth are vermilion and madder lake, mixed with lead white in the light passages. The green of the trompe l'oeil curtain is created by a mixture of azurite and lead-tin yellow. Ultramarine appears (in admixtures with lead white) for the first time in the window frame and in the tablecloth. A curiosity has been detected during the recent analysis, in the girl's hairdo, created with fine dots of light and dark brown, various tones of ochre and some reddish nuances Vermeer set two light blue dabs in the sort of hair-band running vertical around the coiffure, perhaps an early allusion to his later so preferred contrast of yellow and blue.

Rather than sharp edges Vermeer extends his technique of blurring the contours with dabs and dots to enhance the effects of depth and surface texture. These dots again serve as a special reflective background for the highlights glazed in light colors where the natural light encounters the objects' textures.

It has not been possible to fix with certainty the chronological sequence of the alterations made during the painting process. The window (the first one in Vermeer's early oeuvre), the chair in the left-side corner and the left side of the carpet with the still life clearly demonstrate Vermeer's purposeful painting method and were not affected by extensive reworking.

The mirroring of the girl's face in the window points to a variation in the girl's initial posture, with her back turned towards the viewer (a probable allusion to Ter Borch's young satin-dressed ladies depicted in rear view). After Vermeer had changed her posture to assume a full profile he left the reflection in the mirror in its the first stage except a slight correction in the upper left window pane.

Before Vermeer added the green curtain, which is not part of the depicted scene, he experimented with at least two other repoussoir motives to enhance the illusion of spatial depth. One of them was a large Roemer glass decorated with raspberry prunts and surrounded by a tendril of wine leaves. The other was an object previously assumed to be a Venetian winged glass. Recent infrared reflectography shows this rounded form next to the fruit lying right on the table with remarkable clarity and suggests a lion head finial of a second chair in the foreground placed close to the table, serving as an ulterior repoussoir motif. The form of the left-side lion head was once left out in the respective pattern of the tablecloth and was already defined with a precise light edge. In the painting, this part is still visible in the somewhat undefined pattern of the carpet and the slight luminosity next to the fruit lying far right on the table.

The green curtain had already been executed when Vermeer began to overpaint the large painting of the Cupid. The earlier assumption is that Vermeer would have intended to "rescue" the Cupid-painting by leaving an imaginary shadow of its contour cannot be proved. The visible pentimento Cupid-picture and its black frame in particularis due to aging and progressive transparency of the paint (resp. admixture) used for the overpainting.

based on: Christoph Schölzel, "Zur Entstehung des Gemäldes Brieflesendes Mädchen am offenen Fenster," in: Der frühe Vermeer, ed. Uta Neidhardt, Berlin, München 2010, 83–97 (exh.-cat. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister).


Johannes Vermeer's Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window with its frame

  • (?) Pieter van der Lip sale, 14 June, 1712, no. 22;
  • April 1742 acquired by the Saxon secretary of embassy, de Brais in Paris for the Elector of Saxony, August III, as by Rembrandt;
  • 1945–1955 in the Soviet Union (requisition of war);
  • 1955 restituted to Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden (inv. 1336).
  • Tokyo September 20–November 24, 1974
    Meisterwerke der Europäischen Kunst
    Nationalmuseum for Western Art
  • Kyoto December 2, 1974–January 26, 1975
    Meisterwerke der Europäischen Kunst
  • Moscow October 10–November 18, 1984
    Gerettete Meisterwerke
    Puschkin Museum
  • Leningrad [formerly St. Petrsberg] December 6, 1984–January 20, 1985
    Gerettete Meisterwerke
    Staatliche Eremitage
  • Madrid February 19–May 18, 2003
    Vermeer y el interior holandés
    Il Prado
    165–167, no. 32 and ill.
  • Kobe January–May 22, 2005
    Dresden-Spiegel der Welt. Die Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden in Japan
    Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
  • Tokyo June 28–September 19, 2005
    Dresden-Spiegel der Welt. Die Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden in Japan
    National Museum of Western Art
  • Dresden September 3–November 28, 2010
    Der frühe Vermeer
    Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
Johannes Vermeer's Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window in scale
vermeer's life

In Dec. Vermeer pays the remaining sum (1.5 guilders) of the master's fee in the Guild of Saint Luke that he was unable to pay in 1653.

Vermeer signs one of his first known paintings, The Procuress. The young artist seems to still be dependent on well established pictorial models and has not yet adverted the influence of the newer interior genre scenes of his contemporaries. This type of Caravaggesque scene was to be found in the collections of local connoisseurs.

