The Essential Vermeer Glossary: A - C

Samuel van Hooghstraten
Samuel van Hoogstraten

This glossary contains a number of the terms in this site which may not be clear to all readers. Some of these terms are also discussed as they relate to Vermeer's art. Each of the four sections of the glossary can be accessed from the menu top of each page of the glossary entries. In the near future, each word in the site's text which is listed in the glossary will be signaled by an icon that will link directly to that term.

An engraving of Samuel van Hoogstraten, Dutch painter and writer on art. Although Van Hoogstraten painted genre scenes in the style of De Hooch and Metsu and a few portraits, as a painter he is best known as a specialist in perspective and tromp l'oeil paintings. One of his "perspective boxes" which shows a painted world through a peep-hole, is in the National Gallery, London. Only in his early works can signs be found that he was a pupil of Rembrandt. Hoogstraten traveled to London, Vienna, and Rome, worked in Amsterdam and The Hague as well as his native Dordrecht. He was an etcher, poet, director of the mint at Dordrecht, and art theorist. His Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst (Introduction to the Art of Painting, 1678) is an invaluable source for understanding Dutch seventeenth-century art theory and also contains one of the rare contemporary appraisals of Rembrandt's work.


The first academy of art was founded in Florence in 1562 by Giorgio Vasari, who called it the Accademia del Disegno. Another academy, the Accademia di San Luca (named after the patron saint of painters, Saint Luke), was founded a decade or so later in Rome. The Roman Accademia reflects the modern notions of an artistic academy rather than a perpetuation of the medieval guild system. Although not initially in direct competition with the local guilds, the academies eclipsed and eventually supplanted the guilds.

"The curriculum of the Accademia di San Luca was, as least as far as technique is concerned, designed to combat the abhorrent practices followed by Caravaggio and the Bamboccianti,1 a group of Dutch painters who depicted low-life subjects in alla prima painting technique. The academy's training programme included instruction in perspective, foreshortening and anatomy, and it stressed imitation of the Antique, by way of drawing from ancient sculpture or plaster casts."2

Academics held that since art was a scientific and intellectual pursuit, and not a craft, art instruction should be systematic. Drawing was considered to be the essential requirement for painting. Thus, the manipulation of the so-called porte-crayon was more important than that of the brush.

The Academia di San Luca later served as the model for the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture founded in France in 1648. The French Academy very probably adopted the term 'arti del disegno' which it translated into 'beaux art,' from which is derived the English term 'Fine Arts.'"3

In the mid 1660s, the guilds of Saint Luke, which had been in charge with regulating the commerce of artists and artisans on a local level, and to a certain degree the education of their members, had already had began to lose hold on painters. Instead, brotherhoods, whose membership was restricted to master-painters, began to spring up in various parts of the Netherlands: Dordrecht in 1642, Hoorn in 1651, Amsterdam in 1653 and The Hague in 1656. The Saint Luke Guild in Delft (where Vermeer was born and spent his entire career) was one of the few guilds in Holland that comprised the same trades (with exception of the scabbard makers) in 1550 as in 1750.4

Vermeer probably began his artistic training in the late 1640s. It is not know, however, either where or with whom he studied. In this period there are no records which testify his whereabouts. Various cities and masters have been proposed. Since his earliest works show certain affinities with the paintings of two established painters, Jacob van Loo and Jan-Erasmus Quellinus, both of whom worked in Amsterdam, it is possible he was sent there to study by his father, himself a member of the Delft guild. Carel Fabritius, considered Rembrandt's finest student, resided in Delft but at the time Vermeer would have begun to study when Fabritius was not yet a registered guild member. Newly accepted guild members had to wait a two years before they were allowed to accept apprentices. Leonaert Bramer, a family friend of the Vermeers and one of the most esteemed painters in Delft, has been cited as a possible candidate but the elder artist's eccentric Italianate history paintings share very little with anything in Vermeer's work.

One thing seems to be certain; Vermeer's master must have been versed in classical painting since his early works indicate an awareness of classical art theory and practice.

Aerial Perspective

See also, spatial depth.

Ginevra de' Benci, Leonardo da Vinci
Ginevra de' Benci (detail)
Leonardo da Vinci
Oil on panel, 37 x 42.7 cm.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.

Aerial perspective is a pictorial convention that enables the painter to create a forceful illusion of distance in a landscape by using paler colors (sometimes tinged with blue), less pronounced tonal variation and vaguer forms to define those objects that are farthest from the viewer, especially near the horizon. The painterly technique replicates a natural phenomena that depends on the quantity of moisture in the air between the viewer and the objects. In order to enhance the effect of aerial perspective, painters depicted foreground objects with sharp outlines, brilliant or warm colors that contrast with those reserved for the background.

Aerial perspective had been firmly established as a mimetic device by the fifteenth century, and explanations of its effects were written by polymaths such as Leon Battista Alberti and Leonardo da Vinci. The landscape in the background of da Vinci's portrait of Ginevra de Benci (see image left) provides an early example of aerial perspective.

Samuel van Hoogstraten, a seventeenth-century Dutch painter and art theoretician, took aerial perspective further and remarked that "it appears that [in nature] the air forms a body even over a short distance, and clothes itself in the color of the heavens." Ernst van der Wetering, (Rembrandt: The Painter at Work, 2000) hypothesized that Rembrandt had applied Van Hoogenstraten's insight to the figures in his Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolas Tulp, even though aerial perspective is normally only associated with the great distances typical of landscape painting .

Vermeer did not make use of aerial perspective in his interiors although he was aware that warm colors appear to advance toward the viewer while cool color seem to recede. In three pictures the artist used a strong red for the figures in the foreground (Officer and Laughing Girl, The Girl with a Wine Glass and Girl Interrupted in her Music ), which make them appear closer to the spectator. The only painting in which one might have expected to find evidence of aerial perspective is the View of Delft, but it does not occur.


Aesthetics (also spelled æsthetics) is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of art, beauty, and taste, with the creation and appreciation of beauty. It is more scientifically defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste. More broadly, scholars in the field define aesthics as "critical reflection on art, culture and nature."

Originally, that which pertains to the beautiful, as conceived variously by artists and, especially, philosophers with reference to noble aspects of experience beyond superficial appearance or mere prettiness. The theme preoccupied philosophers in ancient Greece, but the term itself first appeared in the 18th century. It is sometimes still used to indicate a certain imprecise distinction between art and life, or as a rough synonym for "artistic."

"The concept of the aesthetic descends from the concept of taste. Why the concept of taste commanded so much philosophical attention during the Eighteenth Century is a complicated matter, but this much is clear: the 18th-century theory of taste emerged, in part, as a corrective to the rise of rationalism, particularly as applied to beauty. Against rationalism about beauty, the 18th-century theory of taste held the judgment of beauty to be immediate."5

Alla Prima

Alla prima is an Italian term meaning "at first attempt." It indicates a method of oil painting in which a picture is completed by painting on the entire surface of the canvas all at once rather than by traditional method which required a methodical building of the image, piecemeal fashion with successive layers of paint. Today, alla prima painting is generally referred to as direct painting. In French it is called premier coup.

The curriculum of the Italian Accademia di San Luca, (founded in Florence in Italy in 1562) was, as least as far as technique is concerned, designed to combat the "abhorent" practices followed by Caravaggio and the Bamboccianti of painting low-life subjects done in the direct alla prima mode.

Some artists of Vermeer's time practiced alla prima painting . The direct method was just the same deprecated by Gérard de Lairesse, a painter-gone-blind and one of the most influential art theorists of the time: he referred to the technique as "smudging" and "rummaging." According to the Dutch painter and art theoetician Gérard de Lairesse , it took "someone with a steady hand and a quick brush to complete his concept at one go…" but still, he described them as "clever characters who to get some recognition by novelties."

Samuel van Hoogstraten, another Dutch painter and art writer, lamented that those artists who turned to ras schilderen ("rapid painting") did so for profit and much as fame as much as for the love of art. Evidently, economic and artistic preoccupations were inextricably linked.

Among the many Baroque painters who practiced the alla prima technique was Diego Velázquez. In the Rococo era, connoisseurs appreciated bold alla prima painting, as exemplified in the works of artists such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Francesco Guardi and Thomas Gainsborough. Both Frans Hals and Rembrandt occasionally painted alla prima, although technically their works are more complex and stand at a midway point between traditional multi-step methods and true alla prima. Among the most able practitioners of the alla prima method in the Netherlands were Jan Porcellis and Jan van Goyen, who were exceptionally successful in attaining high artistic standing in little time. While the paintings of these two artist's were not expensive, they still commanded relatively high prices proportionate to their scant production costs. Van Goyen is know to have painted more than 1,000 pictures in his life.

In the case of the Great Masters, we should always remember that we are dealing with a preconceived, clearly thought-out pictorial project, where every phase of the painting is executed according to a schedule. Seventeenth-century Dutch painters, especially "fine painters" like Vermeer, generally divided the painting process into four distinct steps: "inventing" or drawing, "dead-coloring" or underpainting, "working-up" or finishing and lastly, retouching.

Paint was applied in layers, each of which varied in consistency, density and transparency. The final optical result depends on the combined effect of these layers and different paint qualities. The rationale behind this system was that, unlike today, the problems of composition, form and color were addressed separately. Far from stifling artistic inspiration, the step-by-step system allowed the most talented painters to "program" masterworks of exceptional artistic level in considerable numbers and sometimes vast dimensions while less talented artists fashioned dignified, well-crafted paintings. As the Dutch art historian Ernst van de Wetering pointed out, the work of art of a Great Master may be likened to a game of chess, in which many moves have to be considered in advance and which a remarkable combination of calculation and creativity is required if the final outcome is to be a success.

See Vermeer's Technique for in-depth information


An allegory is the description of a subject in the guise of another subject. An allegorical painting might include figures emblematic of different emotional states of mind, for example envy or love, or personifying other abstract concepts, for example sight, glory, or beauty. These are called allegorical figures. The interpretation of an allegory therefore depends first on the identification of such figures, but even then the meaning can remain elusive.

Allegorical subjects were frequently painted from the Renaissance until around 1800, although they were probably most often used in engraved frontispieces for books and in medals. Still life paintings, particularly before 1700, often contained religious and allegorical symbolism relating to the objects depicted.

Although allegorical subject matter had been one of the principal vehicles of history painters, by the late 1700s the use of allegory had already received critical attention. Roger de Plies, an influential French art theoretician of the late seventeenth century, criticized some painters for their improper use of allegory.

"The allegorical consists in selecting objects to represent in a painting ...something else than what they are...The ancient authors...cite numerous examples of allegories; and since the revival of Painting, Painters had use them rather frequently; if some of them had done so too often, it is because, ignoring that the allegory is the kind of language which must be common to several people and which is based on an established usage,...they imagine a particular allegory which, though clever, could only be understood by themselves."

"Underlying the essential realism of Dutch art, thus, is an allegorical view of nature that provided a means for conveying various messages to contemporary viewers. The Dutch, with their ingrained Calvinist beliefs, were a moralizing people. While they thoroughly enjoyed the sensual pleasures of life, they were aware of the consequences of wrong behavior. Paintings, even those representing everyday objects and events, often provide reminders about the brevity of life and the need for moderation and temperance in one's conduct. Subjects drawn from the Bible, mythology, and ancient history, likewise, were often chosen for their moralizing messages or for establishing parallels between the Dutch experience and great historical, literary, and political events of the past."6

It is generally held that Vermeer painted three allegorical works: The Art of Painting (where the standing model is presumed to be Clio, the muse of Fame), the Allegory of Faith and the Woman Holding a Balance, whose allegorical meaning has been somewhat more vexing to decipher than the first two. In the Allegory of Faith, the "idealized figure is the Catholic Faith adores heaven in the form of a glass sphere and dominates the globe (its mundane nature seems suggested by realistic description). In the foreground, the cornerstone of the church (Christ) crushes a serpent (the Devil) near the apple of original sin, which required the Savior's sacrifice. On the table, a crucifix, a chalice, a long silk cloth (perhaps a priest's stole), a large book (presumably the Missale Romanum) and a crown of thorns refer to the sacrament of the Eucharist, which was especially denigrated by Protestant critics of the time. The setting resembles a small chapel set up in a private house, as Catholic hidden churches' were in the Dutch Republic."7

According to Daniel Arasse ("Vermeer's Private Allegories" in Vermeer Studies, 1998) the Allegory of Faith "is an allegory explicitly declared as such, and the woman's gesture, the furniture and especially the serpent of heresy crushed in the foreground indicate; it is a 'public allegory' in response to a specific commission Vermeer had been given."8

We know that The Art of Painting was intended as an allegory since Vermeer's wife described the painting as De Schilderconst (The Art of Painting). Vermeer and his wife, Catharina, must have been particularly attached to this work since it is known that it was kept it in the artist's studio until his death and that his wife afterwards went to great lengths to save it from her creditors.


Something which admits of interpretation in two or more possible senses. In logical and critical texts, ambiguity is usually something to be avoided (however, see dissemination), but many creative works capitalize on it effectively.

