Saint Praxedis

(questionable, attributed to Vermeer)
Oil on canvas
101.6 x 82.6 cm. (40 x 32 1/2 in.)
National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo
there are 11 hotspots in the image below
St. Praxedes, attributed to Johannes Vermeer

critical excerpt

Signature on Saint Praxedis

signed and dated 1655 in the lower left, and it also carries an additional inscription in the lower right corner: "Meer N ... R ... o... o," which has been interpreted as "Meer N[aar] R[ip]o[s]o" (Vermeer after Riposo), the latter being Ficherelli's nickname.

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

The plain-weave canvas support has a regular weft of ten threads to centimeter. The painting has been relined.

The light brown ground consists primarily of lead white, iron oxides and calcium. A darker brown imprimatura layer exists under the sky, which is painted with natural ultramarine. The gown, lips and blood are painted with red lakes of lead white. The pigments in the yellow paint on the brim of the urn are lead white and yellow ochre. Many different textural effects have been created with the use of glazing, scumbling, impasto, and dry brushstrokes.

The painting is in excellent condition, with only a few small losses along the right side and bottom.

* Johannes Vermeer (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art and Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis - Washington and The Hague, 1995, edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.)


St. Praxedis asstibuted to Johannes Vermeer with frame

  • Erna and Jacob Reder, New York, 1932 [Spencer Samuels & Company, New York, 1969–1987];
  • Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection Foundation; 1987
  • New York 1969
    Florentine Art from American Collection
    Metropolitan Museum of Art
    44–45, no. 39 and ill. 22.
  • New York 1984
    Inaugural Exhibition
    Spencer A. Samuels Gallery
    no. 14
  • Warsaw 1990
    Opus Sacrum. Catalogue of the Exhibition from the collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson
    Royal Castle
    11, 272–277, no. 48 and ill.
  • Cracow 1991
    Jan Vermeer van Delft (1632–1675). Saint Praxedis: An Exhibition of a Painting from the Collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson. International Cultural Center
    Warsaw Royal Castle
    8–28, and several ills.
  • Washington D.C November 12, 1995–February 11, 1996
    Johannes Vermeer
    National Gallery of Art
    86–89, no.1 and ill.
  • The Hague March 1–June 2, 1996
    Johannes Vermeer
    86–89, no.1 and ill.
  • Monaco 1998
    Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675: Sainte Praxède/Saint Praxedis)
    Musée de la Chapelle de la Visitation
  • Osaka April 4–July 2, 2000
    The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer
    Osaka Municipal Museum of Art
    174–177, no. 31 and ill.
  • Rome September 27, 2012–January 20, 2013
    Vermeer: Il secolo d'oro dell'arte olandese
    Scuderie del Quirinale
    200, no. 45a and ill.
  • Tokyo March 17, 2015
    Saint Praxedis
    National Museum of Western Art
St. Praxedis asstibuted to Johannes Vermeer in scale
vermeer's life

Dec. 14, "Sr. Johannes Reijnijersz. Vermeer master painter," and his wife "Juffr. Catharina Bolnes" appear before the notary Rota to guarantee a debt of 250 guilders that the artist's father had contracted. Both Vermeer and his wife sign the document. The appearance of the stylish "Sr." on the document is a secure sign of the artist's rise in social status.

dutch painting

c. 1656 Jacob van Ruisdael moves to Amsterdam.

Rembrandt paints Woman Bathing in a Stream and the Polish Rider.

Pieter de Hooch, who directly influences Vermeer, joins the guild of Saint Luke in Delft, two years after he had arrived from Haarlem. He will remain in Delft and produce his finest works until 1660.

c. 1658 Miendert Hobbema becomes an apprentice in Jacob van Ruisdael's Amsterdam studio. In the exercise of his craft Hobbema was patient beyond all conception. It is doubtful whether any one ever so completely mastered as he did the still life of woods and hedges, or mills and pools. Nor can we believe that he obtained this mastery otherwise than by constantly dwelling in the same neighbourhood, say in Guelders or on the Dutch Westphalian border, where day after day he might study the branching and foliage of trees and underwood embowering cottages and mills, under every variety of light, in every shade of transparency, in all changes produced by the seasons.

