Albert Blankert, John Michael Montias and Gilles Aillaud, Vermeer, New York: Abrams Press, 2007, 69.
Vermeer's painting was not entirely forgotten in the last two decades of the century. Without a doubt the most important owner of his works in Delft was Jacob Dissius, a printer with premises on the big market square under the sign of the Golden ABC. Dissius was a Protestant, the grandson of a pastor. On the death of his wife, Magdalena van Ruyven, in 1682, he had an inventory drawn up of their joint property which lists 20 pictures by Vermeer, without further description or title, together with a number of paintings by other masters (document of April 1683). The Vermeers owned by Dissius undoubtedly came from the colllection assembled by his father-in law, Pieter Claesz. van Ruyven, who had been Vermeer's patron since 1657.
Jacob Dissius died in October 1695. Six months later an advertisement appeared in Amsterdam announcing an auction of 21 paintings by Vermeer together with works by other painters (document of 16 May 1696). Apparently this was the Dissius collection, to which one further Vermeer had been added since 1682. According to the advertisement, the 21 works by Vermeer were "extraordinarily vigorously and delightfully ainted." The sale took place on 11 May 1696.
The description of the painting no. 1 of the Dissius auction catalogue is unanimously believed to correspond to the Woman Holding a Balance of the National Gallery (fig. 1). Although we know nothing about the box in which the painting was kept, we do know that in the inventory of Jacob Dissius's house there were three "Vermeer's in boxes" in the front room.
Particularly precious paintings (or nudes, for motives of decorum) may have been protected from dust in such a manner (fig. 2). Curtains were commonly used for the same purpose and were often represented in Dutch interior paintings, including Vermeer (Girl Reading a Letter at an Open WIndow). Cornelis Daemen Rietwijck, Vermeer's former neighbour on the Voldersgracht (Voldersgracht number 20, just west of the Oude Mannenhuis [Old Mens House), is known to also kept a painting of the head of Christ and a figure of Mary in such small boxes. Vermeer biographer John Michael Montias (Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History,1989) suggested that the artist first learned to read and write at a nearby school and then attended the small academy run by Rietwijck.
Another supposition is that the painting was originally a piece of a so-called "peep-box" or "peep-show," an unusual device which served to create the most complete sense of visual illusion as possible. Carl Fabritius, Vermeer's contemporary, was known to have constructed such a device. One exemplar by Samuel van Hoogstraten is conserved in near perfect state in the London National Gallery.
In any case, painting no. 1 fetched a very high price (155 guilders) considering its relatively modest dimensions. The buyer was Isaac Rooleeuw, a Mennonite and silk merchant (c. 1650–1710) who also purchased The Milkmaid, now in the Rijksmuseum. Rooleeuw must have known very well exactly which Vermeer's he wished to acquire seeing that he was willing to pay such disproportionate prices for the pair. For five years, the two works hung side-by-side in his home in Amsterdam, until Rooleeuw went bankrupt and the paintings were sold. The Woman Holding a Balance remained in private hands in Amsterdam for another century until shortly after 1800, when she left the Netherlands and eventually in 1942 found herself via a circuitous route through Europe to Washington’s National Gallery of Art.
The Woman Holding a Balance is the only painting by Vermeer that can be traced in an unbroken line from the 17th century.
The description of painting no. 2 is unanimously recognized as the Milkmaid (fig. 3) now in the Rijksmuseum. The painting was paid an exceptionally high price (175 guilders) with respect to other works of similar dimensions. It was also purchased by the same buyer of Woman Holding a Balance, (no.1) Isaac Rooleeuw. Unfortunately Rooleeuw was able to savor his two masterpieces briefly since both paintings were sold by foreclosure after his bankruptcy five years after the Dissius auction had taken place.
Although the well-known The Art of Painting in Vienna (fig. 4) might conceivably fit the brief description of painting no. 3, most scholars reject this hypothesis on the basis of the low price paid for the picture. The "portrait of Vermeer in a room" was sold for only 45 guilders while works of far smaller dimensions such as the Milkmaid and Woman Holding a Balance fetched 175 guilders and 155 guilders respectively.
It is unlikely that such a richly complex work as The Art of Painting was not appreciated by the same public was competent enough to distinguish the Milkmaid from lesser works of approximately the same size. Its ingenious perspective accuracy alone, one of the most esteemed aspects of Vermeer's and Dutch painting, would have surely attracted greater interest.