Since the rediscovery of Vermeer in the mid 1860s by Thoré Bürger, his art has inspired an impressive number of interpretations. Although Bürger himself had dubbed Vermeer "the Sphinx of Delft" (for the different styles the artist seemed to have worked in). Lawrence Gowing (Vermeer, 1952) was the first critic to stress what he viewed as a pervading sense of ambivalence in Vermeer's art, so much that the artist's presumed "reticence" became the focal point of his penetrating examination of the artist's oeuvre. Almost every interpretation that followed, in one way or another, has taken into account Gowing's observations even though they are ultimately subjective. In Gowing's words:

"However definite and recognizable the weave of paint in the style of Vermeer, inside it is something is hidden and compressed. There is a curious note in many of his pictures. It is to be seen in the vocabulary of representation that he applies to the simplest form, the fold of a bodice or a finger. It is a note of ambiguity, a personal uncertainty that one cannot help feel about the painter. His detachment is so complete, his observation of tone so impersonal, yet so efficient. The description is always exactly adequate, always completely and effortlessly in terms of light. Vermeer seems almost not to care, or even to know, what it is he is painting. What do men call this wedge of light? A nose? A Finger? What do we know of its shape? All should be well. Such might be the constitution of the simplest painters. Yet something keeps us wondering. What kind of man was Vermeer? Here is the ambiguity. We may examine the pictures from corner to corner and still be uncertain."

And again, "There is in his thought, the paradoxical accompaniment of its clarity, a deep character of evasiveness, a perpetual withdrawal."

After the 1950s, perhaps in reaction to the Van Meegeren debacle of forged Vermeer paintings, critics began to search for more objective ways of explaining the intricacies of Vermeer's art. His pared-down oeuvre was reexamined within the context of contemporary Dutch painting and in particular in relation to genre painters such as Gerrit ter Borch, Nicolaes Maes, Gabriel Metsu and Pieter de Hooch (see Albert Blankert, Vermeer, 1976). A number of iconographical studies that followed attempted to unlock presumed hidden meaning in the artist's seemingly straightforward scenes of daily life.

Symbolic and emblematic readings, in theory, should be a more objective tool for understanding Vermeer's (and Dutch painting of the period as well) in that, in order to be comprehensible, symbols must be common to many people and based on an established usage. However, after years of research, no single key for unlocking hidden meaning in Vermeer's paintings was found.

In the last decades, some Vermeer experts have attempted to come to grips with the presumed ambivalence in Vermeer's oeuvre in another way. In 1984, Jan Bialostocki was among the first to suggest that seventeenth-century artists had been deliberately ambiguous in their use symbol. A number of Vermeer scholars have followed his lead. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. states, "The range of interpretation possible for Vermeer's paintings is part of their poetic qualities." Daniel Arasse later stated that "the uncertainly of meaning is deliberate in Vermeer."

In 1998, Eddy de Jongh, the leading figure of iconographical school as applied to Dutch art, offered a finely balanced analysis ("On Balance", in Vermeer Studies, 2000) of the progress and the problems that lay open in the field of iconographical interpretation of Vermeer's painting. He has noted that even though there is still great debate as exactly what meaning Vermeer may have invested in his work, there has been "a remarkable agreement about Vermeer's artistic stature. Many authors have done their best to capture Vermeer's exceptional subtleties in words. 'Done their best,' because there is a high 'je ne sais quoi' mid-1860s and many critics have done their best to capture in words the exceptional subtlety of his works. The closer one gets to the artistic essence (if such a thing exists) the more one thinks one is fathoming that strange fusion of immobility of and movement, of poised animation and frozen action, the more one finds oneself stammering. Finally, the ineffable secret remains thus ineffable." De Jongh has come to the conclusion that the iconographical vein of interpretation of Vermeer's painting has run its course even though in his opinion much has been learned from this approach.

The ambiguity in Vermeer's work lay not only in symbolic and allegorical reading of the painting, but in the dichotomy between of illusionist image and the means by which the images is realized. Looking at Vermeer's Art of Painting we have an example of the miraculous duality of painting: at the very same instant we perceive an illusion of reality and the material evidence that we are in front of a painted illusion.


In the Groot Schilderboek, the Dutch painter and art theorist Gérard de Lairesse (1640–1711) distinguished between the two modes of painting which he termed "the Antique" and "the Modern." According to De Lairesse, "the Antique" persists through all periods while "'the Modern constantly changes with fashion." Therefore, the most appropriate subject matter for great painting should be drawn the Bible, historical, mythological or allegorical literature. Pictures should represent appropriate dress and settings and not modern scenes such as those of Vermeer. De Lairesse believed that viewers would become eventually estranged by contemporary dress owing to continual change in fashion.

In the 1740 edition of De Lairesse's treatise, Vermeer was cited among other "modern" Dutch masters whose art was destined to perish along with "the old Mieris" (Frans van Mieris) and "Metzu" (Gabriel Metsu).


Antiquity is a broadly applied term which refers to the history and culture of a period of Western civilization. It is primarily used in an art-historical context to describe Greco-Roman life and art in Europe prior to the decline of the Roman empire.

The literary, cultural and architectural remains surviving from Antiquity were particularly valued during the Renaissance. Artists might depict Roman ruins in the background or use classical inscriptions and Roman lettering within a picture. They also sought archaeological exactness in dress.

It is generally believed that from the onset of his career, unlike many Dutch contemporary painters who considered themselves little more as artisans, Vermeer seemed to have conceived the role of the artist in its most lofty sense. His first pictures were large-scale history paintings of religious or mythological subjects. These subjects were considered the most adapted for expressing the most noble goal of art: the elevation of the human spirit. For an unknown reason, soon after the first large scale history paintings, Vermeer abruptly began to depict contemporary interiors which, according to art theorists of the time, belonged to the "modern" mode considered inferior because only transitory values were expressed.

However, for modern art historians, only Vermeer among Dutch "modern" genre interior painters was able to imbue paintings of daily life with a sense of timelessness and express the moral seriousness associated with history painting.

The most explicit testimony of Vermeer's elevated concept of art is announced in his ambitious The Art of Painting. Whether the allegorical message of the painting refers to the nobility of art or its capacity to bestow fame upon its creator is uncertain, it is clear that the work displays a knowledge of classical ideals which dominated European art theory, but which in the Netherlands had lost their hold on the great part of painters.


The Greek term for art (τέχνη) and its Latin equivalent (ars) do not specifically denote the "fine arts" in the modern sense, but were applied to all kinds of human activities which we would call crafts or sciences. Moreover, whereas modern aesthetics stresses the fact that art cannot be learned, and thus often becomes involved in the curious endeavor to teach the unteachable, the ancients always understood by art something that can be taught and learned.

Any simple definition of art would be profoundly pretentious, but perhaps all the definitions offered over the centuries include some notion of human agency, whether through manual skills (as in the art of sailing or painting or photography), intellectual manipulation (as in the art of politics), or public or personal expression (as in the art of conversation). In any case, many modern art philosophers hold that the definition of art has become so expansive as to be vacuous.


"The Biography, website, <>

Although visual and stylistic analyses are fundamental to the practice of art history, the most familiar way of grouping art is by artist. The relationship is so close that common English usage drops the "by" in "a painting by Manet," so that it becomes "a Manet painting" or even "a Manet." In the last, only the small word "a" indicates that the "Manet" being discussed is an object rather than a person. This assumption of an intimate and important connection between the maker and the made has very practical implications. It rests on the belief that the actual historical person matters, the person who was born on a certain day and died on another. Exactly how and why the person matters is what determines how and why the life is important. This, in turn, will determine the questions considered in a biography. Like all assumptions of critical analysis, biographical ones should be examined closely.

The identity of the artist has been regarded as one of the most important facts about a work of art for centuries in the West. Beginning with the Greeks, names of great artists have seemed to be worth recording, and stories about them exist even when their works do not. Pliny the Elder and Pausanias, two Romans whose writings are among the richest sources of information about Greek art, approached their subjects as today's art historians do – from the distance of centuries, gathering what was said in older sources without necessarily having seen the original works.52 The first history of art in the post-Classical world, Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, published in Italy in the mid-sixteenth century, also organizes the art in terms of the biographies of its makers. Since Vasari was a contemporary or near-contemporary of the artists, his vivid anecdotes suggest the authority of personal knowledge.

Even assuming that the identity of the artist is an essential part of understanding a work of art, however, different artists suggest different questions, and different historians write very different kinds of studies. For one scholar, the artist's life consists of an orderly succession of opportunities and achievements, with his or her relationship to the works determined by conscious choices made in response to external events. For another, perhaps even writing about the same person, every scrap of work reveals the genius of the artist, and obstacles that have been surmounted demonstrate the power of the person's talent.

Art for Art's Sake

"Art for art's sake" refers to number of positions related to the possibility of art being autonomous. The term is usually used by artists and artwriters of the second half of the 19th century: in France the prime promoters of art for art's sake were Charles Baudelaire and Théophile Gautier; in England, J. A. M. Whistler and Oscar Wilde; in the United States, Edgar Allan Poe. In the 20th century, the notion has been sharply critiqued by Walter Benjamin, among others.

As the 19th century progressed, the exercise of artistic freedom became fundamental to progressive modernism. Artists began to seek freedom not just from the rules of academic art, but from the demands of the public. Soon it was claimed that art should be produced not for the public's sake, but for art's sake.

Art for art's sake is basically a call for release from was perceived as the tyranny of meaning and purpose. It was also a ploy, another deliberate affront to bourgeois sensibility which demanded art with meaning or that had some purpose such as to instruct, or delight, or to moralize, and generally to reflect in some way their own purposeful and purpose-filled world.

In his 1891 essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Oscar Wilde wrote:

A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or dishonest tradesman. He has no further claim to be considered as an artist.

In the late 19th century, we find art beginning to be discussed by critics and art historians largely in formal terms which effectively removed the question of meaning and purpose from consideration. From then on, art was to be discussed in terms of style — colour, line, shape, space, composition — ignoring or playing down whatever social, political, or progressive statements the artist had hoped to make in his or her work.

Thoré Bürger, who is generally credited for having recovered Vermeer painting in the mid 1800s, deeply conditioned the perception of Vermeer's art for the decades that followed. As a leftist politician, Thoré believed that the primary function and value of Dutch art was to reflect the daily experience of life of common people. The Dutch made, in Thoré's eyes, art for a people of common virtues; "l'art pour l'homme" (art for the people).

However, with the rise of the modernist school of painting in the early 1900s Vermeer's art began to be appreciated for its formal qualities which seemed to reflect the revolutionary concerns of avante guard contemporary painting. Wilhelm Valentiner, expert of Dutch painting, maintained that Vermeer focused primarily on the "purely aesthetic."

Philip Hale, Boston painter and art teacher, was the first American to write a monograph on Vermeer in 1913. Hale was deeply struck by what he perceived as "Vermeer's modernity." According to Hale, "if ever a man believed in art for art's sake it was he. He anticipated the modern idea of impersonality in art...he makes no comment on the picture. One does not see by his composition what he thought of it all."

Some years later, P. T. A. Swillens a Dutch art historian whose monograph on Vermeer was published in 1950, was to have an important impact on the study of Vermeer. He shared Hales' opinions and wrote that the artist had no interest in the "inner life" of his sitters and that he "reveals only what is of value to him as a painter." Vermeer, thus, was not interested in what intrigued him as a human being or thinker but as a painter.

However, Swillen's overriding emphasis on the aesthetic content of a picture, which typifies the concept of art for art's sake, may miss one of the most compelling aspects of Vermeer's work: the emotional intensity of his figures. Lawrence Gowing only two years after the publication of Swillens' monograph, exposed a new point of view. While recognizing—Gowing was a painter himself— Vermeer's extraordinary capacities of pictorial organization, he held that when the artist's perfect style is understood, his painting's "yield their strangely emotional content."

Artists' Travel in the Low Countries

Traveling artists

drawn from:
Filip Vermeylen and Karolien De Clippel
"Rubens and Goltzius in dialogue: Artistic exchanges between Antwerp and Haarlem during the Revolt"
De Zeventiende Eeuw, <>

In general, a great mobility existed among early modern artists, more so than we generally assume today. Not only did many of them travel to Italy to complete their training, or migrated in the wake of military conflict and economic hardship, for reasons of religion or lured by better opportunities elsewhere. In addition, artists did not hesitate to travel great distances on a temporary basis to complete a commission or visit with colleagues, friends or relatives. Artists appear to have been particularly eager to move between towns in the Low Countries. There were many reasons for this, but improved transportation facilities without a doubt acted as a catalyst.

The province of Holland offered an unrivaled infrastructure in terms of roads and canals, facilitating relatively cheap and safe travel. The Dutch Republic was an easy place to get around in thanks to an extensive network of canals and overland connections by coach. Particularly, barges provided a comfortable and reliable mode of transportation with regular services between the major cities, a network that would be developed in the course of the seventeenth century. Canals were being dug from Haarlem to Leiden and Amsterdam in the 1630s and 1640s that greatly enhanced each city's accessibility, but good connections with Antwerp existed prior to that.