european painting & architecture

Luca Giordano develops a rich baroque vein deriving in particular from Rubens. He was nicknamed "Luca Fa Presto" (Luke work quickly) because of his prodigious speed of execution and huge output. He began in the circle of Ribera, but his style became much more colorful under the influence of such great decorative painters as Veronese, whose works he saw on his extensive travels. Indeed, he absorbed a host of influences and was said to be able to imitate other artists' styles with ease. His work was varied also in subject-matter, although he was primarily a religious and mythological painter. Soon after the death of Charles in 1700, Giordano, now wealthy, returned to Naples. He spent large sums in acts of munificence, and was particularly liberal to his poorer brother artists. One of his maxims was that the good painter is the one whom the public like, and that the public are attracted more by colour than by design. Giordano has been criticized as being a prolific trader of all styles, and master of none. He has been viewed as a proto-Tiepolo, reanimating that grand manner of Cortona in a style that would brighten with Tiepolo.

c. 1655 Murillo paints genre scenes in Seville, where, from 1658 to 1660, he was involved in the founding of the Academy of Art, sharing its direction, in 1660, with the architect, Francisco Herrera el Mozo. This was his period of greatest activity, and he received numerous important commissions, among them the altar piece for the Augustinian monastery, the paintings for Santa María la Blanca (completed in 1665), and others.

music Aug 13, Johann Christoph Denner, inventor of the clarinet, was born.
science & philosophy

Blaise Pascal: Lettres provinciales, against Jesuits

Mar 25, Christiaan Huygens discovered Titan, Saturn's largest satellite. Huygens was a great figure in the fields of research into mathematical physics, astronomy and optics, and among the founders of mechanics and optical physics. He made astronomical observations about the planets, of the nebula of Orion and of the Moon, all reported in Systema Saturnium.

Hooke publishes the Micrographia.


Pope Innocent X dies; Fabio Chigi becomes Pope Alexander VII.

Spinoza excommunicated

Apr 26, Dutch West Indies Co. denied Peter Stuyvesant's desire to exclude Jews from New Amsterdam.

Sep 26, Peter Stuyvesant recaptured Dutch Ft. Casimir from Swedish in Delaware.

The first slave auction was held in New Amsterdam (later NYC).

French society uses a clean plate for each new dish but Englishmen continue to dine off trenchers—wooden platters that give hearty eaters the name "trenchermen."

Rum from Jamaica is introduced into the Royal Navy to supplement beer, which goes sour after a few weeks at sea.

vermeer's life & art

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.

Mosiacs of St. Praxedis, Basillica of St. Praxedsi, ROme

According to legend, Saint Praxedis was a 2nd-century daughter of a disciple of St Paul living in Rome, and sister of Saint Pudentiana. When the Emperor Marcus Antoninus was hunting down Christians, Saint Praxedis sought them out to relieve them with money, care and comfort. Some she hid in her house, others she encouraged to keep firm in the faith. She likewise cared for the severed bodies of those martyred for their faith.

Saint Praxedis was at first venerated as a martyr in connection with the Ecclesia Pudentiana, but afterwards a separate church was built in her honor, on the alleged site of her house, to which, when it was rebuilt by Pope Saint Paschal I (the present Santa Prassede), her relics were taken.

By the late 16th century she was especially revered by the Jesuits, an order which lived next door to Vermeer's mother-in-law, Maria Thins, along the Oude Langendijk in Delft.

In the two paintings by Vermeer and Ficherelli, Saint Praxedis is shown kneeling in front of an ornate twin-handed jug into which she is squeezing a sponge soaked full with blood of a decapitated martyr.

Her effigy appears on a mosaic of the Catholic Church of Saint Praxedis in Rome (see image above).

The Death of Cleopatra, Felice Ficherelli

The Death of Cleopatra
Felice Ficherelli
Oil on canvas, 71 x 78 cm.
National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

The Saint Praxedis is indisputably a copy of a painting by Felice Ficherelli, the later which is presently in a private collection in Ferarra, Italy.

Felice Ficherelli (1605–1660) was an Italian painter of the Baroque period, active mainly in Tuscany. In contrast with his nickname, il Riposo (the restful), derived from his peaceful nature, his most original works were easel paintings often of cruel and violent subjects, which he interpreted with a morbid sensuality and ambiguous tenderness. He specialized in martyrdom and famous murders of the past.

Ficherelli was brought to Florence when very young by the influential collector Conte Alberto Bardi, who arranged for him to study with Jacopo da Empoli and to copy works by Andrea del Sarto. Ficherelli's clear compositions and luminous drapery, which remain evident throughout his career, reflect his studies.

