Essential Vermeer 3.0
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Essential Vermeer Glossary of Art-Related Terms
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This glossary contains a number of recurrent terms found on the present site which may not be clear to all readers, especially when employed within the context of an art historical discussion. Some terms, signaled by an icon of the Vermeer's monogram, are examined as they relate specifically to Vermeer's art. Each of the four sections of the glossary can be accessed from the menu top located on the top of the page.

The terms in this glossary are cross-linked or externally linked only the first time they appear in the same entry.

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder is a comprehensive study of the materials and painting techniques that made Vermeer one of the greatest masters of European art.

Bolstered by the author's qualifications as a professional painter and a Vermeer connoisseur, every facet of 17th-century and Vermeer's painting practices—including canvas preparation, underdrawing, underpainting, glazing, palette, brushes, pigments and composition—is laid out in clear, comprehensible language. Also investigated are a number of key issues related specifically to Vermeer's studio methods, such as the camera obscura, studio organization as well as how he depicted wall-maps, floor tiles, pictures-within-pictures, carpets and other of his most defining motifs. Each of the book's 24 topics is accompanied by abundant color illustrations and diagrams.

By observing at close quarters the studio practices of Vermeer and his preeminent contemporaries, the reader will acquire a concrete understanding of 17th-century painting methods and materials and gain a fresh view of Vermeer's 35 works of art, which reveal a seamless unity of craft and poetry.

While not written as a "how-to" manual, realist painters will find a true treasure trove of technical information that can be adapted to almost any style of figurative painting.

author: Jonathan Janson
date: 2020 (second edition)
pages: 294
illustrations: 200-plus illustrations and diagrams
formats: PDF | ePUB | AZW3

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder


  1. Vermeer's Training, Technical Background & Ambitions
  2. An Overview of Vermeer’s Technical & Stylistic Evolution
  3. Fame, Originality & Subject Matte
  4. Reality or Illusion: Did Vermeer’s Interiors ever Exist?
  5. Color
  6. Composition
  7. Mimesi & Illusionism
  8. Perspective
  9. Camera Obscura Vision
  10. Light & Modeling
  11. Studio
  12. Four Essential Motifs in Vermeer’s Oeuvre
  1. Drapery
  2. Painting Flesh
  3. Canvas
  4. Grounding
  5. “Inventing,” or Underdrawing
  6. “Dead-Coloring,” or Underpainting
  7. “Working-up,” or Finishing
  8. Glazing
  9. Mediums, Binders & Varnishes
  10. Paint Application & Consistency
  11. Pigments, Paints & Palettes
  12. Brushes & Brushwork


A Dutch term for the painting technique called "maniera lavata," that describes a method of dead-coloring (underpainting) in which each specific area of the painting is first approximated in a flat tint—a relatively light wash—before creating the final nuances of form, hue and light.


A loss of media or scratches, often resulting in a loss on the surface, extending to the paint and ground layers, caused by faulty cleaning, friction as well as where the frame touches the painted surface.


The abstract qualities in art are those which are independent of a work's resemblance to external reality. The arrangement of lines, forms, tone and color, even in a painting depicting an aspect of the known world, can be viewed as a series of non-representational relationships. Such patterning has often been appreciated for its own sake; music without vocal narrative elements tends to be enjoyed in a similar manner.

From the late-nineteenth century onwards, visual abstract or formal qualities were increasingly emphasized, analyzed and finally isolated by painters.

Visual abstraction is not merely an aesthetic quest; it is a biological necessity. By reducing visual complexity abstraction increases perceptual efficiency allowing us to recognize objects, evaluate movement and orient ourselves in space with great rapidity. Without abstraction the brain would be enslaved to the particular because it would have to recall every detail in order to make sense of the contents of the visible world. In daily life most visual information is redundant. In the case of photographic images, it has been calculated that this redundancy may be as high as 90%. The ability of the human mind to abstract may also be linked to the limitations of its memory system.

Throughout the twentieth entury, the term "abstraction" was regularly summoned to describe certain aspects of Vermeer's style. However, abstraction, which we inevitably associate with twentieth-century abstract painting, has no exact correspondence in seventeenth-century art discussion. The closest concept is that of idealization, by which classically oriented painters sought to divest the world of imperfections and transmit fundamental religious and ethical truths that were considered the only worthy objectives of the art of painting. The fundamental difference between the two concepts is that abstraction seeks to extract an underlying "truth" of reality on a general level, such that it can be true of many cases, while idealization involves a premise, which can skew reality to a predetermined result making it potentially misleading.

In Vermeer's paintings shapes are abstracted, on a few occasions to the point of becoming unrecognizable. Volumes are reduced to their simplest geometric components. Complicated folds of cloth are untangled. For example, the block-like gown of the seated mistress of The Love Letter is defined with only a few essential planes, while the carpet-covered table in The Music Lesson has been transformed into nothing less than a geometrical fortress, which may have entailed considerable manipulation given that such carpets were probably not stiff enough to produce such simple, structural folds by themselves. Props and figures are often set perpendicular or at 45 degrees to the picture plane. The limp contours of real satin, which remind the viewer of the fragility of luxury, are "ironed out" into crisp, angular folds with sharp chiaroscural contrasts that can be more easily assimilated by the visual system. The dark blue gown of Young Woman Holding a Water Pitcher, whose inner creases and folds are barely indicated, is transmuted into a pure, bell-like shape which is understood only through its two graceful external contours. The surfaces of objects are sometimes so abstracted that they are cleansed of their natural texture, for instance, the reflections that would be expected to be observed.