Vermeer's art in fact, was once noted by a contemporary connoisseur precisely for the artist's skill in perspective. If we sum the painting's perspective, extraordinary illusionist quality and the notable pictorial technique, it seems impossible that The Art of Painting could have been underestimated, and even penalized to such a degree.
The name of a Dutch painter has been called into play twice regarding the lost picture; Michiel van Musscher (1645–1705). In fact a good three of his paintings could conceivably be related to the description of the lost picture by Vermeer: Van Musscher's The Artist’s Studio (fig. 5) in a private collection , Portrait of an Artist in His Studio (fig. 6) in the Bass Museum, Miami Beach, Florida,and Portrait of the Artist in His Studio in the Leiden Collection in New York (fig. 7) .
Despite its conventional facture, the first picture (fig. 5) clearly reveals Van Musscher's attempt to capitalize on the ambitious composition Vermeer's grandiose Art of Painting. It is tempting to believe that Van Musscher's might have reworked the now lost lost painting but its composition is too similar to that of the Art of Painting. The lighting of the work in the Bass Museum is very weak by Vermeer's standards. The Leiden Collection piece is technically the most refined of the three, but its cluttered composition and almost frontal lighting would suggest a work derived independently from any work by Vermeer.
Even though the specific use of the word "guitar" seems to clearly indicate The Guitar Player (fig. 8) of Iveagh Bequest in London, it is not entirely out of the question that the Woman with a Lute (fig. 9) in the Metropolitan might also be considered as the painting listed as no. 4. Nomenclature used in inventory descriptions was approximate, although Walter Liedtke opines "it seems much less likely that in the late seventeenth century a lute or cittern would be described as a guitar than vice versa. On the other hand, one would expect a late work by Vermeer, not the Woman with a Lute , to have remained unsold in his studio." The substantial price given to the painting would seem more than justified by the London picture's exceptional luminosity.
Unfortunately, the Woman with a Lute is in such poor state of conservation that its aesthetic value is seriously compromised.
The most surprising catalogue description in the Dissius auction catalogue refers to a now-lost composition, "In which a gentleman is washing his hands in a perspectival room with figures, artful and rare..." The picture fetched 95 guilders, making it one of the highest priced works of the auction.
The "perspectival room" had been experimented other times by Vermeer in the early A Maid Asleep and the later The Love Letter. This pictorial device, also called doorkijkje, was practiced by other Dutch genre painters such as Pieter de Hooch (Couple with a Parrot; fig.10) and Samuel van Hoogstraten (The Slippers fig. 10 ). Curiously, Vermeer's Love Letter; fig. 12), De Hooch's Couple with a Parrot and Van Hoogstraten's Slippers have in common a broom which leans against the foreground doorway.
As Vermeer expert Albert Blankert has pointed out, no other Dutch genre painting displays a gentleman washing his hands. The hand washing theme was most probably an allegory of the cleansing of one's soul.
Art historians generally believe that painting no. 6 of the Dissius auction sales catalogue refers to either Vermeer's Music Lesson (fig. 13) or The Concert (fig. 14).Walter Liedtke beleives it is almost certainly The Music Lesson.
As most other Vermeer scholars, the late Dutch Vermeer specialist Albert Blankert believes that desption of painting no. 7 applies more exactly to the larger Mistress and her Maid (fig. 15) rather than to the Love Letter, due to is relatively high price.
Walter Liedtke noted this description suits the Frick picture better than The Love Letter in Amsterdam...since the cataloguer usually referred to motifs such as musical instruments and " seethrough room' (lot 5, now lost). Ownership of the Mistress and Maid as well as A Lady Writing would also be more consistent with our tentative impression of [Vermeer's prtincipal patron] Van Ruijven's taste, which appears to have favoured evocative understatement (and light effects) over prosaic narrative."