The relative ease with which people traveled within the whole of the Low Countries emanates from travel books which mention timetables, costs and frequency of both overland connections and those via waterways, in addition to suitable inns where travelers could spend the night, and even places of interest in the respective towns. The early modern travel guides were widely disseminated allowing travelers to conveniently plan their trips. Using these and other sources, Jan de Vries and more recently Gerrit Verhoeven, have established that travel on these barges was particularly user friendly. Verhoeven's research shows that by comparison to other European countries, travel in the Dutch Republic was the cheapest per kilometer. Furthermore, the perceived safety was equally high in the Low Countries, in other words, travelers were far less worried that they would fall victim to robbers compared to elsewhere.

Surely there were impediments to swift travel, besides the fact that it was time-consuming and cumbersome, and it always involved costs. After the re-opening of hostilities in 1621, passports were required once more to cross the frontline, but even then, the archives reveal many instances of artists traveling from South to North and vice versa. For instance, Jacob Jordaens (1593–1678) and members of the Teniers family requested passports to travel to the Republic in the thirties and forties of the seventeenth century.

Vermeer is documented to have traveled twice, once to Amsterdam on the part of his mother-in-law, Maria Thins, and to The Hague with a committee of experts in order to judge the value of a disputed collection of Italian master paintings.

No evidence exists that might suggest that Vermeer traveled to Italy as other Dutch painters had done.


Diana and her Companions (detail), Johannes Vermeer
Diana and her Companions (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1653–1656
Oil on canvas, 98.5 x 105 cm.
Mauritshuis, The Hague

In art, an attribute is an object or animal associated with a particular personage, often a saint, god or goddess. Christianity has used attributes from its very origins. In Europe history painting, images of Christian saints are traditionally identified by an attribute which they carry in their hands or which is placed nearby. Attributes were used so that the illiterate could recognize a scene. Saint Agnes might carry a lamb, Saint Bartholomew the Apostle a knife or human skin, Saint Catherine of Alexandria a wheel or Saint Peter a key or boat. Many attributes are reminders of how a saint was martyred, while others recall important actions or events from their life.

On the other hand, doves are attributes of Venus, the goddess of love. Thus, a painter might identify a nude in his painting as Venus by representing a dove nearby the figure. A bow and arrows, together with hounds, are traditional attributes of the goddess Diana. Since she was also goddess of the moon, a painter could identify a particular figure in his composition as Diana by placing a crescent moon in crescent in her hair, like the yellow clad figure in Vermeer's Diana and her Companions.


Authenticity in art has a various meanings related to the ways in which a work of art is considered authentic. The most important refers to the correct identification of the author of a work of art. Another refers to the degree sincerity, genuineness of expression or passion the artist puts into the work. Authenticity may also refer to the viewing experience, which, for a modern visitor to a museum may be entirely different from context what the artist intended. It is doubtful that a fully authentic experience is possible to recapture.

In modernity, authenticity has acquired a deeply moral dimension although such an intense interest in authenticity is relatively recent and largely confined to the western world. In the medieval period, and even the Renaissance and Baroque, authenticity was not as important as it is today. Prior to the Age of Enlightenment and the Renaissance, most artwork was produced by unknown craftsmen. Signatures were rare. However during the Cinquecento artists began to develop their own recognizable styles rather than attempt to copy a prototype as closely as possible.

The determination of authenticity, once the province of connoisseurs, is now determined by museum curators with the aid of conservators who are able to provide curators with objective information. Art-historical documentation, stylistic connoisseurship and technical or scientific analysis, which complement each other, are the three necessary aspects of best practices for authentication and attribution.

However, to speak of "authenticating" a work of art through scientific analysis gives a false impression of what science can accomplish. "Any scientific analysis of art, cannot establish the truth of provenance, just as science cannot prove any particular hypothesis to be true. Expert analysis can only ‘de-authenticate' a work by proving it anachronistic or incoherent as to style or substance."9 Once a forgery has been exposed, no matter how highly the work was praised when it was thought to be "authentic" there is rarely any interest in evaluating the work on its own merit.

"Because of the increasingly litigious environment in the art world, and the high costs of defending opinions of authenticity, it is becoming more difficult to get artist's foundations, authentication boards and independent experts to render opinions. One high-profile example is the Andy Warhol Foundation which recently announced that it is disbanding its authentication board. Other artist's foundations are reviewing their liability in the event of disputes over the authenticity of specific works. These cases are impacting the creation of catalogue raisonnés, the authoritative catalogues that document an artist's production of works over a lifetime. Consequently, provenance, the history of ownership of an artwork, is more important than ever as an element of authenticity."10

With the advent of powerful digital technology, computational tools may be able to provide new insights into and techniques for the art and science of art authentication. Fractal analysis and various computational techniques have been applied to the analysis and classification of "craquelure," the crack lines that appear over time in a paintings. Nevertheless, "objective scientific truth" is a practically unattainable goal. Scientific facts are still dependent upon their reading and interpretation.

Using high-resolution digital scans of the original works, various computational techniques for authenticating works of art are under development, specifically paintings and drawings. A statistical model of an artist, including pen or pencil stroke patterns and other elements that represent an artist's style or aesthetic signature, is built from the scans of a set of authenticated works which are compared against other works. This signature may be utilized to discover consistencies and inconsistencies within a single piece of artwork or among works by the same artist,. Similar methods, called stylometry, have been used to identify characteristics of works of literature and music such as the subtle choice of words or phrasing and cadence that are characteristic of a certain writer.

It is common knowledge that the "fear of authenticity lawsuits has a dampening effect on opinions in the art world. Scholars, curators, dealers and other experts are often unwilling to pronounce on authenticity, for fear of being used for product disparagement, negligence, breach of contract, or defamation by a seller or owner. This fear is aggravated by the fact that a scholar authenticating a work may not ethically charge a fee related to the work's value, even though the seller may be risking a lawsuit by giving an expert opinion."11

Specialists use the following terms to identify the level of authenticity of a given work of art (some of the information below is drawn from "Categories for the Description of Works of Art", Edited by Murtha Baca and Patricia Harpring, The Getty Research Institute website, 2009 <>).

"by" - The term "by" is not usually seen in catalogues. The listing of the artist's name in bold letters and without qualifiers generally means that the piece is accepted as the work of the named artist.

"attributed to" (a named artist) - On the basis of style, the piece is believed to be by the hand of the artist, but with less certainty than the above category.

"formerly attributed to" - A term used to refer to an attribution that had been accepted in the past, but is no longer generally held to be valid.

"probably by" - A term used to express minor uncertainty regarding the attribution, generally indicating a slightly stronger probability than attributed to.

"follower of" - Use for a work by an unknown artist or architect whose style is strongly influenced by the named artist or architect, and who is living at the same time as or shortly after the named artist, but is not necessarily his or her pupil.

"circle of" - A term use for a work by an unknown artist who appears to be associated with the named artist, he or she is living at the same time as the named artist, and probably had some contact with him or her, but not is necessarily his or her pupil.

"school of" - A term used for a work by an artist or architect whose style is influenced by the named artist or architect or by the associates of the named artist, who is living at the same time or shortly after the named artist, but is not known to be a pupil or direct follower of the named artist.

"studio of" (a named artist) - A term used for a work by an unknown artist working for a named studio that called itself an atelier, generally reserved for those studios located in France, or in Britain after the 18th century.

"atelier of" (a named artist) - A term used for a work by an unknown artist working for a named studio that called itself an atelier, generally reserved for those studios located in France, or in Britain after the 18th century.

"workshop of" - A term that indicates authorship by an unknown individual working directly for the named master, probably under his supervision. The distinction between "workshop of," and "studio of" typically depends upon the historical period in which the artwork is created. "workshop of" is used for groups of artists working under a master's name, generally in a system of apprenticeship common from ancient times until the nineteenth century.

"school of" (a named artist) - An artwork is considered to be by the hand of an artist closely associated with the named artist, but not necessarily a pupil.

"style of" or "follower of" (a named artist) - A direct copy of a known work of the named artist by any unknown hand and produced at any time after the production of the original.


An implied or visible straight line in painting or sculpture in the center of a form along its dominant direction. In painting, consciously employed axes are used to give structure and stabilize the the composition, analogous to the spine does in the human body.

Vermeer was very conscious of the stabilizing impact of vertical axes in his compositions. In the Woman with a Water Pitcher, the woman's leaning position is steadied by an axis which follows the vertical left-hand border of the map and runs directly through the center of the water pitcher. This visual anchoring gives the woman's momentary gesture an air of permanence and balance.


See also, spatial depth and overlap.

From the picture plane (the surface of the painting) moving into the picture the different areas are called the foreground, the middle ground and the background respectively. If an artist has attempted to give an impression of space receding into the picture, then parts of that illusory space will seem closer to the viewer and other parts further away. The background is the furthest away.

Although rarely discussed, the prosaic white-washed wall which set the stage for the artist's quite little dramas are crucial components of Vermeer's interiors. These walls not only mark the limit of picture's implied three-dimensional space; they silently orchestrate the mood of each scene and establish the broader scheme of illumination by which the chiaroscural and chromatic relationships of the architectural features, figures and movable objects can be appropriately gauged. In Vermeer's interiors the background walls are always perfectly parallel to the picture plane.

The fact that the background is parallel to the picture plane aids the artist in achieving a more accurate illusionist effect of depth since the painting's implied three dimensional spaces are easier to calculate for the spectator. Too, the many pictures-within-a picture and maps adorn the walls permit the artist to sub frame the figures within a geometrical structure of the canvas and create a sense of rational order.

Other interiors painters, such as Pieter de Hooch, who was active in Delft and most likely anticipated Vermeer in his depictions of upper middle-class interiors, situated the background wall parallel to the picture plane, as Vermeer did. Only rarely do we find the background walls of Dutch interiors set obliquity to the picture plane (see the The Gold Weigher by Cornelis de Man). Some Delft painters of church interiors of the 1650s placed the picture plane at an oblique angle to the walls of the church. Their compositions achieve a less formal, but more dynamic effect.

Badger Brush

badger brush

The badger brush is flat fan shaped brush that is used to smooth out visible brushstrokes in layers of paint and to create almost imperceptible transitions between adjacent tones. However, the paint is not applied with the badger brush. The badger brush is also used to spread out thin glazes of transparent paint over a dry monochrome underpainting. Over-use of the badger brush creates a mechanical, rubbery effect. Fingers, the palm of the hand and birds' feathers and were also used to smooth and blend paint.

It is probable that Vermeer did not use the badger brush as much as many of his contemporaries who painted in the fijnschilder style. By contrast, his earlier paintings are built up with relatively thick layers of paint with brush strokes visible throughout. Perhaps ,Vermeer used the badger brush for the modeling of the faces of some of his models, especially in the mid-1660s, and in particular, the Girl with a Pearl Earring and Study of a Young Woman.


Pictorial balance is an arrangement of parts aimed at achieving a state of visual equilibrium between opposing forces or influences. Balance may be achieved by various methods including symmetry and asymmetry. Renaissance painters such as Raphael (Le Stanze della Segnatura) and Leonardo (The Last Supper), balanced some of their works around a rigorous symmetrical design. Raphael placed the most important figure in the middle of the composition, with balancing figures on each side, a standard arrangement for all classically balanced pictures. The doubling of the figures not only gives the main subject importance, but contributes to the peaceful atmosphere and the solemnity appropriate of religious feeing and decorum.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of Vermeer's painting is balance. However, the artist usually did not employ symmetry as a means to balance his compositions as did Raphael and other painters of the Renaissance. The great part of his of his compositions are organized around perpendicular lines which divide the canvas into simple areas of light and dark. Such a simplified organization of the painting's two dimensional composition contributes to an overall sense of repose, permanence and purposefulness.

There is scarce evidence that Vermeer planned his compositions using any sort of predetermined compositional scheme. It is likely that he first determined the poses, positions and attitudes of his figures, as well as the objects which surround them. Afterwards, he carefully manipulated each of these compositional elements as well as the distribution of the main masses of lights and darks in order to achieve visual balance, largely in an intuitive manner.

In a recent lecture, Vermeer, Lairesse and Composition,12 the art historian Paul Taylor (click here for an interview ) advanced a rather unsettling hypothesis regarding the way Vermeer composed his pictures. Bluntly put, Taylor argues that the concept of compositional balance, nowhere mentioned in period art literature, was "unavailable" to the seventeenth-century Dutch artist. "Although Dutch authors wrote at some length about composition, ordinantie, they never suggested that 'visual balance' was a part of the concept as they understood it."


The Bamboccianti were northern genre painters active in Rome from about 1625 until the end of the seventeenth century. Most were Dutch and Flemish artists who brought existing traditions of peasant subjects from sixteenth-century Netherlandish art with them to Italy, and generally created small cabinet paintings or etchings of the everyday life of the lower classes in Rome and its countryside. Many of the artists were also members of the so-called Bentvueghels (Dutch for "Birds of a Feather").