Vermeer's abstraction may have in part been inspired by the generalized image of a camera obscura. Moreover, history painters had long simplified modeling, form and texture in order to create more universal visuals, and in almost every painting and drawing manual of the time painters were warned against getting lost in distracting detail. However, the true broadness in Vermeer's rendering is adequately appreciable only when his paintings are compared to analogous works of his contemporaries. It may have resulted from a confluence of external influences, some of which just mentioned above, but the type of unsparing geometrically based abstraction that so deeply characterizes his method mode of rendering must have sprung from the artist's deepest personal inclinations, as there is no real comparable rendering in painting of the time in neither the Netherlands nor the rest of Europe.

The abstract quality of Vermeer's painting may be so appreciated today not only because it is consistent with contemporary taste, but because, perhaps, abstraction reveals something of the mechanics of vision and renders assimilation more efficient, and therefore more pleasurable. Just as the brain searches for constancies and essentials, so does the artist. In fact, a growing number of perceptual scientists hold that aesthetics are neurobiologically based and that the artistic process shares vital similarities with physiological processes. Neuroaesthetics is a term that has been coined to refer to the project of studying art using the methods of neuroscience.


The first academy of art was founded was founded in Florence on 13th January 1563 by Cosimo I de Medici at the suggestion of Giorgio Vasari, (1511–1574) named as Accademia delle Arti e del Disegno (Academy and Company of the Arts of Drawing). . Another academy, the Accademia di San Luca (named after the patron saint of painters, Saint Luke), was founded in 1577 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 (1571–1610) 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 Accademy of Painting and Sculpture founded in France in 1648. The French Academy very probably adopted the term 'arti del disegno,' which is 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 known, however, either where or with whom he studied. In this period there are no records that testify to 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 (1614–1670) and Jan-Erasmus Quellinus (1634–1715), 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 (1622–1654), considered Rembrandt's (1606–1669) 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 two years before they were allowed to accept apprentices. Leonard Bramer (1596–1674), 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.

Accelerated Perspective

Carlo CrivelliThe Annunciation, with Saint Emidius
Carlo Crivelli
Egg and oil on canvas
207 x 146.7 cm.
National Gallery, London

Accelerated perspective is an intentional exaggeration of perspective often in a stage set to permit a shallower than appears actual stage depth. Accelerated perspective was developed in stage scenery in sixteenth-century theater productions. It shows objects as if they were farther away than they really are by diminishing their size or by elevating the visual horizon so that the stage appears is sloped upwards to accelerate effects of perspective diminution.

The term is also used to describe a non-mathematically derived perspective that creates an exaggerated sense of spatial depth, drawing the spectator violently in the space of the painting.

Accession Number

A control number unique to an object used to identify it among the other objects in that collection. It is part of the numbering system encompassing the permanent collection of an individual or an institution and reflects the transaction making an object a part of that collection. An accession number is assigned based on the order in which it was acquired, not on its kind, and typically consists of the year of accession and the serial number within that year.

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 phenomenon 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 (1404–1472) and Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). The landscape in the background of da Vinci's portrait of Ginevra de Benci provides an early example of aerial perspective.

Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678), 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 (1606–1669) had applied Van Hoogstraten'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 colors 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 sensorial-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste. More broadly, scholars in the field define aesthetics 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 eighteenth 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 eighteenth-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 eighteenth-century theory of taste held the judgment of beauty to be immediate."5


When used in relation to an artwork, it means that artwork was modeled on the work of another artist. It may be either nearly identical to the other's work or differ to some degree from it.


In design, to align is to line up type and other graphic elements on the same vertical, horizontal, or diagonal line. Alignment is the positioning of the characters in a line of type in exact juxtaposition with each other and with accompanying lines.

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 the traditional method that required a methodical building-up of the image in 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 1577) was, as least as far as technique is concerned, designed to combat the "abhorrent" practices followed by Caravaggio (1571–1610) and the Bamboccianti of painting low-life subjects done in the direct alla prima mode.

Young Girl Reading, FragonardYoung Girl Reading
Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Oil on canvas, 81.1 x 64.8 cm.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Some artists of Vermeer's time practiced alla prima painting. The direct method was just the same deprecated by Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711), 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 theoretician, 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 (1627–1678) 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 (1599–1660). In the Rococo era, connoisseurs appreciated bold alla prima painting, as exemplified in the works of artists such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), Francesco Guardi (1712–1793) and Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788). Both Frans Hals (c. 1582–1666) and Rembrandt (1606–1669) 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 (1580/8–1632), and Jan van Goyen (1596–1656), who were exceptionally successful in attaining high artistic standing in little time. While the paintings of these two artists were not expensive, they still commanded relatively high prices proportionate to their scant production costs. Van Goyen is known 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" and "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 for 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.

All-Over Painting

A painting surface which is treated as a continuous and indivisible surface, paint applied so that every portion receives equal attention. The first painter to use the described method was Jackson Pollock (1912–-1956), an Abstract Expressionist who, by distributing paint in a significantly uniform way, dripping and spattering it onto canvas spread on his floor, abandoned traditional means of composition. Contrary to this technique, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century paintings were worked up using sequential layers and in a largely piecemeal fashion.


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, love or personifying other abstract concepts, such as 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 Piles (1635–1709), 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 used 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 preferred...to 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 was kept in the artist's studio until his death and that his wife afterward went to great lengths to save it from her creditors.


An altarpiece is an artwork such as a painting, sculpture or relief representing a religious subject made for placing behind the altar of a Christian church. Though most commonly used for a single work of art such as a painting or sculpture, or a set of them, the word can also be used of the whole ensemble behind an altar, otherwise known as a reredos, including what is often an elaborate frame for the central image or images. Altarpieces were one of the most important products of Christian art especially from the late Middle Ages to the era of the Counter-Reformation.

Large number of altarpieces are now removed from their church settings, and often their elaborate sculpted frameworks, and displayed as more simply framed paintings in museums and other places.


A Dutch term used to describe a style of an older artist who no longer conforms to any current or prevailing style. Such a style is often seen as visionary, for exampl,e the late style of Rembrandt (1606–1669) or Titian (c. 1488/1490–1576), or Beethoven's late string quartets.