In 2012, the Dutch art historian Franz Grizenhout advanced with certainty the name of another buyer at the Dissius auction. "A well documented case can now be added to our scarce knowledge on the position of Vermeer in early 18th-century collections. We knew already that Mistress and Maid (Frick Collection, New York) was sold at an anonymous auction in 1738 to someone called Oortman. As it appears, this was Hendrik Oortman (1696-1748), who bought the picture by Vermeer in 1738 on the auction of the paintings that belonged to his father, Jacob Oortman (1661-1738), pistol and gun maker and one of the wealthiest men in Amsterdam at the time. Jacob Oortman possessed some 80 paintings, a dozen of which were probably bought at the Dissius auction of 1696, along with the Vermeer. They were kept in his house on Singel, Amsterdam. Thanks to the inventory of Jacob Oortman’s belongings made up after his death, we are able to document the disposition of these paintings in the house fairly well. Apart from a nice collection of porcelain, Oortman owned a couple of interesting pictures, among which Pieter de Hooch’s famous Mother’s Duty, now in the Rijksmuseum."Franz Grizenhout, "Een schrijfstertje van Vermeer. Jacob Oortman en de Dissiusveiling van 1696," Oud Holland Jaargang/Volume 123, no. 1 (2010).
His wife was Petronella Oortman (1656–1716), who, between 1686 and 1710 curated the best know dollhouse of the time, decorating it with expensive materials and miniatures. It is so accurately constructed that it provides a unique insight into the domestic life and aspirations of the upper class during the 17th century, offering clues about the preferences, tastes and aspirations of the women and families who owned and curated these miniature collections.
Few doubt that painting no. 8 of the Dissius auction catalogue applies to Vermeer's A Maid Asleep (fig. 16).
Most scholars agree that the description of painting no. 9 best suites the Girl with a Wine Glass in the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum (fig. 17) , although there may have once existed another painting(s) by Vermeer that could match catalogue description. Walter Liedtke noted that this description "would suit The Concert (fig. 18) equally well or better, especially when one considers how specifically the cataloguer describes the figures in other entries, and the fact that the title, 'Merry Company', was commonly applied in seventeenthcentury inventories to paintings of music-making ensembles consisting of three figures or more. the sale's cataloguer describes what each figure is doing in every picture by Vermeer including one or two figures, whereas the term 'merry company' was commonly applied throughout the century to scenes of three or more figures making music or otherwise socializing. If the Braunschweig painting was in the Dissius sale it seems likely that the cataloguer would have described the man's offer of wine or the woman's expression (quite as he noted 'een laggent Meysje' [a laughing girl] Officer and Laughing Girl), or he would have chosen words like those employed for lot 23, 'Een geselschap van drie Persoonen van Gerard Terburgh' (A company of Three Persons by Gerard ter Borch)."
Description no. 10 may refer to either Girl Interrupted at Her Music (fig. 19) or The Music Lesson. One argument against the Girl Interrupted at her Music is that the painting fetched a rather high price, 81 guilders. Even though the painting is now in a very poor state of conservation, neither its reduced dimensions nor remaining visible qualities seem to solicit such an elevated price. On the other hand, The Music Lesson is one of Vermeer's most complex works. The Concert, also represents a gentleman and a young lady making music. But the description does not take into account a second young woman who is beating time and singing. There may have once existed another painting(s) by Vermeer that could match catalogue description.
The description of painting no. 12 of the Dissius auction catalogue almost certainly refers to The Lacemaker (fig. 21) in the Louvre. Of those surely identifiable paintings by Vermeer described in the Dissius catalogue sale, The Lacemaker fetched a relatively high price in respects to its size. Only the Woman Holding a Balance and The Milkmaid were bought for higher relative prices.
Art historians agree that painting no. 31 fits Vermeer's monumental View of Delft (fig. 22). Although View of Delft fetched the highest price (200 guilders) of the Dissius auction, it was also by far the largest canvas. It is surprising to note that Woman Holding a Balance (catalogue no. 1, at 155 guilders) and The Milkmaid (catalogue no. 2, at 175 guilders) were both paid almost as much even though they are far smaller.
Scholars generally hold the description of the no. 32 of the Dissius auction catalogue fits the Little Street (fig. 23) now housed in the Rijksmuseum, although strictly speaking, there is no reason it could not fit no.33. Whatever the case, the other view of houses no longer exists.