The paintings of the Bamboccianti have been traditionally interpreted as true portraits of Rome and its popular life, without variations or alterations. Typical subjects of the Bamboccianti include food and beverage sellers, farmers and milkmaids at work, soldiers at rest and play, and beggars, or, as Salvator Rosa lamented in the mid-seventeenth century, "rouges, cheats, pickpockets, bands of drunks and gluttons, scrubby tobacconists, barbers, and other 'sordid' subjects." Despite their subject matter, the works of the Bamboccianti sold for high prices to esteemed collectors.

Banquet Piece - Banketje

A banquet piece—a banketje—is a still life painting that features a lavish arrangement of expensive foodstuffs and serving pieces. A typical banquet piece might include such luxury items as lobsters, oysters, exotic fruits and decorated pies in raised crusts. Banketje translates literally from the Dutch as "little banquet."

Willem Claesz Heda, one of the greatest Dutch still life artists, was noted particularly for breakfast and banketje pieces. Claesz is believed to have pioneered the development of the monochrome banketje, a sort of quietly restrained still life composed in sober tones but imbued with an extraordinary sense of naturalism.


The word baroque is elusive; it does not accurately define or even approximate the meaning of the style to which it refers. The origins of the word baroque are not clear. It may have been derived from a medieval philosophical term connoting the ridiculous or the strange, or from the Portuguese "barocco" or the Spanish "barueco" to indicate an irregularly shaped pearl.

Once a term of disapproval, baroque has come to signify a taste for extravagant forms, often heavy ornamentation and dynamic effects, whether in architecture or in other media. The baroque period in art history is from about 1600 to about 1750. The term covers a wide range of styles and artists. In painting and sculpture there were three main forms of Baroque: (1) sumptuous display, a style associated with the Catholic Counter Reformation and the absolutist courts of Europe (Bernini, Rubens); (2) dramatic realism (Caravaggio); and (3) everyday realism, a development seen in particular in Holland (Rembrandt, Vermeer). In architecture, there was an emphasis on expressiveness and grandeur, achieved through scale, the dramatic use of light and shadow, and increasingly elaborate decoration. In a more limited sense the term Baroque often refers to the first of these categories. Conventional wisdom has it that baroque emotionalism was a response to the last meeting of the Council of Trent (1563), which fought the developing Reformation by enjoining artists to show spiritual truths as realistically and expressively as possible in order to keep viewers faithful to the Church of Rome.


Bentvueghels (Dutch for "Birds of a Feather") were members of a tightly knit club of Dutch artists in Rome, known as Schildersbent. The members of the group gathered in a building they believed to be the ancient Temple of Bacchus (but was in fact the Mausoleum of Constantia near the Sant' Agnese), and were notorious for their drinking excesses. In 1720, Pope Clement XI ordered that the group be dissolved.

The Bentvueghels were frequently at odds with Rome's Accademia di San Luca ("Academy of Saint Luke"), whose purpose was that of elevating the work of artists above that of craftsman. For this reason, before setting off for Italy, artists would first try to become members in their local Guild of Saint Luke so they would have papers to show on arrival. Travel to Italy became a rite of passage for young Dutch and Flemish artists after publication of Karel van Mander's Schilder-boeck in 1604.

Often a difficult and in many cases dangerous journey, artists would spend years getting to Italy, using their artistic talents to pay their way. Many never made it all the way to Italy, and many never attempted the trip back once they got there.


The substance in a paint which holds together (binds) the pigment and makes the paint stick to whatever it's painted on, inoil painting, an unctuous natural drying oil such as linseed, walnut or poppy oil. (see medium).

Precious little is know about the binders in Vermeer's paints. It is generally believed that he used linseed and walnut oil, although like all Dutch painters, he must have known stand oil as well. The value of stand oil for fine painting has long been recognized and it seems that it was commonly employed by Dutch and Flemish painters. No traces of stand oil have been found in the works of Vermeer but this is probably due to the fact that specific tests must be performed to detect it and most of Vermeer's canvases have not been examined in depth.


Originally related to the word burgher (i.e., a citizen of a burg) and now generally taken to mean a typical middle-class person with middle-class moral, economic and other values. Bourgeois can be both an adjective and a noun; in the latter case, strictly speaking, it means a male. When a female is meant, bourgeoisie is the term used. Bourgeoisie may also mean the middle class in general.

"Vermeer's paintings of the1660s and early 1670s present the bourgeois domestic interior as a space for polite social ritual and introspective quiet. These paintings have come to define the image of the Dutch middle class: prosperous, private, morally upstanding and self-aware. This picture of bourgeois accomplishment accords well with the aims and ambitions of the Dutch citizen elite, however difficult they were to attain in practice in the bustle of urban life. Some of Vermeer's paintings hint at this tension; others paint it away. It animates his paintings of women writing, reading, and delivering letters, which never quite tell us just what is being written or read."13


(It. penello, old English pencill or pensill)

The tool used to apply paint to a surface, often consisting of a gathering of bristles held together by a ferrule attached to a handle. The bristles may come from hairs of a variety of animals including boar, squirrel and badger, although today they are often produced synthetically. Red sable hairs are generally considered the finest of hairs. Different shapes are desirable for different paint types and techniques. Large, relatively indistinct areas of paintings, such as the sky or a blank background behind a portrait, were often painted with rugged flat or round tipped hog's hair brushes. Details were obtained with finely hand shaped pointed sable brushes. Badger Brushes and feathers were commonly used to smooth out areas of paint and subtly blend adjacent areas of paint.

Each artistic medium prescribes the way in which the features of a given object may be most advantageously represented. For example, a round object can be satisfactorily represented by a thin pencil lie. The velvety blacks of engraving make it adapted for chiaroscural effects. Oil painting (the most flexible and all-inclusive medium) with the brush can represent almost any kind of object. In the course of painting history, artists gradually favored the so-called "painterly" style. Crosshatching, the only means for rendering precisely in the tempera medium, favored in the medieval times, was immediately discarded for the dry graphic effect it tends to produce. Unhindered by the difficulties of working with an inadequate medium, the artist's brush could flow as his mind and eye and knowledge directed. Without the distractions that are caused by any technical limitations, he was free to give his entire attention to the expression of his ideas and the exercise of his abilities.

Curiously, brushes had evolved little over the centuries and only in the 19th century when artist's materials underwent drastic changes, did painters' brushes change as well. In general, painters no longer made their own paints and began to rely on colormen who, in order to ensure shelf-life, added extra materials to paints (fillers) making them much thicker. The soft pliant round brushes used by the old masters to work the thinner, more liquid pigments, were no longer practical. For the application of a dense pigment, stiffer brushes became a necessity and brushes made with hog-bristle became more popular.

During the recent restoration of Vermeer's View of Delft, fragments of coarse hog's hair were found embedded in the paint of the sky area. The artist had evidently used as sturdy brush adapted to apply thick impasto paint.


Brushwork or brush handling refers to the characteristic way an artist applies paint onto a support with a brush. Brushwork not only intends the movement of the brush but the thickness or thinness of the paint applied.

Period art literature of the Netherlands testifies that in the seventeenth-century brushwork was considerably appreciated in itself, even though one of the most important art theorists of the time, Gérard de Lairesse, exhorted painters to use paint as "evenly and lushly" (gerlijk en mals) as possible. He wrote,

PENCILING [brushing]], or the management of the pencil [brush], is two-fold, and the two manners resulting very different from each other; the one is fluent and smooth, the other expeditious and bold; the former is proper for neat and elaborate painting, and the latter for bold compositions, as large as the life. But he who practices the former manner, has this advantage above the other, that being accustomed to neatness, he can easily execute the bold and light manner, it being the other way difficult to bring the hand to neat painting; the reason of which is, that, not being used to consider and imitate the details of small objects, he must therefore be a stranger to it; besides, it is more easy to leave out some things which we are masters of than to add others which we have not studied, and therefore it must be the artist's care to learn to finish his work as much as possible.

It is ridiculous to hear the disciples of great masters boast, that, by copying large pictures, they shall certainly acquire a great and firm manner, with a fat and bold pencil; and therefore are induced to disrelish every thing that is neat and elaborate; but, after all they can say, it is certain, that he who can pencil best, will study that manner which most exactly exhibits the different natures of the objects which he is to represent; and there are no other pencilings of advantage to a painter.

But further, to convince any one, that a great and bold style of penciling contributes nothing to the art, let us place a work thus painted at a due distance, and then see whether the penciling makes it look more natural: this one advantage it may perhaps have, it may bring in more money; since so rapid a master can dispatch double the work of another, if the vigour of his imagination be equal to the expedition of his hand. Each branch, however, has a peculiar penciling adapted to the nature of the objects to be represented; as the landscape painter, in the leafing of the trees; the cattle painter, in the expression of wool and hair; the ornament painter, in foliage, branching, &c. and the flower-painter, in apparent thinness of texture.

One of the best examples of the even and smooth type of brushwork can be observed in the works of the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Hendrick ter Brugghen (c. 1588–1629). This overlooked-master possessed one of the most sophisticated techniques in the Netherlands, so much that Rubens acquired several of his works for his personal collection. Furthermore, we know that when the great Flemish master visited the Netherlands he paid a visit to Ter Brugghen neglecting the studio of the upcoming Rembrandt. Closer to Vermeer in brush handling were Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu, Frans van Mieris, Gerrit ter Borch and Gerrit Dou, all of whom of which possessed subtly distinctive brushwork. While De Hooch's brush work is somewhat crude, except in a handful of works executed in Delft, the brushwork of Gerrit Dou is so refined that individual brushstrokes cannot be distinguished except with the aid of a magnifying glass.

Our present-day appreciation of painting technique has been strongly influenced by the 20th-century expressionist understanding of art. As Ernst van der Wetering pointed out, it is now a matter of course that, when art lovers draw close-up to paintings, they do so with the intent of "reading" the artist's handwriting. Instead, most period discussions evidence that the principal characteristics of paintings executed in the so-called "rough manner," where brushwork is evident, was that they had to be viewed from a distance. The apparent looseness would be read as a convincing, coherent image, superior to one executed in the fine manner. Rembrandt himself, explicitly warned a client from viewing his painting from too close a range. Period texts approached visible brushwork in relation to the illusionistic, rather than the stylistic quality of the painted image. By varying brushwork, the painter strove to emphasize the sense of "hereness" of the scene and extend the range of optical qualities or textural substances of each object of his composition.

Vermeer's brushwork varied throughout his 20-year career. His earlier religious and genre paintings display surprisingly broad application of paint. By the mid 1660s, however, all traces of evident brushwork have disappeared in favor continuous modeling and an almost enamel-like surface. In the later paintings, Vermeer's brushwork again becomes visible assuming a curious calligraphic aspect, while the actual paint layer remains extremely thin.

Although Vermeer never sought the microscopic level of detail or the mirror-like smoothness of the fijnschilders, even his most evident brushwork is extremely subdued with respect to the gestural brush handling of the great baroque masters Rembrandt, Hals, Velásquez and Rubens. When Vermeer's brushwork is evident, rather than suggesting emotional state of its maker, it is strangely impersonal. Perhaps only in some details (see the marble veining of the spinet in A Lady Seated at a Virginal) of his latest paintings can we detect more spontaneous gesture, which, however, is confined to the movement of the fingers.

Without fear of exaggeration, the still life of The Milkmaid is among the most satisfying technical passages in Western easel painting. Both the texture of the wicker basket and fractured bread crust of the still life are captured with exquisite sensitivity and disarming directness. Even the most competent realist painter may scrutinize this passage for hours fail to comprehend exactly how it was created. The play of light is recorded with such fidelity that light seems to emanate from within the canvas itself. The thick impasto of the white-washed wall is enlivened by energetic brushwork that mimics the unevenness of the wall's surface. The maid's head seems to be sculpted with the tiniest of chisels rather than painted with a brush. Miniscule dots and dashes of lead-tin yellow, ochre and a dark mixture of dull brown coagulate into the robust shape and gnarly texture of the young maid's humble garment. In some of the most delicate passages, paint seems to have been "patted on" with the tip of the brush rather than brushed out horizontally.

Soon after this dazzling performance in painting technique, Vermeer's brush-handling became more controlled, or "gentrified," in compliance with the new haute bourgeoisie themes. The Glass of Wine marks the break between the early material paint surface and the "spiritual" surfaces of the following period. Here, conspicuous signs of paint would be at odds with the lacquer of furniture or the sheen of satin. It has been said that the controlled brushwork of these works parallels the ritualized behavior of the protagonists of his scenes.

As is often said, form is suggested rather than described. Paint is applied smoothly in thin translucent layers. There are passages, such as the head of the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, that are so exquisitely modeled that no trace of brush can be perceived. Modeling is subtly blurred and the whole seems to be painted with something less substantial than unctuous paint. The uplifted eye of the mistress in the Mistress and Maid is nothing more than an exquisite smudge, a tiny cloud of paint that tells the viewer all he needs to know about the young woman's thoughts.


Burgerlijk is the Dutch word for "burghers." Though it is notoriously difficult to assign firm class divisions to Golden Age Dutch society, the burgerlijk was a roughly middle class grouping to which Netherlanders of a wide range of professions—from modest artisans to well-to-do regents—belonged.