See also, dilettante.

An amateur (French from Classical Latin amator, lover from past participle of amare, to love) who engages in an art, science, study, or athletic activity as a pastime rather than as a profession, who generally is lacking the skill of a professional, as in an art.

Ambient Light

Ambient light means the light that is already present in a scene before any additional lighting is added. It usually refers to natural light, either outdoors or coming through windows etc. It can also mean artificial lights such as normal room lights.

In the visual arts it is a term also used to describe general, even illumination of a scene from no apparent direction, as opposed to directional or localized lighting.


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 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 (1617–1681), Nicolaes Maes (1634–1693), Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667) and Pieter de Hooch (1629–1684) (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 of 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 uncertainty 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, 1998) 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 to 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 came 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 the illusionist image and the means by which the image is realized. Looking at Vermeer's The 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.

Anamorphic Art

Anamorphic works of art are a distorted or monstrous projection or representation of an image on a plane or curved surface, which, when viewed from a certain point, or as reflected from a curved mirror or through a polyhedron, appears regular and in proportion; a deformation of an image.

In one common form of anamorphosis—usually termed "oblique"—the unconventionality arises from the fact that the image must be viewed from a position that is very far from the usual in-front and straight-ahead position from which we normally expect images to be looked at.

In another common form—sometimes termed "catoptric"—the image must be seen reflected in a distorting mirror (typical shapes being cylindrical, conical and pyramidal). Leonardo's Eye (Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) is the earliest known definitive example of perspective anamorphosis in modern times. The prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux may also use this technique because the oblique angles of the cave would otherwise result in distorted figures from a viewer's perspective.

Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497 –1543) is well known for incorporating an oblique anamorphic transformation into his painting The Ambassadors. In this artwork, a distorted shape lies diagonally across the bottom of the frame. Viewing this from an acute angle transforms it into the plastic image of a human skull, a symbolic memento mori. During the seventeenth century, Baroque trompe l'oeil murals often used anamorphism to combine actual architectural elements with illusory painted elements. When a visitor views the artwork from a specific location, the architecture blends with the decorative painting. The dome and vault of the Church of St. Ignazio in Rome, painted by Andrea Pozzo (1642–1709), represented the pinnacle of illusion. Due to neighboring monks complaining about blocked light, Pozzo was commissioned to paint the ceiling to look like the inside of a dome, instead of building a real dome. As the ceiling is flat, there is only one spot where the illusion is perfect and the dome appears undistorted.

According to Philip Steadman, "the landscapes on the lids of Vermeer's A Lady Standing at a Virginal and A Lady Seated at a Virginal appear quite normal as regards their perspective geometry. In truth, they are most unusual. We see the lids in both instances at very shallow angles. If we reconstruct what the two landscapes would look like when seen frontally, we find that the scenes become excessively stretched out. These are anamorphic landscapes that only look realistic when seen very obliquely." Steadman believes that "the explanation for these anamorphoses might be that Vermeer traced the outlines of the virginals in both cases, or studied their camera images, and found that the appearance of the actual painted decoration on the lid—in reality perhaps unlike either of the landscapes—was quite disturbingly foreshortened and distorted. Therefore, he decided to fill in the quadrilateral within the outline of the lid in each case with a composition suited to the surface of his painting, ignoring the steep perspective of the real surface of the instrument itself. We are not visually disturbed by this mild deception-indeed no Vermeer scholar seems ever to have remarked on it. "


Anatomy is the branch of biology concerned with the study of the structure of organisms and their parts. It is an old science, having its beginnings in prehistoric times.

Prior to the Renaissance, Christianity held that the naked human body was inherently evil and so shameful that man was rarely represented in the nude in the visual arts. Therefore, there was little interest or incentive for the artist to understand anatomy. The study of human anatomy was restricted to those who managed the cadavers of condemned criminals, and the goal of dissection was essentially to learn ways to prolong suffering during the execution. Over time, the autopsy began to be utilized to determine the cause of death and by the 1300's it had a role in forensics.

The renaissance preoccupation with the body presented a stark contrast to medieval tradition. Valuing spirit over flesh, medieval artists had worked in an abstract, two-dimensional linear style that deemphasized corporeality. Unsatisfied by this approach, fifteenth-century artists emulated the body-conscious quality of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, drawing inspiration from the prevalent depiction of nudity and the use of drapery as a means of articulating the body, simultaneously revealing and concealing the torso and limbs. According to classical authors such as Pliny (AD 23–79) and Vitruvius (born c. 80–70 B.C., died after c. 15 B.C.), the ideal beauty of ancient art was achieved by adapting natural forms to a perfected system of mathematical ratios. Known as the classical canon of proportion, this system became a subject of tremendous fascination to Renaissance artists who endeavored to unlock its secrets through analysis of ancient texts and surviving works of art.

With the revival of the humanistic values of classical antiquity in the Renaissance, artists desired to portray man in a more positive light and in doing so needed to understand the human form completely—it was also held that if the artist could draw the human figure correctly, he could draw anything. As European artists turned towards more lifelike portrayals of the human body, they sought an understanding not only of the surface of the body but how the muscles and bones worked together. Artists and anatomists worked together to investigate the body through dissection and produced images of the body that combined medical knowledge and an artistic vision of humanity's place in the world.

The relationship between artists and anatomists was reciprocally advantageous. Artists like Michelangelo (1475–1564) and Leonardo Da Vinci (1452–1519) observed physicians at work to learn the layers of muscle and bone structures that formed certain parts of the body. In turn, physicians contracted artists to draw illustrations for the high volume of texts coming out in the field of anatomy. Some artists even forged partnerships with specific physicians. Titian (c. 1488/1490–1576) and Andreas Vesalius are perhaps the best-known examples, in which the physicians would allow the artists to assist in dissections (highly restricted at the time) in exchange for anatomical drawings and illustrations. Nonetheless, opportunities for direct anatomical dissection were very restricted during the Renaissance. Giorgio Vasari's (1511–1574) Lives of the Artists states that the great Florentine sculptor, painter and printmaker Antonio Pollaiuolo (c. 1432–1498) was the "first master to skin many human bodies in order to investigate the muscles and understand the nude in a more modern way." Most artists limited their investigations to the surface of the body and observed live, nude subjects.