Thorè- Bürger, the French connoisseur who is generally accredited for having rediscovered Vermeer in the mid-18th-century, attributed various landscapes and cityscapes to the Delft master that were successively purged from the artist's oeuvre. Thorè had in his personal art collection more than one landscape which he believed to be authentic. However, they were later proved to be by the hand of minor artists such as Jacob Vrel or Dirk Van de Laan (fig. 24), the latter of which was a Dutch painter who was evidently influenced by Vermeer's pointillist application of paint and intimist qualities.
The description painting no. 35 is usually considered to refer to A Lady Writing (fig. 25) in the National Gallery in Washington, although there may have once existed another painting(s) by Vermeer that could match catalogue description. Walter Liedtke noted that "Jacob Dissius's father-in-law, Pieter
van Ruijven, had acquired comparable paintings by Vermeer such as the Woman with a Pearl Necklace and Woman Holding a Balance, so there can be little doubt that he also purchased A Lady Writing directly from the artist
The description of painting no. 36 matches the Woman with a Pearl Necklace (fig. 26) in Berlin, although there may have once existed another painting(s) by Vermeer that could mathe catalogue description.
The description of painting no. 37 of the Dissius auction catalogue could conceivably fit various pictures by Vermeer, including A Lady Standing at a Virginal (fig. 27), A Lady Seated at a Virginal and the recently reattributed A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals, in the Leiden Collection in New York.
However, given the relatively high price achieved by the work in question the Leiden piece should be discarded considering its evident inferior quality and smaller dimensions.
According to Walter Liedtke, "even if the London paintings were separated at an early date (about a decade after they were painted) this hardly militates against the possibility that they were painted as a pair. In the period about 1672, when Vermeer evidently sold very little, he may have been more than willing to part with the works separately."
The term tronie, which derived from the French "trogue," refers to "heads" or "faces" are paintings which had been popularized by Rembrandt and his followers. Even though the tronie represents a bust length single figure and was usually painted from life, it is not a portrait in the 17th-century meaning of the word. In contemporary usage, tronie might cover any picture of an unidentified sitter, but in modern art-historical usage it is typically restricted to figures who do not seem to have been intended to be identifiable. The tronie furnished the artist an opportunity to demonstrate his ability in rendering fine stuffs, exotic garments or characteristic facial type that struck him as unusual. The artist wearing exotic headgear, the dashing soldier or the "Turkish archer" were favorite tronies. Vermeer's Girl with a Red Hat (fig. 28) Study of a Young Woman (fig. 29) and Girl with a Pearl Earring (fig. 30) would have been all be considered tronien, not portraits. Tronien were probably sold on spec. The tronie, then, "with its anonymous models doing and meaning next to nothing, was perfect for collectors who wanted an affordable proof of the technical mastery of a given painter.."
Painting no.38 has often been thought to refer to Vermeer's iconic Girl with a Pearl Earring, presently in the Mauritshuis. Although its price was not as high as one might expect (only 36 guilders), in reality tronies normally did not command high prices. Even a Rembrandt tronie in the same sale (no. 45) fetched only 7 guilders and 5 stuivers. Johan Larson, a Hague/London sculptor, had in his collection a Vermeer tronie which was valued at only 10 guilders. However, Vermeer's chief biographer John Montias believes that the Larson tronie was most probably the much smaller Girl with a Red Hat . The Study of a Young Woman with painting no. 38, which was sold for less than half the price of no. 39.
It should be remembered that Vermeer's contemporaries sometimes valued painting differently than we. For example, Vermeer's large Allegory of Faith in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is today considered coldly distant in its classicism, was paid 400 guilders only three years after the magnificent View of Delft was sold for 200 guilders. In the same auction The Milkmaid was paid 175 guilders while The Music Lesson, now considered one of Vermeer's highest artistic and technical achievements, was paid less than half that price (80 guilders).
It is possible that the Girl with a Flute and Girl in a Red Hat refer to the two pendant pictures of list number 40, but we have no idea how many tronies Vermeer painted.
According to Walter Lidtke, suggests that "Vermeer must have been an aficionado of ironies, considering that two by Carel Fabritius and two by Samuel van Hoogstaten were listed in the inventory of his estate, and that he himself painted at least four of them. However, nothing quite prepares one for this example. In terms of technique it is typical of Vermeer, as Wheelock has explained. But the sheer invention is unexpected, a flash of inspiration [Girl with Red Hat (?)] in an artist who normally proceeded with the greatest of care.
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