Cabinet Painting

A cabinet painting (or "cabinet picture") is a small painting, typically no larger than about two feet in either dimension, but often much smaller. The term is especially used to describe paintings that show full-length figures at a small scale—as opposed to a head painted nearly life-size—and that are painted very precisely. From the fifteenth century onward wealthy collectors of art would keep such paintings in a cabinet, a relatively small and private room (often very small, even in a very large house), to which only those with who were on especially intimate terms would be admitted.

Later such paintings might be housed in a display case, which might also be called a cabinet, but the term cabinet arose from the name (originally in Italian) of the room, not the piece of furniture. Other small precious objects, including miniature paintings, "curiosities" of all sorts (see cabinet of curiosities), old master prints, books, small sculptures and so on, might also be in the room.

Most of Vermeer's paintings were considered cabinet paintings. One of his pictures, Woman Holding a Balance, listed in the posthumous 1696 Dissius auction in Amsterdam (which included in all 21 paintings by Vermeer) is described as being" in a box." Most likely this box served as a protective device for the most precious works.

Camera Obscura

The camera obscura is an ancestor of the photographic camera. The Latin name of this device means "dark chamber," and the earliest versions, dating to antiquity, consisted of small darkened rooms with light admitted through a single tiny hole. The result was that an inverted image of the outside scene was cast on the opposite wall. For centuries the technique was used for viewing eclipses of the sun without endangering the eyes and, by the sixteenth century, as an aid to drawing; the subject was posed outside and the image reflected on a piece of drawing paper for the artist to trace. Portable versions were built, followed by smaller and even pocket models; the interior of the box was painted black and the image reflected by an angled mirror so that it could be viewed right side up. The introduction of a light-sensitive plate by J.N. Niepce created photography.

This mechanical means of recording images is known to have been employed by Canaletto, Vermeer and other Dutch painters of the time, including Torrentius (Johannes van der Beeck). It has also been hypothesized that Carel Fabritius, employed the camera obscura as an aid for their painting.

It has been long supposed that Vermeer used the camera obscura as an aid for his paintings although scholars are still in disaccord as to exactly what extent he relied on the device. In recent years, there is a tendency to accept that he did so systematically.

Although the question of if and how Vermeer might have employed the camera obscura has been heatedly debated for decades, in 2002 Philip Steadman put many doubts to rest, clearly demonstrating that this device was indeed an integral, if not indispensable, part of Vermeer's studio practices. This does not mean that Vermeer could not have painted his motifs without a camera obscura, he certainly could have. His talent was notable and there were countless Dutch paintings to learn from, but without the aid of the camera his paintings would not have displayed those peculiar optical characteristics and nuances of daylight that had gone unnoticed by other artists of his time and make his work so highly treasured today. The camera obscura permitted the artist to explore the planimetric organization of his motifs as the world carefully constructed in the artist's studio laid itself flat on the device's screen.

It is not hard to imagine the effect of camera's image had on an artist so sensitive to the sense of sight as Vermeer. Contemporaries who knew the device were stunned by its seemingly magical powers to display nature even as it moves. Constantijn Huygens, a key figure of Dutch artistic culture who had contacts with some of the most important Dutch painters of the time and seems to have been aware of Vermeer's work as well, bought a camera obscura in 1662 in London. He wrote: "It produces admirable effects by reflecting on a wall in a dark room. I cannot describe its beauty in words, but all painting seems dead by comparison...." Huygens took the device back the Netherlands where he enthusiastically recommended it to painters. Samuel van Hoogstraten, the Dutch painter and art theorist stated: "I am certain that seeing this projections in the dark will give the vision of young painters no small light, for beside acquiring knowledge of nature, one sees here what on the whole or in general a truly natural painting ought to have." For Vermeer the camera presented alternatives hitherto unexplored venues in pictorial illusionism.

Click here for a four part study of Vermeer and the camera obscura and here for an enlightening interview with Philip Steadman, the author of the highly debated book, Vermeer's Camera: The Truth Behind the Masterpieces.


Caravaggio's style consists of a rejection of idealization in favor of a seeming realism vividly depicted in contemporary costumes and settings. Solidly defined figures are represented with expressive and often violent gestures, in unusual and dramatically arresting groups composed within a shallow foreground space. His pictures are realized in a powerful chiaroscuro which emphasizes three-dimensional form. His method of painting was regarded as revolutionary. Instead of following the traditional procedure of working from drawings and sketches (no drawings by Caravaggio exist), it is believed he painted directly from the model making modifications as he advanced. As a consequence, his works succeed in creating an immediate and sometimes startling effect on the beholder.

Caravaggio pushed the figures up against the picture plane and used light to give the them a sense of immediacy. His style was widely imitated and quickly spread throughout Europe. As a contemporary critic noted, "A characteristic of this school [of painting] is to use a focused light source from high up, without reflections, as though in a room with a [single] window and the walls painted black. In this fashion the lit and shadowed areas are very light and very dark and give enormous three-dimensionality to the painting, but in an unnatural fashion neither done or even conceived before by such artists as Raphael, Titian, Correggio, or others." What was at issue was not a descriptive naturalism, but a provocative insistence on the physical reality of the scene portrayed.

Vermeer's ties with Italian painting, no longer held in account today, were strongly suspected in the first half of the 20th century. Some scholars believed that the artist traveled to Italy in his early formative years. However, no proof has ever surfaced in regards. Just the same, the Delft artist may have been aware the lessons of Caravaggio through the Utrecht Caravaggists: Honthorst, Terbrugghen and Van Bijlert.

John Montias has hypothesized that the young Vermeer may have passed his period of apprenticeship with the elderly Abraham Bloemaert, a not so distant relative of his future mother-in-law, Maria Thins. Thins had in her private art collection a number of paintings from the Utrecht school, some of which Vermeer portrayed on the back walls of his own compositions. Although Bloemaert had never himself been to Italy, various students of his had gone to Rome, where they were strongly influenced by the Caravaggist school of painting. When they came back to Utrecht they familiarized Bloemaert with the new school. Afterwards, Bloemaert painted some pictures that display characteristics of Caravaggio's style.

Often cited in reference to Vermeer's supposed familiarity with Italian painting, in May 1672, the artist took part in a committee of artists which was called to The Hague (at the time Vermeer was the head of the Delft Guild of Saint Luke) which had been charged to judge the authenticity of a dubious art collection of Italian master paintings offered to the Grand Elector of Brandenburg. According to Vermeer and his colleagues, the paintings were not Italian at all, on the contrary, "great pieces of rubbish not worth much."


See also thread count.

Canvas is a closely woven cloth, usually linen, used as a support for paintings. A painting done on canvas may also be referred to as a canvas.

Although canvas as a support for painting was know to the ancients, it became widely used in Italy for oil painting by the end of the fifteenth century. Until then, both tempera and oil painting had been done primarily on wood panels. The word canvas does not refer to any specific material in the field of textile fabrics; it is applied to number of closely woven materials of relatively course fibers. Linen is preferred for its superior strength; it tears with great difficulty. It is also less hygroscopic than other fabrics which, instead, draw moisture from the air and, upon drying, throw it off. This creates a continual expansion and contraction in which the dry pigment cannot participate, eventually causing the paint to crack.

In Vermeer's time, canvas was not made specifically made for the fine arts but principally for bed sheets, sails and clothing.

It is now held that many, if not most, seventeenth-century painters bought ready-to-use canvases from specialized artisans. Their dimensions may sometimes be associated with local units of measure. The width of a roll of cloth was governed by the width of the 100m: most looms in Twente and Brabant, the main sources for canvas in the Northern Netherlands were two ells (c. 138 cm.) wide, whereas the widths of Italian canvases tend to range between 106 and 110 cm.

Vermeer used fine woven linen canvas for his paintings. For example, The Woman Holding a Balance is painted on a plane woven linen with a thread count of 20 x 16 per square cm. Since many of Vermeer's paintings are similar in dimension and proportion to the canvases of many Dutch artists, it has been conjectured that he too may have prefer use pre-prepared canvases rather than face the laborious task of preparing them by himself.

Catalogue Raisonné

The typical catalogue raisonné is a monograph giving a comprehensive catalogue of artworks by an artist. either in a particular medium or all media. The essential elements of a catalogue raisonné are that it purports to be an exhaustive list of works for a defined subject matter describing the works in a way so that they may be reliably identified by third parties. They may provide some or all of the following:

Title and title variations
Date of the work
Current location/owner at time of publication
Provenance (history of ownership)
Exhibition history
Condition of the work
Bibliography/Literature that discusses the work
Essay(s) on the artist
Critical assessments and remarks
Full description of the work
Signatures, Inscriptions and Monograms of the artist
Reproduction of each work
List of works attributed, lost, destroyed and fakes
Catalog number

Other terms that may be used in place of catalogue raisonné are: Oeuvre, Catalogo Razonado, Catalogo Ragionato, Catalogo Generale, Opera Completa, Werkverzeichnis, Leben und Werk, Complete Works
and Critical Catalogue

The most recent catalogue raisonné of Vermeer's work are Walter Liedtke's, V ermeer: The Complete Painting, (2008), Vermeer, by Wayne Franits (2015) and Vermeer, Karl Schütz (2016)


Chiaroscuro is an Italian term which literally means "light-dark." In painting generally chiaroscuro refers to clear tonal contrasts used to suggest the sense of volume of the subjects depicted. Although chiaroscuro is often used in association with Caravaggio's strongly contrasted paintings, the term also may be used to describe any relationship between light and dark in a painting. Artists who are famed for the use of chiaroscuro include Leonardo da Vinci and naturally, Caravaggio. Leonardo employed it to give a vivid impression of the three-dimensionality of his figures, while Caravaggio also used it for the sake of drama.

Vermeer's use of chiaroscuro was closely linked to the objective description of light's activity, although it also played an important part in the organization of his compositions.


In reference to the art of painting, the order in which an artist executed his works.

Since the recovery of Vermeer's art in the mid-1860s, determining both the exact number of works and the chronological order in which they were painted, has posed many problems. Only one (or perhaps two if the date on The Geographer is authentic) of his paintings bears a date; the early Procuress (1656).

The present chronology of Vermeer's paintings is fruit of stylistic analysis and comparisons to works of other Dutch genre artists whose paintings show stylistic similarities and whose dates are more reasonably established. Some dates have been proposed by analyzing the dress and hair styles of his models.

Since Vermeer experimented with different styles of painting, the problem of dating his works is even more complicated. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., one of the most authoritative Vermeer scholars, believes that owing to stylistic and technical inconsistencies, a chronological order for Vermeer's paintings cannot be definitively determined. Nonetheless, Vermeer's paintings are generally grouped in three or four relatively distinct periods.

Even though exact date of all but three dated works (The Procuress, The Astronomer and The Geographer) painting must be considered hypothetical, their sequential order has remained much the same as it has been since the 1960s and 1970s when Vermeer's oeuvre had been begun to be systematically studied with greater attention towards historical and scientific evidence. This task was considerably facilitated by the fact that Vermeer's oeuvre had been definitively purged in the early 1950s of a number of fakes and false attributions.

For more information on the chronological order of Vermeer's paintings, click here.


Pertaining to devices, usually visual, characteristic of films and filmmaking.

Classic – Classical

These terms are so frequently confused that the following distinction may not hold true in all cases: strictly speaking, "classic" means of the highest order or rank, whereas "classical" means characteristic of Greek and Roman antiquity and things made in emulation thereof. For example, Picasso's Guernica (1937) may well be a classic, but it is hardly classical. That is, it may have a certain staying power in history based on any number of assumptions, including quality, but it does not exhibit any characteristics associated with various classical schools, like rationalism and impersonal execution. On the other hand, Gérard's Cupid and Psyche of 1798 is classical, in some respects, but it is hardly a classic.

Vermeer's finely balanced paintings have been perceived as possessing characteristics of the classical style (see Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Johannes Vermeer, with contributions by Albert Blankert, Ben Broos and Jørgen Wadum, 1995, p. 27). Walter Liedtke, curator of Northern Painting of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and of the Vermeer and the Delft School exhibition, instead saw that there is no evidence at all that Vermeer pursued classicist ideals. He holds that the sense of order and repose in Vermeer's work derives from local artistic traditions of Delft.

In regards, Lawrence Gowing wrote in 1950: "Vermeer's design is usually considered to be classical in kind, a deliberate ordering of space and pattern, and in general the classical designer makes his deliberation visible, as do Piero and Poussin, in the smallest forms he represents. Vermeer's representation is of the opposite kind, the kind which abhors preconception and design and relies entirely on the retina as its guide..."


Classicism represents a return to the formal idiom of Greek and Roman antiquity. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, classical examples began to be followed on a large scale. During the Renaissance, classical subjects and forms have become an integral part of Western art and architecture. Classical art formed the standard against which all forms of art—visual art, architecture and literature—were measured. Most discussions of Classicism refer to the period of 1770 to 1850. This is often known as Neoclassicism, to distinguish it from earlier forms of Classicism.