By 1656 Maria Thin, Vermeer's mother-in-law had already advanced 300 guilders, a considerable sum, the Catharina and Johannes.

dutch painting

Rembrandt declared bankrupt; his possessions are put up for sale.

The immensely popular landscape painter Jan van Goyen (b. 1596), dies.

Gerrit van Honthorst (b. in Utrecht 1590) dies.

european painting & architecture

Academy of Painting in Rome founded.

Bernini: Piazza of Saint Peter's, Rome

Diego Velázquez paints Las Meninas, family of Philip IV

music Opening of first London opera house.
science & philosophy

Oct 29, Edmund Halley, astronomer (Halley's Comet), was born. [see Nov 8]

Dec 14, Artificial pearls are first manufactured by M. Jacquin in Paris. They were made of gypsum pellets covered with fish scales.

Dutch mathematician Johan van Waveren Hudde, 28, anticipates the power-series for ln (1 + x) and the following year will do pioneering work on the use of space coordinates. Hudde promotes Cartesian geometry and philosophy in Holland; his discoveries (they will be called Hudde's rules) will presage the use of algorithms to solve problems of calculus.


Jan 8, Oldest surviving commercial newspaper began in Haarlem, Netherlands.

Dutch forces take the Sinhalese port of Colombo from the Portuguese.

Dutch East India Company shares plummet on the Amsterdam Exchange and many investors are ruined. Among them is painter Rembrandt van Rijn, now 50, who is declared bankrupt and whose possessions are put up for sale.

The Dutch in Ceylon make cinnamon a state monopoly but will not have complete control of the island's cinnamon until 1658. When prices fall too low, the Dutch will burn great quantities of the bark, and they will destroy groves of clove and nutmeg trees in the Moluccas, creating artificial scarcities that will force prices up, enriching the Dutch East India Company.

vermeer's life

Maria Thins, in the first draft of her testament, leaves to Vermeer's daughters jewels (wrings bracelets and gilded chains) and the sum of three hundred guilders to Vermeer and Catharina.

In the same testament Maria Thins wills to Vermeer's first child, Maria, 200 guilders. The child's name is an almost certain sign of good will that existed between Vermeer and his mother-in-law.

In Nov. 30 Vermeer and his wife were lent the sum of 200 guilders from Pieter Claesz. van Ruijven, a wealthy Delft citizen and art collector who may have purchased in the following years more than twenty of Vermeer's works. This money may have been a kind of advance payment on the purchase of future works. Van Ruijven is now rightly considered Vermeer's patron. He was almost seven years older than Vermeer and seems to have had a personal relation with Vermeer that went outside the usual client/artist relationship.

Feb. the framemaker Anthony van der Wiel, who had married Vermeer's sister Gertruy, registered at the guild as an art dealer.

dutch painting

Frans Snyders, Flemish painter, dies.

Both Pieter de Hoogh and Vermeer began to paint the genre interiors refining a regional type, lending it a more realistic qualities of space, light and atmosphere.

The Dortrecht landscape artist Aelbert Cuyp borrows warm light and hilly scenery from Italian examples.

european painting & architecture

Diego Velázquez paints Las Hilanderas (The Spinners)

The Corsini payed Guercino 300 ducats for the Flagellation of Christ painted in 1657. Guercino was remarkable for the extreme rapidity of his execution—he completed no fewer than 106 large altar-pieces for churches, and his other paintings amount to about 144. In 1626 he began his frescoes in the Duomo of Piacenza. Guercino continued to paint and teach up to the time of his death in 1666, amassing a notable fortune.

music Le Sieur Saunier: Vencyclopdie des beaux esprits, believed to be first reference book with "encyclopédie" in its title.

science & philosophy

A pendulum clock was designed by Christiaan Huygens and built by Solomon Coster.

Universal Mathematics (Mathesis Universalis) by John Wallis amplifies the English mathematician's system of notation, applying it to algebra, arithmetic, and geometry. Wallis will be credited with inventing and introducing the symbol for infinity; he has demonstrated the utility of exponents, notably negative and fractional exponents.


Mar 23, France and England formed an alliance against Spain.

Jun 1, 1st Quakers arrived in New Amsterdam (NY).

A 4-year Dutch-Portuguese war begins over conflicting interests in Brazil, but Johan de Witt will end the hostilities with a peace advantageous to the Dutch.

Coffee advertisements at London claim that the beverage is a panacea for scurvy, gout, and other ills.

Public sale of tea begins at London as the East India Company undercuts Dutch prices.

The Flushing Remonstrance written to Nieuw Amsterdam's governor Peter Stuyvesant December 27 is probably the first declaration of religious tolerance by any group of ordinary citizens in America.