Academies of art established across Europe from the 1600s had anatomy on the curriculum well into the 1900s. Specialist professors of anatomy were normally appointed from the medical world to demonstrate to students. If no bodies were available for dissection, pictures and three-dimensional wax models were used by medical and art students alike. These models were prized as much for their artistic value as for their anatomical value.

After the law prohibiting the dissection of dead bodies in the Netherlands was rescinded, among those most interested were painters. At first, difficulties were placed in their way, and even at Leiden, where there was a "dissecting-place" as early as 1592, the painters complained in 1641 that they had no means of pursuing this study. But, not long after, anatomical schools were established at Leiden, Amsterdam and Delft, on the plan of the famous Theatrum Anatomicum at Leiden, where artists might occasionally look on at a dissection and draw from the human skeleton. Those who could not avail themselves of this opportunity made use of the Anatomy of Meester Heynderick and Meester Cornelis van Haerlem, which contained écorchés from plaster figures for lack of others," as to acquire some knowledge of the nude. Anatomy books were widely available. Jacob van der Gracht's Anatomy of the Outer Parts of the Human Body (1634) was also in use, and the works of Vezalius, Cabrolius and others. At a later date Godfried Bidloo's Anatomia humani corporis, with illustrations by Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711), was most in demand.

In Vermeer's earliest work, the Diana and her Companions, which was presumably executed soon after he terminated his apprenticeship, the drawing of anatomy and drapery is noticeably unsophisticated. Furthermore, there is no evidence of foreshortening to speak of, another fact which would be in conflict with the assumption that he had trained with a history painter. On the other hand, in the following work, Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, the young artist produced one of the most eloquent examples of foreshortening of his career, the head of the seated Mary who lifts her head upwards to hear Christ's words. With respect to the Diana, the drawing in this work has improved considerably, perhaps too much if we remember that some art historians hold that the two works were painted within the span of only a year or two. In later years of his career, Vermeer more than occasionally disregarded anatomical correctness altogether, or, as Philip Hale, an accomplished painter and author of the first American monograph on Vermeer, seems to think, was unable to achieve it.

The bulbous hand of the seated artist in The Art of Painting is one of the most noted anatomical distortions in the artist's oeuvre. Lawrence Gowing, like Hale himself a painter, whose highly regarded assessment of Vermeer's drawing is quoted below, excused the artist for this and claimed that it was obtained deliberately, in obedience to "optical authenticity." But in other pictures, it is more difficult to accept Gowing's point of view. For example, the fingers and wrists of the figure of Allegory of Faith are so poorly defined that they look more like rubber gloves filled with water than real hands. The extended arm and claw-like hand of the seated figure in the Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid can be pardoned only because it was painted by Vermeer, and the arms and fingers of A Lady Seated at a Virginal are so crudely rendered that one prominent Dutch art historian appointed them "pig trotters," despite Gowing's interpretation quoted at length below.

Perhaps the plainest sign of peculiarity is the frequently almost complete absence in the darker passages of [Vermeer's late] pictures of that linear realization which we call drawing. Many who have glanced at the hands which rest on the keyboards of the virginal in the pictures in the National Gallery may have passed on thinking that they have caught the master in a weaker moment. But these details are quite characteristic; Vermeer's shadow does not only obscure line, it interrupts and denies it. Where fingers turn away from the light or an eye casts its hemispherical shadow Vermeer refuses, as it were, to admit to us that he knows what the darkened forms are, how they are divided, where lie their bounding lines. In the servant in the Dublin picture, it is the mouth which is submerged, in her mistress the eye as well, in the lady seated at the virginal the whole form of finger and hand, a disappearance which becomes very clear when we turn even to a picture as close to Vermeer's influence as Gabriel Metsu's The Music Lesson which often hangs beside it. If we compare the arm of the letter writer resting on the table, with a similar detail Gabriel Metsu's (1629–1667) in the conventional vocabulary in such a picture as Gerrit ter Borch's (1617–1681) Woman Reading a Letter at Buckingham Palace, the gulf is plain. In Vermeer, we have to deal with something quite outside the painterly fullness of tone which was so often the burden of pictorial evolution between Masaccio (1401–1428) and Rembrandt (1606–1669). His is an almost solitary indifference to the whole linear convention and its historic function of describing, enclosing, embracing the form it limits, a seemingly involuntary rejection of the way in which the intelligence of painters has operated from the earliest times to our own day. Even now, when the photographer has taught us to recognize visual as against imagined continuity, and in doing so no doubt blunted our appreciation of Vermeer's strangeness, the feat remains as exceptional as it is apparently perverse, and to a degree which may not be easy for those unconcerned with the technical side of a painter's business to measure. However firm the contour in these pictures, line as a vessel of understanding has been abandoned and with it the traditional apparatus of draftsmanship. In its place, apparently effortlessly, automatically, tone bears the whole weight of formal explanation.

It is instructive to quote Hale on the subject of the greater or lesser degree of anatomical understanding in the paintings of Vermeer (Philip L. Hale, Vermeer. Boston: Small, Maynard, 1937, 73–74).