The following entry is drawn from:
Maund, Barry, "Color", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) <>

The visual world, the world as we see it, is a world populated by colored objects. Colors are important in both identifying objects, i.e., in locating them in space, and in re-identifying them. So much of our perception of physical things involves our identifying objects by their appearance, and colors are typically essential to an object's appearance, that any account of visual perception must contain some account of colors. Since visual perception is one of the most important species of perception and hence of our acquisition of knowledge of the physical world, and of our environment, including our own bodies, a theory of color is doubly important.

One of the major problems with color has to do with fitting what we seem to know about colors into what science, particularly physics, tells us about physical bodies and their qualities. It is this problem that historically has led the major physicists who have thought about color, to hold the view that physical objects do not actually have the colors we ordinarily and naturally take objects to possess. Oceans and skies are not blue in the way that we naively think, nor are apples red, (nor green). Colors of that kind, it is believed, have no place in the physical account of the world that has developed from the sixteenth century to this century.

Not only does the scientific mainstream tradition conflict with the common-sense understanding of color in this way, but as well, the scientific tradition contains a very counter-intuitive conception of color. There is, to illustrate, the celebrated remark by David Hume:

Sounds, colors, heat and cold, according to modern philosophy are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind.14

Physicists who have subscribed to this doctrine include the luminaries: Galileo, Boyle, Descartes, Newton, Young, Maxwell and Helmholtz. Maxwell, for example, wrote:

It seems almost a truism to say that color is a sensation; and yet Young, by honestly recognizing this elementary truth, established the first consistent theory of color.15

This combination of eliminativism—the view that physical objects do not have colors, at least in a crucial sense—and subjectivism—the view that color is a subjective quality—is not merely of historical interest. It is held by many contemporary experts and authorities on color. S. K. Palmer, a leading psychologist and cognitive scientist, writes:
People universally believe that objects look colored because they are colored, just as we experience them. The sky looks blue because it is blue, grass looks green because it is green, and blood looks red because it is red. As surprising as it may seem, these beliefs are fundamentally mistaken. Neither objects nor lights are actually ‘colored' in anything like the way we experience them. Rather, color is a psychological property of our visual experiences when we look at objects and lights, not a physical property of those objects or lights. The colors we see are based on physical properties of objects and lights that cause us to see them as colored, to be sure, but these physical properties are different in important ways from the colors we perceive. 16

Color Harmony

Color harmony can be cautiously defined as a successful combination of colors, whether it pleases the eye by using analogous colors, or excite the eye with contrast. The interrelation between colors is strongly modified by other factors. Each painter has his preferred color harmonies. Primary colors are usually believed to have positive psychological connotations. Secondary colors composed of two primary colors, present more ambiguity of meaning. The symbolic significance of color is generally believed to be universal although in many cultures each color has both positive and negative associations.

In practice, color harmony is unpredictable at best. John Ruskin warned the painter: "Every hue throughout your work is altered by every touch that you add in other places; so that what was warm a minute ago becomes cold when you have put a hotter color in another place, and what was in harmony when you left it, becomes discordant as you set other colors beside it." In Vermeer's time, in regards to color harmony, the art theorist and painter Gérard de Lairesse lamented in his Groot Schilderboek (1707) that "It is remarkable, that, though the management of the colours in a painting, whether of figures, landscape, flowers, architecture, &c. yields a great pleasure to, the eye, yet hitherto no one has laid down solid rules for doing it with safety and certainty... "and of color harmony, " … good Union and Harmony, is not, to this Day, fixed on certain Principles. Meer Chance is herein our only Comfort." Because of the extreme instability and reciprocal independence, it is not surprising that attempts to scientifically investigate color harmony have essential confirmed been largely fruitless and have furnished only simple harmonies more adapted for nurseries and commercial enterprises rather than for the practicing artist.

One reason for the difficulty in understanding of relationships of color in painting is that it is near impossible to isolate the interrelationship of colors amidst the many factors which contribute to the overall perception of a work of art, including where and how the colors are disposed on the picture plane and the objects with which they are associated. Nonetheless, the art historian Eugene Clinton Elliott has pointed out that, "…in the stylistic similarities of schools and artistic epochs, and in the relative consistency of changes from one period to another, there would seem to be some underlying agreement among artists as to how color is to be used." He isolated five essential factors which contribute certain stylistic uniformity in the use of color.

"First, there are certain formal principles, such as the traditional symbolism of particular colors, upon which an artist may base his choice. Second, metaphysical assumptions, taking specific form in any given age, may at least partially determine the relationship of color to other pictorial elements. Third, the understanding of color may be modified by changes in the scientific theories of color. Fourth, pedagogical considerations in transmitting knowledge of craft may prejudice the choice or dictate a certain approach to the use of color. And fifth, the limitations and possibilities of technique, as defined above, as they are given or preferred at any time, may further restrict the painter in his choice."17

The relative availability of pigments (the coloring agents of paint) suited for oil painting is rarely taken into a account by the layman in regards to the coloring of Renaissance and Baroque painting. But it is highly probable that painter of those times though as much in terms of availability, workability and cost of pigments as much as their aesthetic or expressive effect. This becomes more clear when we understand that, for example, Vermeer had at his disposition only a few, perhaps no more than five so-called strong colors (vermilion, lead-tin yellow, natural ultramarine, red madder and verdigris, the latter of which, however, he employed only rarely. Essentially, Vermeer's base palette was formed by no more than a dozen pigments, mostly lackluster earth colors. In some works he seems to have employed less that five or six. Particularity lacking were oranges and purples, or key pigments such as cobalt blue, Prussian blue to say nothing of the line of brilliant cadmiums available on the shelf of any medium-stocked art supplies store today. Thus, the possibilities of color harmonies of earlier schools of painting were drastically conditioned by the scarcity of coloring substances.

It is probable that seventeenth-century use of color in painting had much to do with creating pictorial depth as with how they might combine to create harmony. Writers also discussed symbolic value of color but it is impossible to understand if the multitudes of Dutch painters who were principally concerned with capturing the illusion of reality would have been much concerned with this aspect of color, which, instead, might have been useful for the history painter whose aim was to transmit didactic, moralizing messages. Karl van Mander wrote about the importance of color for understanding objects, and the relationship of color to light and darkness and the power of color—for example the intense reactions brought upon by the red of blood—as well as the role and symbolism of color in various cultures, as well as the fine color produced by unusual stones and expensive gems. "Gerrit ter Borch's step-sister, Gesina ter Borch (1631–1690), who, together with her brother Harmen (1638–1677), compiled a list of colors and their symbolic associations in the mid-to-late 1650s. The list of thirteen color and their symbols appears at least four times in the material preserved in the Rijksprentenkabinet, twice on folio pages written by Harmen that Gesina incorporated into her Poetry Album, once on the last folio of the family scrapbook, signed and dated by Gesina 1659, and once on the verso of one of Gesina's drawings.

"In the sheets penned by Harmen appropriately coloured hearts introduce each line. The hearts refer to the types of symbolic associations given to the colors, those related to love. Hence, for Gesina and Harmen light blue means constancy, green means hope, black steadfastness, grey spitefulness or dissimulation, white pureness, blue jealousy, carnation revenge or cruelty, pink love, yellow gladness or joy, seagreen instability and unsteadfastness, brown discretion, prudence and truth. Finally, ash gray means sorrow and suffering.."18

Vermeer's colors were generally cooler than those of his contemporaries. The warm browns that dominated artists' palettes in southern Europe are normally felt as friendly, while cool hues remain visually and psychologically distant. More than one critic has pointed out that only a handful of great European masters, including Velásquez and Piero della Francesca (c.1420–1492), adopted cool palettes. This statement may have been exaggerated to make a point but there is no doubt that Vermeer was particularly careful in maintaining the freshness of light grays and blues. He is known to hava repeatedly introduced small quantities of blue into his grays striving, evidently, to capture the vibrancy and sparkle of the legendary Dutch light.

Thumbing through a catalogue of Vermeer's work, we notice that the costume of nearly every key figure is painted with red, blue or yellow. Only one important figure, the writing mistress in the Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, is painted in a muted green. All of the red-clad figures were made early in his career. The secondary figures are rendered in dull or secondary hues: olive green, dull brown or black. By rendering the principal figures with bright, positive colors the observer is signaled where he must look first. Moreover, the primary figures are immediately distinguished from the secondary ones thereby reinforcing the narrative clarity of the painting. Whether Vermeer's color strategy was product of logic or intuition, the end effect is as effective as it is simple.

Color Temperature

See also turbid medium effect.

Aside from the rather straightforward juxtaposition of large areas of complimentary color to create spatial depth and visual excitement, the great masters were able to take advantage of color temperature in a far subtler and perhaps unexpected manner, particularly when handling the all important flesh tones. Color could also be exploited to model, substantiate and enhance the sense of volume. This tool was of special importance for painting flesh since strong modeling and strong chiaroscural schemes tend to destroy the subtlety of form and the flesh's natural translucency.

"Essentially, the depiction in paint of three-dimensional objects (faces, hands and so on) requires alternating use of warm and cool colors: the shadows themselves are warm, half-tones are cool, lights are warm and highest lights cool again. If this sequence is not observed, the illusion of depth and roundness will not be successful.

"The actual painting of the cool half-tone could be done in two basic ways. Either it could be painted directly between light and shadow as a band of colour containing cool, blue-toned pigments; or it could be achieved - and Rubens's later paintings are perhaps the most outstanding example of the method - by exploiting the so-called turbid medium effect. A light colour painted thinly over a warm dark tone will appear cooler than if painted over a lighter tone. Thus, by underpainting the shadows and half-tone areas with a dark color and then overlapping it with the warm translucent color of the general lights, the cool half-tones are produced automatically."19

Things closer to us are more saturated, things farther away tend to become more gray or blue or cool. Just by juxtaposing a warm and cool color next to each other we can generate the impression that one is in front of the other. The cooling or graying of a skin tint is tantamount to saying that it is getting farther away. The cool color in between the skin tones and the shadow helps define the turn that the form is taking as it sinks into shadow. After all, it is the turn of the form that causes the shadows, not the position of the light which remains fixed.

Complementary Colors

Complimentary colors are pairs of colors that create the maximum contrast and so, when set side by side, intensify one another. Complementary colors are located directly across from each other on the color wheel. Complementary pairs contrast because they share no common colors. For example, red and green are complements, because green is made of blue and yellow. Green and red, blue and orange, and yellow and violet are complementary colors.

As Vincent Van Gogh noted, blue and lemon yellow (accompanied by gray) are characteristic of Vermeer's palette much as gray and pink were of Velásquez's. Vermeer's typical blue pigment, (natural ultramarine) has a very strong red undertone, while his characteristic yellow (lead-tin yellow) tends to be slightly green, making them almost complimentary.

Even when the somber hues dominated the Dutch palettes in the decades prior to Vermeer's activity, most painters found it difficult to resist the seductive power of a patch of bright color, draperies being the main choice. Although few bright pigments were available, artists learned how to produce an exceptional range of lavish hues through multi-layered techniques and calculated juxtaposition of adjacent colors. Instead, Vermeer worked principally with the primary colors: blue, red and yellow, which in every composition establish the principal chromatic harmonies of his art. Measured areas of primary colors are enclosed within areas of low-key grays and browns, lending them a unique character. Vermeer's use of strong colors were more restricted than those of many fellow genre painters. He used orange and purple only in his first history paintings.


See also ordinantie.

Composition is the term given to a complete work of art and, more specifically, to the way in which all its elements work together to produce an overall effect. A static composition, for example, might stress horizontal and vertical accents, closure at the edges of the painting, and subdued color and tonal contrasts, to give an effect of orderliness and repose. A more dynamic composition, such as Rubens's Peace and War, on the other hand, might be based on intersecting diagonals, a lack of closure, vigorous contrasts of color and light and dark accents, stressing movement, activity, conflict.

One of the main purposes of a composition is to present the theme and enhance its meaning.

The idea of pictorial composition was born in the Renaissance. For Leon Battista Alberti, whose commentary De pictura ("On Painting," 1435) guided the evolution of European painting for centuries, composition was the second and most important rule of art

Before Alberti, composition was seldom discussed in connection with painting, and he devotes more attention to it than to any other topic. Manuals written by craftsmen focused on the materials, media, and shop techniques of artists. Alberti defined compositions so:

Composition is the rule of painting by which the parts are brought together to for a pictorial work. The greatest work of painting is not a colossus, but historia. For the praise of ingengo is greater in historia, than in colossus. The parts of historia are bodies, parts of the bodies are a members, a part of a member is surface. Thus, the prime parts of the works are surfaces, because from them come members, from members come bodies, and from those come the historia, indeed the ultimate and absolute work of painting.

For Alberti, composition follows "circumscription," the rule for drawing outlines, and precedes "the reception of light," the rule for applying colored pigment.

Certain aspects of Alberti's definition is somewhat obscure even to disciplined art scholars. But what he seems to have meant is that all the parts of a painter's composition derive from the historia, the subject matter of painting, and are interdependent. Sheer size or marvelous ingengo (ingenuity, i.e. painterly skill) of a colossus, probably a reference to works of medieval and Classical past, are inferior to the works of historia which instead, presents related and measurable parts. Ingengo, therefore, should not only cause the spectator to marvel at the artist's creation, but make him reason about it.