The first London chocolate shop opens to sell a drink known until now only to the nobility.

vermeer's life

In this period, the Guild of Saint Luke was probably the center of Vermeer's public life.

Vermeer may have began distancing himself from his family or origin. This fact is seen in his failure to name any of his children after his mother or father as was common practice of the time. His first two daughters, born before 1658, Were named Maria and Elizabeth after his mother-in-law and her sister.

In Vermeer's Procuress a Chinese bowl appears in the still life. Between 1602 and 1657 the Dutch had imported millions of pieces of porcelain. Native Delft artisans began feverishly producing everything from elaborate imitations of Chinese porcelain to the humble floor tiles seen in some of Vermeer's interiors.

dutch painting

Pieter de Hooch: paints Courtyard of a House in Delft, one of finest works. De Hoogh's courtyards may have influenced Vermeer's The Little Street.

Frans van Mieris paints The Duet.

Adriaen van de Velde paints Farm with a Dead Tree.

european painting & architecture Bernini: church at Castel Gandolfo (-1661). Bernini did not build many churches from scratch, preferring instead to concentrate on the embellishment of pre-existing structures. He fulfilled three commissions in the field; his stature allowed him the freedom to design the structure and decorate the interiors in coherent designs.
music Apr 22, Giuseppe Torelli, composer (Concert Grossi op 8), is born in Italy.
literature Moliere was anointed with the patronage of King Louis XIV. Molière left behind a body of work which not only changed the face of French classical comedy, but has gone on to influence the work of other dramatists the world over. The greatest of his plays include The School for Husbands (1661), The School for Wives (1662), The Misanthrope (1666), The Doctor in Spite of Himself (1666), Tartuffe (1664, 1667, 1669), The Miser (1668), and The Imaginary Invalid (1673).
science & philosophy Amsterdam naturalist Jan Swammerdam, 21, gives the first description of red blood cells. He will complete his medical studies in 1667 but devote himself to studying insects, tadpoles, frogs, and mammals rather than practicing medicine.
history Sep 3, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the New Commonwealth, i.e. ruler over England's Puritan parliament, dies at age 59. Richard Cromwell succeeded his father as English Lord Protector.
Gillis van Tilborgh, Self Portrait in the Studio

Self Portrait in the Studio
Gillis van Tilborgh
c. 1645
Oil on panel, 10.8 x 8.9 cm.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

It has been estimated that there were about 650 to 750 painters working in the Netherlands in 1650s or about one for each 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants, in Delft one out of every 500. By comparison, the number of painters in Renaissance Italy was about one every 330, in a population of some 9 million. Most Dutch painters came from middle-class families since painting generally did not offer sufficient status to attract the wealthy and the poor could rarely afford the training. As their status and social ambition rose, some Dutch artists assumed the manners, and dress, of their wealthy clients. Vermeer himself appears to have made serious efforts to cast himself as a gentleman/artist.

When Vermeer turned his attention to the domestic interior motif, he entered into a highly competitive niche market already dominated by a few exceptional artists such as Gerrit ter Borch, Frans van Mieris and Gerrit Dou. These painters specialized in themes of upper-class domestic interiors, now grouped togehter with a host of other subjects under the term genre. Their work displays an truly astonishing level of detail, at times near microscopic, and required enormous number of work hours making them affordable for a select few. Dou is reported to have sold some works for more than 1,000 guilders or roughly the equivalent of the venerated great Italian Masters. A modest Dutch house could be had for less.

17th-century Dutch doll house

Before the 1650s, few rooms in the typical middle-class Dutch house had specialized functions. Beds, for example, were placed in halls, kitchens or wherever they could fit. But when rooms did assume a particular use, it was often reflected in the paintings chosen to decorate them—domestic scenes or religious images were selected more often for private areas of the house while landscapes or city views were shown in public areas.

Typical Dutch homes were generally far more cluttered and not as well-lit as the pristine environments that appear in Vermeer's compositions. The image of the famous 17th-century doll house created by Petronella Dunois very likely affords a more accurate idea of the furniture arrangement and density of a true Dutch well-to-do home.

Although exceptionally few Dutch domestic envirnoments have survived, a few doll's houses made in Amsterdam in the second half of the 17th century are regarded as an inexhaustible source of information about the furnishing of grand merchant's houses in the heyday of the Dutch Republic. One such doll-house was commissioned by Petronella Oortsman (1656–1718), who as a wealthy widow married the silk merchant Johannes Brandt in 1686. She started assembling her doll's house shortly after marriage.

The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam estimates that Petronella Oortman spent twenty to thirty thousand guilders on her model house, the price of a real house along one of Amsterdam's most sought-after canal locations at that time. It took nearly 20 years to build.