Evaluation of Vermeer's drawing is difficult because while, in one sense of the word, he was an excellent draughtsman, there
is another viewpoint from which his drawing was not remarkable. He did not draw structurally at all. While many of the Netherlands painters knew their anatomy and constructed their figures understandingly, it is questionable if Vermeer really understood the construction of the arm, the wrist, the hand, the knee, the foot. By sheer keenness of perception he sometimes rendered wonderfully well the general shape and size of a hand; this by indication of the way the light slid over it. He often drew heads well, as if they were still life. His accessories were delineated about as adequately as by anyone. There is occasionally a little faltering in getting one side of a jug even with the other side, but, practically speaking, Vermeer, working always from the appearance of things, delineated still life—chairs, crumpled rugs and his famous lion's heads—quite adequately.

In respect both of the excellences and the limitations of his draughtsmanship Vermeer was decidedly a painter of old Holland. It is fashionable to speak of Rembrandt (1606–1669) and his contemporaries as impeccable draughtsmen; Fromentin and Kenyon Cox, the latter an accomplished draughtsman himself, have written to that effect. Yet, as must appear to anyone looking sympathetically through portfolios of old drawings, a wild scribble by Cellini, or by almost any one of the baroque imitators of Michelangelo, contains more adequate suggestion of construction than can be noted in any Netherlands work. This is not to say that the baroque scribbles are altogether good; one indicates merely that their makers knew something of anatomical structure, of attachments and flexions of muscles. They got at the drawing of an arm or of a torso from intimate perception of its construction, whereas the men of Holland sought to render it as it looked by studying its proportions and the effect of light and shade upon it. The latter got what they were after, generally, but their drawing was not necessarily constructive.

Antique (Italian: All'antica)

from the National Gallery website:
An Italian term meaning "in the manner of the ancients'" used for works of art, architecture and literature that sought to revive the style and principles of the classical past, especially those of Ancient Rome. The origins of this style can be seen as early as the fourteenth century, but it became especially widespread in the fifteenth century. In architecture, the style is distinguished by its use of antique ornament, particularly the classical orders, and symmetry. It was based upon the study of antique buildings and upon the only surviving Ancient Roman architectural manual, 'On Architecture' by Vitruvius. Prominent early examples include the buildings of Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446), including the Pazzi Chapel and the Loggia degli Innocenti.

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 changes 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 (1629–1667) .


Antiquity is a broadly applied term that 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.


As John Walsh pointed out (Jan Steen: The Drawing Lesson, 1996) most twentieth-century ideas of art education are based on the modern assumptions that the painter's job is to communicate his subjective states of mind rather than to transmit traditional values, or that the artist ought to be independent, choosing a financially risky life on the fringe of society if necessary. These ideas would have seemed strange ideas to Vermeer and his contemporaries because "in our time painting has become primarily an intellectual or spiritual activity that is no longer constrained by the labor and discipline of imitating nature or expected to embody learning. Painting in the seventeenth century, in contrast, was practiced entirely within the social and economic boundaries of the system that supported it."

There seems to have been no rigid limitation on the time apprentices spent in the shop. Cennino Cennini recommended at least six years. The relationship between master and apprentices was very flexible, geared to the economics of the art market. Once the apprentice had become a master he could set up a shop for himself and take on his own apprentice or apprentices. The number of apprentices in a master's studio appears to have been directly related to his popularity, although guilds sometimes limited the number of apprentices he might hold.

The system of apprenticeship first developed in the later Middle Ages and came to be supervised by craft guilds and town governments. A master craftsman was entitled to employ young people as an inexpensive form of labor in exchange for providing food, lodging and formal training in the craft. Most apprentices were males, but female apprentices were found in crafts such as seamstress, tailor, cordwainer, baker and stationer. Apprentices usually began at ten to fifteen years of age, and would live in the master craftsman's household. Most apprentices aspired to become master craftsmen themselves on completion of their contract, but some would spend time as a journeyman and a significant proportion would never acquire their own workshop.

In the Netherlands, boys customarily began their apprenticeship at the age of ten or twelve through the signing of a detailed contract by the father of the apprentice, who paid specified fees to the master to whose studio the boy was to be attached. Although some female Dutch painters are known, they received training from their fathers or husbands. Training was sometimes harsh: the adolescent apprentice learned his craft, literally, from the ground up. He swept floors, ran errands and cleaned brushes each evening. He was obliged to keep regular hours, which made for a long day, dawn to dusk at a minimum.iv He learned how to grind paint, purify drying oils, handle dangerous substances, stretch canvases and make panels because most of the artist's material had to be produced by the painter himself. This made painting more time-consuming and physically taxing than it is today. Paint, for example, was not sold in convenient off-the-shelf, ready-to-use tubes. Each morning, the artist had to hand grind paints necessary for the day's work and no more. This practice, however, allowed him to create the optimum texture and viscosity for each paint and avoid wasting precious raw materials. Today, instead, artists use paints manufactured by specialized firms who strive for a uniform behavior across all paints. Among the other chores, during the Renaissance apprentices posed for both male and female figures; the use of women models was extremely rare and probably limited to the master's own wife or daughters.

The apprentice sat for long hours drawing, and only once he had proved his mettle was he allowed to take a brush in hand other than to clean it. And even then, it was probably to fill in anonymous background foliage, secondary draperies of his master's current labor or to make a copy of another master's work. On the other hand, the master was obligated by contract to "provide instruction, to the best of his ability and as he himself practices it, in the art of painting and all that goes with it," or words to that effect, "without concealing anything" is sometimes added. It was a recognized custom for the pupil's work to be sold as the master's. Sometimes the master signed his pupil's work with his own name. Even though the initial years of training taxed the apprentice's physical and creative energies, he acquired an intimate, hands-on knowledge of his craft with the additional advantage of being exposed to a solid business model.

Training with a recognized master was expensive. On average, the family of a young apprentice who continued to live with his parents paid between twenty and fifty guilders per year. Without board or lodging, the apprentice could disburse fifty to one hundred guilders in order to study with a famous artist such as Rembrandt or Gerrit Dou (1613–1675), although highly productive pupils might be exempted from paying fees. Some even received wages. If we consider that school education in the Netherlands generally cost two to six guilders a year and that apprenticeship generally lasted between four and six years, the financial burden of educating a young artist was considerable. The parents had to do without their son's potential earnings because everything he made was the property of his master. Evidently, the allure of social advancement and future earnings must have been significant for many families.