More specifically, Alberti thought the historia should contain a variety of bodies and colors to please the viewer's mind. The painter should take great care to include different character types, movements, clothing and gestures to create a graceful richness. All the actions performed by the figures should be meaningful both in relation to each other and in relation to the observer. If all this is not clear, one should imagine how to go about depicting tens of slaughtering, screaming and dead figures in order to convey the moralizing message "The Rape of the Sabine Women."

Vermeer was perhaps one of the greatest painting composers of all times. His compositions are finely balanced yet never static. Although one tends to perceive more readily the perpendicular elements of Vermeer's compositions, strong diagonal lines, often enliven his compositions catalyzing theme and expressive content.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. has drawn attention to the importance of composition as a prime vehicle of Vermeer's artistic aims. Wheelock, states that "the compositional refinements in Vermeer's paintings are so exquisite that it is difficult to understand how he achieved them. His mastery of perspective does not account for the sensitive arrangement of the figures or for the subtle proportions he established between pictorial elements." His comment on Vermeer's use of composition in Music Lesson, perhaps Vermeer's most architecturally structured work, is revealing. "The expansive space of this elegantly appointed interior seems to reverberate with the same music being played at the virginal. Contrasting patterns of shapes and colors create major and minor accents that parallel the structure of the music. As with music, the composition has a focus, in the instance the vanishing point of the perspective system that falls with great insistence on the woman's left sleeve."

Cool Colors

In color theory, colors are described as either warm, cool or neutral. A very cool color generally is one that contains a large amount of blue, as opposed to a warm color, which will contain more yellow. Cool colors seem to recede in space, as the distant mountains or hills tend to appear light bluish, and the closer ones will be more green or brown (warmer). In landscape paintings, artists often painted the distant hills in this pale blue color; and it is generally thought that cool colors will recede into space in any painting. However, color is a complex element, and colors often misbehave. It is usually best to proceed on a case-by-case basis, because colors are influenced greatly by what colors they are next to, appearing warm" in one setting, and cool in another.

Vermeer's palette, as well as those of many Northern painters, was generally cool in tone, especially when compared with the warm palettes of Italian masters which was further enhanced by the use of reddish grounds of their canvases. However, significant passages of vibrant unadulterated red are present in Vermeer's earlier compositions while large masses of subdued red are present in the depictions of the oriental carpets found in many of his works. Various shades of blue and cool grays, often composed of lead white and black, are dominant, complimented by patches of his characteristic lemon yellow, which has been revealed to be a widely used pigment called lead-tin yellow.

The relative coolness of Vermeer's palette is not always apparent in reproductions, particularly in older ones. Cool colors are more negatively effected than warm ones by layers of aged yellow varnish. Luckily, recent restorations of many of Vermeer's paintings have restored the chromatic brilliance of many passages and the original overall cool effect of his pictures since layers old varnish have been removed. The recent restoration of Vermeer's early Procuress provides an excellent example.

Connoisseur - Connoisseurship

See also Liefhebbers van de Schilderkonst (Lovers of the Art of Painting)

Connoisseurship is deeply rooted in the past. Etymologically, it derives from the Latin cognoscere (to know), and conceptually, it dates back to ancient Greece, where people began valuing art for its aesthetic merits, rather than for its imagined superpowers to placate deities. By the Renaissance it was a commonplace to value artworks for the skill they exhibited rather than the materials used. The underlying shift then is from artwork to artist, and it follows that the connoisseur's interest in `fine art is an interest in the skills and practices used.

A connoisseur, then, is generally thought of as a person of refined sensibility and discriminating taste. Assuming that specific connoisseurs were genuinely in possession of special knowledge, they could identify artists with an authoritative discrimination that all but escaped the run-of-the-mill viewer. Connoisseurship has implied secure standards of judgment. Although connoisseurship is a perfectly legitimate method within art history, its occasional tendencies towards pretentiousness have become a favorite target of popular writers and the media in general.

After waning in the Middle Ages, it regained currency in the Renaissance with a market that included paintings and drawings. The 18th century was a Golden Age, as connoisseurship entered the English lexicon (in 1719 via painter -collector Jonathan Richardson as "connoissance") and developed into an intellectual discipline with philosophers like Voltaire penning elegant discourses. More than a century of fine-tuning ensued, with methodologies echoing forms of literary criticism: e.g., "legislative" (judgment based on a priori canons), "scientific" (judgment based on objective criteria), "expository" (explanation without judgment), and "impressionistic" (personal responses with or without judgment). Approaches ranged broadly from striving for scientific objectivity (Giovanni Morrelli's morphological analysis) to those engaging in subjective appreciation (Anatole France's "adventures of a soul among masterpieces").

"Though widely regarded far into the 20th century as essential for collecting, curating, and critiquing, connoisseurship suffered attacks early on. Enlightenment commentators worried that it was easily corrupted by market forces and unduly focused on establishing financial value, rather than on loftier artistic aspects (still true today). Such tendencies spurred protracted debate, but connoisseurship never withered until the 1960s, when champions of Marxism, Feminism, Relativism, Postmodernism, and Multiculturalism began to discredit it as elitist, sexist, unscientific, and irrelevant to socio-political-economic studies of art, among other harsh pejoratives. Today, connoisseurship is largely relegated to identifying valuable works (mostly by long-dead artists) in service of commodification, rather than art appreciation."

from: Carol Strone, "Reconceiving Connoisseurship", Fine Art Connoisseurship, Spring 2010. <>

Click here for an informative website on connoisseurship.

Perhaps one of the greatest failures of modern connoisseurship is the Han van Meegeren case of false Vermeer's. In 1937, Abraham Bredius (one of the most authoritative connoisseurs of the time who had dedicated a great part of his life to the study of Vermeer) was approached by a lawyer who claimed to be the trustee of a Dutch family estate in order to have him look at a rather large painting of a Christ with his Disciples. Shortly after having viewed the painting, the 83 year old art historian wrote the Burlington Magazine, the "art bible" of the times: "It is a wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art when he finds himself suddenly confronted with a hitherto unknown painting by a great master, untouched, on the original canvas, and without any restoration, just as it left the painter's studio! And what a picture! Neither the beautiful signature "I. V. M. in monogram) nor the pointillès on the bread of the Christ is blessing, is necessary to that we have a - I am inclined to say the masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft...." No doubts were advanced since Bredius' opinion was taken as gospel in the art world so much that he had been nick-named "the Pope."

The work was by the hand of Han van Meegeren, a mediocre Dutch artist who had lived and worked in almost realtive obscurity. In the years preceding World War II, Van Meegeren had falsified a number of Dutch masters including Vermeer. Van Meegeren fakes passed unobserved (perhaps with a certain justification, they had escaped serious scrutiny since they emerged during World War II) but were nonetheless sold for dizzying prices. After the end of the war, in a state of general incredulity, Van Meegeren claimed that he was the author of the Christ with his Disciples in order to clear himself of Nazi collaboration charges. One of the false Vermeer's which had been sold illegally to the Nazi chief Hermann Göring had been traced to Van Meegeren. The entire world was shocked by the trial which received international coverage.

The deep doubts concerning the international art establishment raised by the Van Meegeren case resulted in years of a much needed self-examination. Art historians, connoisseurs, museum directors and unscrupulous dealers had all been involved. Contemporary methods of evaluating the work master painters required a profound reconsideration. The idea that an elite group of connoisseurs could determine the value of a work of art solely on aesthetic criterion alone was dealt a lasting blow.


See also "meaning'."

There is no clear consensus on what the content of a work of art is. However, it usually refers to the meaning or message contained and communicated by a work of art, including its emotional, intellectual, symbolic, thematic, and narrative connotations. Sometimes content is also used to describe subject matter. The symbolic contents of a Dutch still life might vanity, death or universal fate while its subject matter might be fruit, flowers, insects or porcelain arranged on a table.

For many years after Vermeer's "recovery" in the mid 1850s, it was believed that the primary function of his art and that of seventeenth-century Dutch painters art as well, was to reflect the daily experience of life of common people. With the rise of the modernist school of painting in the early 20th century, his work began to be appreciated principally for their abstract qualities, which seemed to reflect the concerns of avante guard contemporary painting. In recent years, a great many studies have focused on Vermeer's use of iconography, in an attempt to understand his art from the vantage point of his own contemporaries. However, no general agreement has been reached in regards and the question of the precise iconographical meaning of his paintings remains open.

Although there exists no supporting documented evidence in regards, a number of scholars, including Robert Huerta and Mariët Westermann have begun to relate Vermeer's art more specifically to the philosophical and scientific ferment of his times. Huerta points out that the conceptual and methodological links between the Delft painter Vermeer and his near neighbor and exact contemporary, the microscopist Antony van Leeuwenhoek. He argues that Vermeer's use of the camera obscura parallels Van Leeuwenhoek's pursuit of the "optical way," and embodies a profound philosophical connection between these investigators. Vermeer's informed observations enabled him to confront the same issues as other natural philosophers regarding the interpretation of unfamiliar images presented by instrumental systems (viz, the telescope, microscope, camera obscura). Obviously Philip Steadman's close examination of Vermeer's use of the camera obscura has done much to support Huerta's ideas.

Westermann points the parallels between the most systematic philosopher of human-awareness, René Descartes, the unparalleled rate of literacy in the Dutch republic, the proliferation of first person statements—private diaries, journals, soul searching poems and letters—and the underlying vein of self-awareness of Vermeer's sitters. In Westermann's words, "What all of his writing and reading women have in common the capacity for absorption in a text, and thus for independent thought. This mental ability is not merely figured by the theme of writing and reading or by averted gazes" but through Vermeer's "thoughtful compositions" which "stand of the mental activity of his actors."


Italian term contraposto is a means to represent freedom of movement within a figure, as in ancient Greek sculpture, the parts being in asymmetrical relationship to one another, usually where the hips and legs twist in one direction, and the chest and shoulders in another. Michelangelo who drew inspiration from classical sculpture used contraposto to express inner struggle. He understood that when a figure's body was represented as moving in two directions a evokes tension. The body represents instinctual impulses while the head embodies the higher function of the mind and spirit. The effect is particularly pronounced in Michelangelo's work since the entire body, which is often represented nude, is portrayed.

Vermeer employed contraposto in the pose of Girl with a Pearl Earring although in a very subdue manner. The young girl's head turns towards the viewer while her body is directed in another. Vermeer's aim was not to express the universal struggle between the flesh (the body) and the spirit (the head), a theme with deep religious moral overtones, but a more private one of the uncertain relation between the painter and his model. Through the tension created by the opposing positions of the head and bust alone, Vermeer has made us aware of the tension of the young girl's psyche.


A line around a shape in a work of art, its nature depending on the artist's concept and intention. The problems of rendering edges are fundamental in the art of pictorial representation. Primitive painters almost universally made, as amateurs still make, their edges too sharp. Their work, as a consequence, whatever its merit may be, looks hard. In medieval painting, contours were initially regular, flat outlines; in the course of the 14th century they acquired more sense of spatial effect, and appear to be alternately more and less emphatic. Leonardo da Vinci was perhaps the first painter to study edges systematically, making the separation of his masses distinct where it appears sharp; soft, where in nature it looked blurry and indeterminate (see sfumato). Later, the effect of contour in painting and graphic art became particularly important to artistic movements in which line and draftsmanship was a prominent factor.

During the course of Vermeer's pictorial evolution, he became more concerned with the qualities of contour and edge. In his first interiors edges are uniformly sharp, even to the point of brittleness. This trait is one that commonly accompanies an enthusiasm for artificial perspective. However, in his successive works, edges are more varied, no doubt, consequence of observation, either with or without the aid of the camera obscura. In the mid 1660s, contours become suffused especially in the deeply shadowed areas where all detail is lost. In the very late years, the artist returns to sharp contours and highly contrasted lighting effects.

Perhaps the most startling use of edge to convey material quality is found in the string of pearls which lie on the table of the Woman Holding a Balance. In this painting, Vermeer demonstrates his ability in varying the quality of contours according to the nature of the objects portrayed. If carefully observed, the outer edges of the pearls have barely been delimited. Only the globular forms of the highlights of light paint tell us where each pearl is located. The lack of contour allows each pearl to blend in with its surroundings and suggests the its characteristic transparency whereas the globular highlights inform us of its reflective quality and spherical form.


Generally, the exhibition of difference or juxtaposition of dissimilar elements in a work of art, as in the contrast of colors and textures. Tonal contrast is simply the difference between the light and dark areas in a painting. The greater the difference the more attention the area attracts. Contrast is a very effective tool for creating interest in specific areas of a composition. High contrast can draw attention to an area, while low contrast discourages such attention.

Contrast cannot exist alone. It is a quality derived from a comparison between two or more other elements, whether they are colors, lines, forms, values, or any combination thereof. Contrast is a quality that defines the relationship any one element has with any other element in a composition.

Core Shadow

A core shadow, sometimes called body shadow or mass shadow, is the area of an illuminated object that is fully turned away from the light source, on which light is cast from a single direction. If there is no reflected light, everything beyond the core-shadow is uniformly dark. Some define the core shadow as the line which divides the illuminated side of the object for its shadowed side.