Historians of economics have estimated that out of five million works of art that were created in the Dutch Republic during the 17th century. Interiors views and still-lives comprised at least 10% of the total output, or about five hundred thousand works. And since these works are so expertly painted, the viewer tends to believe that the artist painted exactly what was in front of him. However, the most outstanding aspect of these images, namely, their apparent capacity to offer unmediated access to the past, is paradoxically the most deceptive. Art historians have come to the conclusion that we are dealing with a case of modified reality (see left) rather than a literal transcription of Dutch homes. The sitters in their environments which we see were meticulously arranged combining both real and fictive elements.

Merry Company at a Table, Hendrick van der Burch

Merry Company at a Table
Hendrick van der Burch
55 x 69 cm.
Private collection

While the window casements and walls in Vermeer's rooms appear to be factual, the marble floors were fictive. While more humble objects, such as the porcelain wine jugs, tables, pictures, mirrors and maps, were probably Vermeer's own. On the other hand the luxurious hand-woven tapestries, the keyboard instruments and gilt chandelier were borrowed brought in for the occasion. Vermeer had full access to these luxury items through his rich Delft patron Pieter van Ruijven or similar channels.

In a certain sense Vermeer's painted environments are analogous to the photo reproductions of today's interiors design magazines advertising luxury homes, which are assembled only to be photographed and afterwards disassembled. They both portray an ideal interior—brighter, cleaner, neater and more richly decorated. Moreover, these pictures were expensive commodities in themselves which would have bolstered cultural pretensions of their owners.

The signature of Catharina Bolnes on a legal document

The signature of Catharina Bolnes on a legal document

Many writers believe that this handsome young woman is Vermeer's wife, Catharina Bolnes. As is the case for the vast number of common 17th-century men and women, the voice of Catharina Bolnes has been lost. Not a single letter, diary entry or note by her hand has survived. Only once are we able to pick up her faint voice through a document dated 24th and 30th April, 1676. Catharina, in a desperate attempt to flea the grip of her creditors after the untimely death of her husband, spoke of her Johannes so: "as a result and owing to the great burden of his children, having no means of his own, he had lapsed into such decay and decadence, which he had so taken to heart that, as if he had fallen into a frenzy, in a day or day and a half had gone from being healthy to being dead." After Johannes' death Catharina was alone with her mother, saddled with ten minors and full of debt.

Catharina would have remained silent had it not been for the notoriety of her husband for whom historians have combed every shred of documentary evidence that could have possible regarded the artist, his colleagues and his family. What we know largely emerges from legal testimonies elegantly transcribed on vellum ledger books by Dutch notaries, probably the most meticulous note-takers of all times. The evidence which regards Catharina tells us that we are in front of an exceptional woman, at least in relation to the 750,000 women of the time who lived in the Netherlands.

Portrait of Arnold Houbraken by his son Jacob

Portrait of Arnold Houbraken (1660–1719)
author of De groote
schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders
en schilderessen
(The Great Theatre
of Dutch Painters), in an engraving by his
son Jacob.

The popular myth about Vermeer's fame goes that he was recovered from total obscurity by the French critic Thoré-Bürger in the mid-1800s. Like many myths, this one contains some but not all the truth. Although Vermeer was not well known in his time outside his native town Delft, his works were never completely forgotten.

After the artist's early death, some of his works continued to be of considerable value to several generations of Amsterdam collectors with money and taste, and a few works continued to evoke admiration and high prices whenever they came onto the market. But for unclear reasons, the name of Vermeer was excluded from Arnold Houbraken's Groote Schouburgh, the foundational 18th-century Dutch book on artists. Thus, for almost 150 years after his death Vermeer's fame hardly spread out of the Netherlands.

It is a curious fact that the Vermeer canvases which left the Netherlands were not infrequently attributed to familiar Dutch artists known to outsiders. In 1742, for example, his Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window came to Dresden as a Rembrandt.

Interior with a Dordrecht Family, Nicolaes Maes

Interior with a Dordrecht Family (detail)
Nicolaes Maes
112.4 x 121.0 cm.
The Norton Simon Foundation

The type of Chinese porcelain that appears in this work was imported in huge quantities for European consumption by the East Indies Company, or VOC as it was called by the Dutch. Vermeer and his fellow citizens must have been particularly familiar with objects of this kind because Delft was one of six towns in Holland that had a chamber of the VOC. As the world's first multi-national company, the VOC had commercial interests all over the globe and accessed the world's oceans through Delfshaven, Delft's 17th-century harbor town. With a little imagination, one can picture merchant ships busily unloading their precious cargoes on the quay of Vermeer's View of Delft connected to Delfshaven by the canal which exits the right-hand part of the composition.