Architectural Painting

Architectural painting is a form of genre painting where the predominant focus lies on architecture, both outdoors views and interiors. While architecture was present in many of the earliest paintings and illuminations, it was mainly used as background or to provide rhythm to a painting. In the Renaissance, architecture was used to emphasize perspective and create a sense of depth, like in Masaccio's (1401–1428) Holy Trinity from the 1420s.

In Western art, architectural painting as an independent genre developed in the sixteenth century in Flanders and the Netherlands, and reached its peak in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Dutch painting. Later, it developed into a tool for Romantic paintings, with, a for example, views of ruins becoming very popular. Closely related genres are architectural fantasies and trompe-l'œils, especially illusionistic ceiling painting, and cityscapes.

In the seventeenth century, architectural painting became one of the leading genres in the Dutch Golden Age, together with portrait painting, Pieter Jansz. Saendredam (1597–1665), Gerard Houckgeest (1600–1661), Dirck van Delen (1605–1671), Hendrick Cornelisz. van Vliet (1612–1675, Emanuel de Witte (1617–1692), Jan van der Heyden (1637–1712), Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (1638–1698) and Caspar van Wittel (1652 or 1653–1736).

During the first years of the 1650s, a small group of Delft church painters began to emphasize visual experience over fantasy. In a few years, they brought the art of church painting to its apogee. Although Saenredam had no pupils or close followers, some art historians believe his works may have been a common source of inspiration for Houckgeest and De Witte, Delft's most accomplished practitioners of the specialization. Their close-up portrayals of Delft's two venerable churches, the Nieuwe and Oude Kerk, are flooded with a cool, crystal clear daylight suggested by delicately modeled patches of diaphanous grays. Huge columns are placed off-center in the very forefront of the painting, partially obscuring the viewer's access to the rest of the church. The spectator is no longer overwhelmed by the vacuous space of the earlier church scenes but feels as if he were able to move comfortably in and around these monumental man-made constructions, the vaunt of Delft's citizenry.

For the first time, figures, which had been previously employed as decorative filler (staffage), become an integral part of the composition. The Dutch men, women and children who inhabit the churches appear dignified and self-possessed, not stylized dolls. The reduced dimensions of the Delft church views—the architectural paintings of the nearby Hague were generally much larger to suit the exigencies of the princely patronage—may have been determined by the desire to create more intimate scenery, by specific demands of the art-buying public in Delft or by both.

De Witte and Houckgeest revolutionized the spatial construction of their church interiors by employing two-vanishing points which form a corner at the nearest foreground column, from which the perspectival orthogonals recede to both sides of the composition. Both lateral vanishing points are located outside the composition. This innovation creates a natural, and intriguing spatial recession that appears to expand "behind" the picture frame creating the sense of spatial breadth as well as spatial depth. By lowering the height of the vanishing point, which had been placed higher in earlier church paintings in order to create a wide panoramic view of the scene, the viewer of De Witte's and Houckgeest's works feel as if he is located "in" the picture, with his feet firmly on the church's pavement rather than suspended at an undetermined height somewhere above the ground.

In various Delft church interiors, De Witte, Houckgeest and Van Vliet, the latter a Delft painter of minor talent, placed hanging curtains, sometimes brilliantly colored, to the side of the composition in order to increase the sense of spatial illusion. Sometimes the curtain's hanging rod is also represented creating the illusion that the curtain does not belong to the space of the church itself, but is located in front of the painting, imitating curtains that were hung over precious paintings to prevent them from collecting dust. The luxuriously colored green curtain which appears on the right-hand side of Vermeer's Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window was almost certainly inspired by the church painter's trompe-l'œil motif. The art historian Sergiusz Michalski traced this motif to Rembrandt (1606 –1669), who had used it occasionally in representations of mythological or biblical scenes.

Due to the unquestionable naturalness of their works, most critics agree that De Witte and Houckgeest worked from life, although most likely in the form of drawing. Painters of the time rarely set up their easels to paint in oils outdoors while records of painters drawing outdoors are relatively abundant. The exact sequence of church paintings created by Houckgeest and De Witte in the crucial first years of 1650–1654 is still open to argument. The so-called "Delft-type" of church interior painting had a significant impact on the development of the artistic types in the Gouden Eeuw, the Golden Age of Dutch painting.

Vermeer painted two architectural landscapes which have survived, or more precisely, one cityscape, The View of Delft and one cityscape, The Little Street. A surviving document informs us another cityscape existed.

The View of Delft is Vermeer's largest and most time-consuming work of his oeuvre, except perhaps, the elaborate Art of Painting. Since nothing has come down to us concerning the artist's intentions in regards to this—or for that matter, any other work—art historians have felt obliged to somehow fill the gap. Walter Liedtke believes that the view could have been commissioned by Vermeer's patron, Pieter van Ruijven who had collected more than half of the artist's artistic production including The View of Delft. Furthermore, the art historian point out that Van Ruijven's collection had two ( already mentioned) small-scale cityscapes as well as three architectural paintings by Emanuel de Witte, including a patriotic view of William the Silent's tomb in the Nieuwe Kerk which Vermeer spectacularly highlighted in his View of Delft. Van Ruijven would have also been aware of the historically proclaimed relation between an artist's reputation and the fame bestowed on his city. Dutch citizens strongly identified not only with their republic but with their city of birth as well. Their civic pride is testified by innumerable Dutch cityscapes many of which are so similar to one another that they are virtually indistinguishable except for a few characteristic church towers or large civic buildings.