How Vermeer might have come across the Saint Praxedis, which has never left Italy and is now in a private collection in Ferrara, remains a mystery.

The Rape of Lucretia, Felice Ficherelli

The Rape of Lucretia
Felice Ficherelli
Late 1630s
Oil on tinned copper, 24.5 x 29.9 cm.
Wallace Collection, London

A Young Boy Copying a Painting, Wallerant Vaillant

A Young Boy Copying a Painting
After Wallerant Vaillant
oil on canvas, 127 x 99.5 cm.
National Gallery, London

The present painting is a copy of a painting by the Italian painter Felice Ficherelli. By some art historians presumably by the young Vermeer.

Although copying the works of other painters is disdained by mainstream art educational systems today, in Vermeer's age people were far more opened to modeling themselves on great predecessors, who they took for their yardsticks. Apprentices drew from casts of classical sculptures, copied drawings and paintings of their own teachers as well as those of the venerated Masters of the past. In addition, copying was correlated with the broader concept of emulation which was for centuries the pilaster of pictorial tradition and progress. It was then held to be impossible to rival and surpass the Masters of the past until one had acquired the same technical tools to successfully compete. Thus, for a painter in his early years, even the most talented, to copy a work of another was hardly a sign of weakness. Copying also presented a financial opportunity for many painters since collectors were not always able to acquire the great originals of the past.

Although it is not easy to understand why Vermeer would have made a replica of a relatively obscure Italian painting, the subject of this Catholic Saint may have appealed to the young painter who was just married into a staunch Catholic family and likely converted thereafter. Other writers have envisioned Vermeer rendering homage to the enormous loss of life, including one of Delft's most promising painters Carel Fabritius, caused only a few years earlier by the infamous explosion of the Delft powder magazine.

This painting, a close copy of a painting by the Florentine master Felice Ficherelli curiously, displays two signatures. The fist to be noticed was "Meer 1655" in the lower left. It also carries an additional inscription which had escaped the experts' eyes for some time in the lower right corner: Meer N ... R ... o... o, which has been interpreted as Meer N[aar] R[ip]o[s]o (Vermeer after Riposo), the latter being Ficherelli's nickname.

After consulting the results of laboratory examination, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. claimed that both "signatures and the date are integral to the paint surface" but is at a loss as to why the work bears two signatures.

Conservator Jørgen Wadum, on the other hand, states that the signature to the lower left is clearly not part of the original paint layer. He argues that the paint layer directly beneath it is visibly abraded (which means it has undergone some wear and tear) while the signature above seems relatively fresh and clear. Wadum remarks that the second signature to the lower right "is so rudimentary that any interpretation would be factitous." Furthermore, two signatures on the same painting would be a rarity for a 17th-century copy.

The copy of Ficherelli's Saint Praxedis is most debated painting in regards to its authenticity. Since it is a very faithful copy of an extant painting, which almost certainly never left the country, various Vermeer scholars believe this fact alone is sufficient to disqualify it from Vermeer's oeuvre.

However, there exist various hypotheses that, while not proving Vermeer make the copy himself, show that it is not out of the question. First of all, Vermeer could have made his copy from another copy which had somehow reached the Netherlands. Copies of Italian paintings were highly regarded in the Netherlands and were a part of an active market. In Delft, various paintings of Italian masters where known to have been part of private collections. When John Michael Montias, Vermeer's biographer, made a scrupulous examination of Delft archival records, only five turned up, of which only three were probably copies. It is far likelier that originals and copies by Italian masters could be found in Amsterdam.

One Amsterdam art dealer, Johannes de Renialme, owned ten. Curiously, De Renialme also had in his collection a now-lost Grave Visitation by Vermeer, presumably an early work. De Renialme was also in contact with Vermeer through his family's notary, Willem de Langue. The fact that Vermeer was summoned to The Hague to judge the authenticity of a group of disputed "Italian masterpieces" his knowledge of Italian painting must have circulated among artists and art lovers.

A second, but less convincing explanation regards Vermeer's presumed visit to Italy. Another Dutch painter called Johannes Vermeer is documented to have been in Italy in the 1650s, but scholars firmly believe that it was Johannes Vermeer of Utrecht, who, coincidentally, worked in the Italian manner.