To give an idea of the colossal proportions of the porcelain trade, in 1608, one of the first years of organized trade, the VOC had ordered 50,000 butter dishes, 10,000 plates, 2,000 fruit dishes, and 1,000 of salt cellars, mustard pots and various wide bowls and dishes plus an unspecified number of jugs and cups. In a few years, these articles could be found in many Dutch households. In 1640, the ship Nassau carried an astronomical number of pieces, 126,391 in all, to Amsterdam. The trade with China continued until the mid-17th century when civil wars caused by the fall of the Ming dynasty (1644) disrupted suppliers and the European traders turned to Japan.

Fine porcelain would have normally been displayed on the household's best cabinets or on specially made racks. Nonetheless, these rare objects had no cultural value for the Dutch outside the fact that they were exotic, precious and expensive regardless of their style or even their quality. Thus for Vermeer, the exotic motifs which decorated them no symbolic meaning, and, theus, they must be taken literally as rare objects, beautiful in themselves.

Chinese potters had produced porcelain for export markets all over the world. Ironically, what the Dutch considered the epitome of style was second rate porcelain for the Chinese. The special models made for exportation rarely attracted Chinese taste. Many of these "unpalatable" hybrids appear in Dutch still life paintings, and were taken as the epitome of refinery. Instead, products destined for Chinese domestic consumption were made according to higher standards of taste and facture. Period documents reveal that finest exemplars were not allowed out of the country on penalty of corporal punishiment.

The Dutch had no regard of porcelain's original use and as years passed, it eventually found its way onto the dinner table because it was incredibly easy to clean and did not pass on food's e flavor to the next meal.

Even though the Dutch were poor judges of Chinese standards they knew that they surpassed anything produced in Europe.

Woman with a Basket of Fruit, Christiaen van Couwenbergh

Woman with a Basket of Fruit
Christiaen van Couwenbergh
107.5 x 93 cm.
Gemäldesammlung der Universität, Göttingen

There exists a long tradition of paintings of woman with luscious fruit. Symbolically, fruit could alternately allude to the figure of Venus (the goddess of love) in the Judgment of Paris or the Biblical apple (the symbol of sin) of Adam and Eve. The appearance of fruit in European easel painting exceeds any other kinds of food although very rarely do we see the fruit actually being eaten. Fruit's popularity as a motif in painting is owed to its visual appeal, brilliant colors, shapes and variety of peculiar textures, making fruit a particularly stimulating challenge. Moreover, fruit generally has positive associations owing to its sweetness. From the 16th century on, artists created numerous portraits of beautiful women accessorized with fruit or holding bowls or attractive baskets of it. Bowls and baskets of fruit were commonly features in busts of the figure of the "temptress" in works by Dutch painters such as Gerrit van Honthorst and Christiaan van Couwenbergh.

In the Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, Vermeer displays in great evidence an imported Chinese Wan-Li bowl with peaches, plums and perhaps a large apple. One peach has been halved with its rounded pit exposed to the viewer. The exhibit of ripe fruit alludes, perhaps, to the fullness of the letter reader, perhaps, opened, or "ripe," for love. A Dutch poet once recommended to "send apples, send pears or other fruit" to win over the heart of one's lover drawing inspiration from Ovid's Ars Amatoria.

Four years after Vermeer was accepted into the St Luke Guild in Delft, he painted the present work and established his definitive artistic course. No evidence explains what might have induced him to reject his initial classical teachings—his masterd remains unknown—and foray into the mode of genre painting. But so divergent was his new approach that had they not been signed, it is doubtful that scholars would have ever attributed the early Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Diana and her Companions and even The Procuress to Vermeer.

In the 17th-century Netherlands, independence from one's master was not unusual. Some painters were satisfied to preserve the artistic tradition of their masters while many broke away to explore new themes and styles. No few painters worked successfully in different styles. Samuel Van Hoogstraten, an important painter and art theoretician of the time, painted simultaneously in the "antique" mode, producing large-scale history paintings of biblical and classical themes, small trompe-l'œil paintings and a few genre scenes of contemporary life clearly anchored in the "modern" mode. Interior painters occasionally tried their hand at still life and some portrait painters, who worked in one of the most highly specialized fields, dabbled in the distant landscape genre. In the Netherlands, the amazing variety of available themes and techniques had been stimulated by an open and variegated art market and the absence of official academies.

The only requirements for changing modes of painting was sufficient talent and a knack for understanding what might appeal to a given clientele.

music icon Johann Sebastian Bach
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Gustav Leonhardt, harpsichord