Curiously, even the earliest reference to The Little Street describes it as a "house" rather than a "street." As in few other Dutch townscapes, the intimacy of domestic life prevails over mere architectural features. In those times, Vermeer's house was not the kind of luxurious townhouse that was going up on the fashionable Oude Delft but a modest house from a distant past which had somehow resisted the misfortunes of the city, old but not dilapidated. To any seventeenth-century Dutchman who gazed upon the Little Street, the now-unfamiliar term, schilderachtig, would have come to mind. Schilderachtig, which means "picture worthy" or "worthy of painting" corresponds fairly well to today's "picturesque." However, in the seventeenth century, Italian concepts of art, one of which was that the worth of a painting was indivisible from the value of its subject, continued to weigh heavily upon European painting. Accordingly, an old woman, a dilapidated farmhouse, a village peasant scene or Vermeer's humble house would have drawn sneers since only grand Biblical or historical narratives were truly worthy of great art.


According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word "art" came into use as an English word in the thirteenth century, having been borrowed from the Old French in the tenth century which meant "skill as a result of learning or practice." However, in its earlier usage, it can be traced further back because the word 'Art' actually originated from the Latin word 'artem' (ars) which means "work of art, practical skill, a business or a craft." The Greek term for art did not specifically denote the "fine arts" in the modern sense but was applied to all kinds of human activities that 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.

Art Criticism

from Wikipedia:

Art criticism is the discussion or evaluation of visual art. Art critics usually criticize art in the context of aesthetics or the theory of beauty. A goal of art criticism is the pursuit of a rational basis for art appreciation but it is questionable whether such criticism can transcend prevailing socio-political circumstances.

The variety of artistic movements has resulted in a division of art criticism into different disciplines which may each use different criteria for their judgments. The most common division in the field of criticism is between historical criticism and evaluation, a form of art history, and contemporary criticism of work by living artists.

Despite perceptions that art criticism is a much lower risk activity than making art, opinions of current art are always liable to drastic corrections over time. Critics of the past are often ridiculed for either favoring artists now derided (like the academic painters of the late nineteenth century) or dismissing artists now venerated (like the early work of the Impressionists). Some art movements themselves were named disparagingly by critics, with the name later adopted as a sort of badge of honor by the artists of the style (e.g., Impressionism, Cubism), with the original negative meaning forgotten.

Art Dealer

A visit to the Art Dealer, Frans Francken the YoungerA Visit to the Art Dealer
Frans Francken the Younger
Early 1600s
Oil on copper, 29 x 40.5 cm.
Hallwyl Museum, Stockholm 

Art has been traded ever since art was made. The Phoenicians were already active traders, and ancient Rome imported large amounts of Greek art. Auctions were held in imperial Rome and art dealers carried on their trade in well-known quarters. The structure of the demand and the social position of the artist in the Middle Ages was such that there was no space for an art trade outside relics and luxury items such as ivory combs and chessboards.

New forms of art trade arose only at the end of the Middle Ages owing to social changes and an increasing demand for art. The growing bourgeoisie class began to buy and collect art by the end of the sixteenth century joining the church and the aristocracy, although they were unable to finance major works of art as the patrons had done before. In addition to religious painting, portraiture and profane art, often more marketable than religious art, created a new market, easier to appreciate. The creative status of the visual artist began to supplant the role of the painter as a mere workman although it did not disappear entirely. These accumulated factors facilitated the position of an intermediary between artist and buyer and spawned new forms of art trade in the works of living artists.

The birthplace of the art trade as we know it today was in the seventeenth-century Netherlands. While commissions by nobility and the church stagnated, members of the increasingly wealthy bourgeoisie were able to afford oil paintings for the first time. Following the demands of the new market, the motifs and techniques changed, lowering costs and producing new motifs. Lofty history paintings and mythological scenes were replaced by more down- to-earth still lifes, landscapes and genre images. Prices ranged from a few guilders to vast sums. The explosive rise of art production in the Netherlands made it the leader of European art trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The first art dealers often were the painters themselves—almost every one of them in fact—supplementing the income of their own works with the sales of artworks of their colleagues. Even Rembrandt (1606–1669) and Vermeer acted as dealers. Apart from artists, book traders, printers and general merchants traded with art. Despite the fact that guild tried to protect local production by prohibiting the sale of artworks from non-member paintings, there were many ways to get around this limitation, such as public raffles. Interested clients visited the dealer's studio. Some paintings were commissioned but the overwhelming of paintings were produced in response to market demand and sold on spec. Professional art dealers, including Vermeer's father, Reynier Vermeer, and Abraham de Cooge, another dealer located in Delft, dealt not only in their hometown but the latter, presumably as far away as Antwerp and Amsterdam. The dealer had an advantage over the artist/dealer in that he could furnish a range of styles and subject matter much wider than what was available at an individual artist's workshop. He could also sell the work of artists who did bot belong to the Guild of Saint Luke.

A successful art dealer had to know which paintings were the most desired during a certain period. If he were also an artist he could either paint such works himself or arranged for them to be copied in his studio. As there existed no copyright protection for creative artworks, particularly salable paintings and subjects were copied time and time again by an army of young painters, who worked from dawn to dusk. In Antwerp, one of the most important art markets in Europe, paintings were made to order in great quantities, and sometimes pictures were sold by weight.

Today, many art dealers own their own art galleries in order to exhibit and sell art in a setting that encourages comparison and open discussion, but the reputation of the category has been and remains equivocal. The role of an art dealer has been said to be a mix of nursemaid, fixer, connoisseur and capitalist. Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863), called them "financiers du mystère." Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) said they were "lice on the backs of the artists."