"In the nineteenth century, the core shadow was called the "bedbug line," giving us a peek into the living conditions of art students who knew all too well that bedbugs hated light and would scurry along the edges of the shadows."20


Copying and other forms of artistic imitation and emulation were practiced since the birth of western art. Much of our knowledge of Greek sculpture is derived from Roman copies.

In the past, the practice of copying was a central component in the methods of training painters. Copying began at the very beginning of an apprentice's training and often lasted long after he had reached mastery. Rubens continued the practice into his advanced years and Ingres was still studying on the day he died. Philip IV gave Rubens extraordinary permission to make scale copies of Titian paintings in the Royal collection that had to be taken off the walls and brought to a temporary studio set up for the purpose. "Copying", wrote Delacroix, "herein lay the education of most of the great masters." Copying not only improves technical skills but allows the copier to "get inside the head" of the artist he is copying.

Apprentices made copies of drawings, prints and paintings by admired masters, known as drawing "from the flat." Afterwards he drew "from the round," or from plaster casts and only when he had mastered both, could he draw from the live figure.

Producing copies was an important part of a successful painters' workshop activity. At least 22 copies were kept by Rubens in his studio until his death: some were those mostly by Rubens, some executed by workshop assistants and retouched by Rubens, and some executed entirely by assistants. The Dutch painter Michiel van Mierevelt, perhaps without equal, produced around 5,000 portraits over a fifty-year period, of which over 600 survive. It has been calculated that fifty percent of his oeuvre consisted of copies of famous and important people, such as the portrait of Prince Maurits, evidently in great public demand. Rembrandt, whose oeuvre has plagued art historians and collectors with doubts, had as many as forty apprentices, of whom he signed many of their copies.

Although copying is frowned upon in most art institutions today, it is slowly been revived in a growing number of traditionalist ateliers.

Craquelure - Craquelure

Craquelure (French: Craquelure, Italian: crettatura) is the fine pattern of dense cracking formed on the surface of materials. The term is most often used to refer to ceramics and paintings. Normally, craquelure is formed by the aging of paints. It can be used to determine the age of paintings and to detect art forgery, because craquelure is a hard-to-forge signature of authenticity.

Authentic paint craquelure occurs because paint dries and becomes less flexible as it ages and shrinks. Cracks caused by stretching or slackening the canvas are quite different from cracks due to other factors, such as drying and aging of the paint. The paint cracks when the stress upon it is greater than the breaking stress point of the paint layer and the paint will crack approximately at right-angles to the direction of the stress, relieving that stress. The stress at the corners is more than double that of the center. There appear to be distinct French, Italian and Dutch "styles" of craquelure.

Craquelure is almost impossible to accurately reproduce artificially in a particular pattern, although there are some methods such as baking or finishing of a painting wherein this is attempted. These methods, however, can get a crack at most uniform in appearance, while genuine craquelure displays irregular patterns of cracks.

"A crack pattern is not an intentional part of Old Master paintings, but develops over time as the painting responds to its environment (mainly to changes in relative humidity). Of course, a painting's environment changes in many different ways as it is displayed, stored, bought and sold, restored, etc. and we cannot know the painting's exact environmental history over a number of centuries. The analysis of the crack pattern assumes that exact knowledge of a painting's environmental history is unnecessary, it merely assumes that a painting has a predisposition to crack and that its predisposition will be more fully developed under some conditions and less fully developed under other conditions. The exact details of environmental history may therefore determine the extent of cracking, but not the predisposition to crack in a particular pattern."21

"The fine network of cracks usually goes unnoticed, except in light passages such as flesh or sky. Even when visually obvious, the network is often overlooked because it is perceived to have little to do with what the artist intended to depict – we subconsciously filter it as irrelevant. Yet, as the detail of light transmitted through a portrait on canvas shows, the crack network can be a surprisingly high proportion of the painted area.

"If we assume that the cracks across a painting are a uniform colour then they will have a large effect where they cross contrasting paint passages and a negligible effect where they cross paint passages of a similar color. The presence of crack networks therefore influences the tonal organization of paintings, effectively reducing their dynamic range."22


One who analyses, evaluates or expresses an opinion on a work of art, from a cluster of Greek words meaning to decide, to discern, to judge. Academic scholars, primarily engaged in the historical study of visual arts, have generally seemed to maintain a tacit distinction between themselves and critics, whom they see as engaged in journalistic art appreciation, subjective impressionism, and other types of unreflective criticism.


The analysis, evaluation, interpretation, and study of works of art. Although it is true that disapproving remarks are sometimes made, it is a common mistake to assume that "criticism" simply means negative commentary and that to be critical means to be cynical, derogatory and insulting.

The following, which briefly traces the birth of the modern art criticism, is drawn from:
Gerrit Verhoeven. "Mastering the Connoisseur's Eye: Paintings, Criticism, and the Canon in Dutch and Flemish Travel Culture, 1600–1750." Eighteenth-Century Studies 46.1 (2012):pp. 29-56. Project MUSE. Web. 3 Jan. 2013. <>

In the late seventeenth century books on art criticism and aesthetic theory had flooded the market, ranging from Roger de Piles's Dissertation sur les ouvrages des plus fameux peintres (Paris 1681), Gérard de Lairesse's Groot Schilder-boeck (Amsterdam 1707), and Dubois de Saint-Gelais's descriptions of Parisian art treasures, to reprints of older manuals by Giorgio Vasari and Karel van Mander.

In 1728, the English painter, collector, and writer Jonathan Richardson Sr. (1667–1745) and his son, wrote Le traité de la peinture, a manual which discussed theory of art criticism and connoisseurship, along with a detailed inventory of the most outstanding paintings, sculptures, and architecture in Europe, as drawn up by Richardson Jr. during his Grand Tour to Italy in the early 1720's. Looking with a trained eye, Richardson Jr. had listed hundreds of masterpieces worth seeing and meticulously weighed pros and cons in design, composition, brush techniques, and chiaroscuro. Although Richardson's traité was far from unique, it soon became the benchmark criteria for assessing the quality of paintings (balanced composition, lofty style, powerful brushstrokes, lively coloring) well underway by the eighteenth century, but a clearly defined canon of favorite masters, schools,subjects and periods had also begun to take shape.

What was novel and trail-blazing in Richardson's work, however, was his idea that the stanza of art criticism, rather than being restricted to erudite painters, royal collectors, and aesthetic quibblers, could in fact be mastered by lay connoisseurs and bourgeois art lovers. Written in a comprehensible style, his book offered training for this growing multitude of do-it-yourself experts.

Richardson's textbook thus marks a broader social phenomenon, in which dilettanti and dabblers slowly but surely entered the domain of art criticism, thereby founding a public opinion based upon the most exceptional masterpieces and (re)shaping the highbrow canon to 'popular' bourgeois taste. During the eighteenth century this new ideal of the amateur-connoisseur resonated in a boom of auction rooms and art galleries, concert halls, music magazines, painting and literature, and private fine arts societies.


Cropping refers to the removal of the outer parts of an image to improve framing, accentuate subject matter or change aspect ratio. Cropping can be done either with the entire composition, or by obstructing the subject by other elements of a composition, sometiems referred to as sub framing. Cropping determines the information which the artist willing to give the viewer.

When a figurative painter chooses paints something, he inevitably performs an act of cropping—whether he is aware of the fact or not—including some elements of nature while excluding others. Like children, beginning painters tend to avoid cropping attempting include every part of the main subject within the perimeter of the canvas. Nothing is intentionally cropped, except for the elements that will not “fit” in the picture. On the other hand, the experienced artist uses cropping as a deliberate technique to exalt the qualities he wishes to convey of the subject and energize the composition. Because cropping always implies that the subject will continue outside of the picture plane, the viewer asks why was the something cropped.

By choosing certain elements of the subject a painter can create more interest than by showing the viewer too much. Missing information can create mystery or uncertainty. It can also effect the intimacy (or lack of) between the subject and the viewer. In general two edges of the same subject should not be cropped.

In primitive forms of image making cropping was avoided. Since subject matter had deep religious or philosophical meaning, the removal on parts of the image was tantamount to mutilating its meaning. Cropping was used in renaissance painting, but is was above all Caravaggio who began to to violently crop his figures, who seem to burst out of the painting onto the viewer's attention. Cropping became a fixed tactic of his followers, and was no doubt noticeable to Vermeer, whose mother-in-law possessed a number of paintings of the Carravagist painters of Utrecht. Cropping was always a fundamental tactic in Oriental painting.

Various art historians have noted that Vermeer was not adverse to cropping, or that to be more precise, he used cropping in a more pondered and meaningful manner than his contemporary genre artists. The close cropping of the figure in the late Guitar Player has been criticized. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. suggested that the "most unusual compositional organization' of The Guitar Player may have resulted from experiments with the camera obscura.

Vermeer's A Lady Seated at a Virginal seems to have been cropped from Gerrit Dou's A Woman Playing a Clavichord, transforming the cavernous space of the musician into a more intimate scene. Some critics have also suggested that the bowing figure of The Lacemaker was cropped from the artist's own Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid. Likewise, the figure of the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter may have been cropped from the earlier Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.

  1. Group of relatively small, often anecdotal, paintings of everyday life, made in Rome in the mid-seventeenth century. The word derives from the nickname "Il Bamboccio" ("Large Baby"), applied to the physically malformed Dutch painter Pieter van Laer (1592/95–1642). Generally regarded as the originator of the style and its most important exponent, van Laer arrived in Rome from Haarlem about 1625 and was soon well known for paintings in which his Netherlandish interest in the picturesque was combined with the pictorial cohesiveness of Caravaggio's dramatic tenebrist lighting. Because van Laer and his followers depicted scenes of the Roman lower classes in a humorous or even grotesque fashion, their works were condemned by both court critics and the leading painters of the classicist-idealist school as indecorous and ridiculous. The painter Salvator Rosa was particularly savage in his comments about the later followers of the style, whom he criticized for painting "baggy pants, beggars in rags, and abject filthy things." The Bamboccianti (painters of Bambocciati) influenced such Dutch genre painters as Adriaen Brouwer and Adriaen van Ostade. (from the excellent online art resource the Web Gallery of Art,<>
  2. Arie Wallert and Willem de Ridder, "The Materials and Methods of Michael Sweerts," in Michael Sweerts (1618–1664) by Guido Jansen and Peter C. Sutton, Zwolle, 2000, p. 373
  3. Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, Art & Artists: the Renaissance and the Rise of the Artist (website) <>
  4. John Michael Montias, "The Guild of Saint Luke in 17th-cnetury Delft and the economic status of artists and artisans", Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 9(2): p. 104.
  5. Shelley, James, "The Concept of the Aesthetic", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <>
  6. Dutch and Flemish Painting of the 16th- and 17 Centuries, National Gallery of Art. <>
  7. "The Allegory of the Catholic Faith", Metropolitan Museum of Art (website). <>
  8. Daneil Arasse, "Vermeer's Private Allegories", in Vermeer Studies, New Haven and London, 1998.
  9. Mark Lesney, "Analyzing artistry. Spectroscopy is indispensable in examining the provenance of artifacts and paintings", Today's Chemist at Work websie, 2002 <>
  10. Lydia Thompson, "Authentication and the Art Market", Thompson and Martinez Fine Art Appraisals website, Posted on August 2, 2012 < >
  11. Ronald D. Spencer, "How Decisions on the Authenticity of Visual Art are made by Courts." http://apps.americanbar. org THURS345500SPENCER_72.doc
  12. Taylor, Paul, "Vermeer, Lairesse and Composition," Hofstede de Groot-lezing, Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague. 2010, p. 7.
  13. Mariët Westermann, "Vermeer and the Interior Imagination,” in V ermeer and the Dutch Interior, Ed. Alejandro Vergara, Madrid, 2003, p. 229.
  14. Hume, D., 1738/1911, Treatise of Human Nature, A. D. Lindsay (ed.), London: Dent. Bk III, part I, Sect. 1, p. 177; Bk I, IV, IV, p. 216.
  15. Palmer, S. K., 1999, Vision Science, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, p. 95.
  16. Maxwell, J. C., 1890/1970, "On Colour Vision", in D. L. MacAdam, (ed.), Sources of Color Science, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press., p. 75.
  17. Eugene Clinton Elliott, "On the Understanding of Color in Painting", in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Jun., 1958), pp. 453-470.
  18. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Colour Symbolism in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting", in The Learned Eye, Regarding Art, Theory, and the Artist's Reputation, Ed. Marieke van den Doel, et. al., Chicago, 2005.
  19. Roy Ashok and Jo Kirby, "Rembrandt's Palette", Art in the Making: Rembrandt. Eds. David Bomford et al. New Haven, 2006, pp. 12–13.
  20. Juliette Aristedes, Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice, 2008, p. 64.
  21. Spike Bucklow, "The Description and Classification of Craquelure," in Studies in Conservation, Vol. 44, No. 4 (1999), pp. 233-244.
  22. Spike Bucklow, "The effect of cracks on the perception of paintings", 1996. <>