It is known that just like many other Dutch painters Vermeer dealt in the works of his colleagues. In a probate inventory of his living quarters, various paintings by his colleagues are listed, including those of Carel Fabritius (1622–1654). In his time Hendrick Gerritsz van Uylenburgh (c. 1587–1661) was an influential art dealer who helped launch the careers of Rembrandt and other painters. In 1671, Van Uylenburgh organized an auction of Gerrit Reynst's art collection and offered thirteen paintings and some sculptures from among those which had not sold at the auction to Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg. However, Frederick accused them of being counterfeits and sent them back. Van Uylenburg then organized a counter-assessment, asking a total of 35 painters to pronounce on their authenticity, including Jan Lievens (1607–1674), Melchior d'Hondecoeter (c. 1636–1695), Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621–1674), Barend Graat (1628–1709) and Vermeer. In 1675, Van Uylenburgh had financial problems, as a result of the war with France, falling art prices, and possibly due to the damage to his reputation from the Brandenburg affair. His business went bankrupt and he moved to London, where Peter Lely (1618–1680) exerted his influence at court and secured him the post of Surveyor of the King's Pictures. In general, art dealers had to become guild members to work legally.

Art Exhibition

See exhibition/art exhibition.

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 art writers of the second half of the nineteenth 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 twentieth century, the notion has been sharply critiqued by Walter Benjamin, among others.

As the nineteenth 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 what was perceived as the tyranny of meaning and purpose. It was also a ploy, another deliberate affront to a 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-nineteenth 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—color, 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's 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 the 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 avant-garde contemporary painting. Wilhelm Valentiner, an 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 does not 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 Vermeer's extraordinary capacity of pictorial organization—Gowing was a painter himself—he held that when the artist's perfect style is understood, his paintings "yield their strangely emotional content."

Art Historian

Art historians study objects in their historical and cultural context and ask questions such as: Who made them? What subject is shown? What are they made of? When were they made? How were they used? Who used them? How do they compare to similar objects or other representations of the same subject? But perhaps the most important question he asks is: why does this object (be it a painting, sculpture, building, or something else) look the way it does? Art historians often pursue careers as curators, historic preservationists and archivists at the many museums and galleries across the country and internationally. Others, use art history to hone their intellectual abilities in art for careers in media, advertising, publishing, fashion or design.

A bachelor's degree is sufficient for many entry-level positions, but for advancement in an area of specialization an advanced degree may be required. Regardless of career choices, art historians must learn to seek out alternative perspectives and compare contrasting interpretations, convey complex information and in some cases, advocacy. Cultural awareness, flexibility and openness to new ideas are necessary. Careers in museums, art galleries and auction houses as curators or managers in conserving, valuing or auctioning works of art, antiques and other collectibles are among the most commonly pursued. Other careers include arts administrator, archivist, museum education officer, picture editor or researcher, journalist, teacher or lecturer, exhibition or events organizer and antique dealer.

The earliest surviving writing on art that can be classified as art history are the passages in Pliny the Elder's Natural History (c. A.D. 77–79), concerning the development of Greek sculpture and painting. Some of the most import nat art historians that followed are Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), Heinrich Wölfflin (1864–1945), Erwin Panofsky (1892–1968) and Aby Warburg (1866–1929). An exhaustive list of art historians may be found at Dictionary of Art Historians.

Art History

from Wikipedia:

Art history is the study of objects of art in their historical and stylistic contexts, i.e. genre, design, format and style. This includes the "major" arts of painting, sculpture and architecture as well as the "minor" arts of ceramics, furniture and other decorative objects. Much emphasis is given to the original context of their making and reception, as well as their subsequent circulation, collection, conservation and display.

As a term, art history (its product being the history of art) encompasses several methods of studying the visual arts; in common usage referring to works of art and architecture. Aspects of the discipline overlap. As the art historian Ernst Gombrich once observed, "the field of art history [is] much like Caesar's Gaul, divided in three parts inhabited by three different, though not necessarily hostile tribes: the connoisseurs, the critics, and the academic art historians."

As a discipline, art history is distinguished from art criticism, which is concerned with establishing a relative artistic value upon individual works with respect to others of comparable style, or sanctioning an entire style or movement; and art theory or "philosophy of art," which is concerned with the fundamental nature of art. One branch of this area of study is aesthetics, which includes investigating the enigma of the sublime and determining the essence of beauty. Technically, art history is not these things, because the art historian uses historical method to answer the questions: How did the artist come to create the work?, Who were the patrons?, Who were his or her teachers?, Who was the audience?, Who were his or her disciples?, What historical forces shaped the artist's oeuvre, and how did he or she and the creation, in turn, affect the course of artistic, political and social events? It is, however, questionable whether many questions of this kind can be answered satisfactorily without also considering basic questions about the nature of art. Unfortunatel, the current disciplinary gap between art history and the philosophy of art (aesthetics) often hinders this inquiry.

The historical backbone of the discipline is a celebratory chronology of beautiful creations commissioned by public or religious bodies or wealthy individuals in western Europe. Such a "canon" remains prominent, as indicated by the selection of objects present in art history textbooks. Nonetheless, since the twentieth century, there has been an effort to redefine the discipline to be more inclusive of non-Western art, art made by women, and vernacular creativity.

Art Lover

See Liefhebbers van de Schilderkonst

Art Market

The art market is a physical or figurative venue in which art is bought and sold.

Until the end of the Middle Ages, art transactions took place outside what is now understood as an art market. Most transactions involved the artist, or artisan, and a patron, who was a private individual but more often the Roman Catholic Church. Being site-specific in form and meaning —as with large-scale frescoes and altarpieces—many artworks could not trade hands easily. In a sense, the owner of the artwork was never the artist himself but the patron with whom the artist drew up a contract in which the subject matter, the number of figures and the prices of the materials, were always determined before the artist set out to work. Nonetheless, an open market of portable commodities, such as ivory comb, chessboards, textiles, curiosities and antiquities began to take shape. Pilgrims often bought relics, but major artworks were not an object of commercialization.

About 1450, Rome began to challenge the supremacy of Florence and Venice as the center of artistic patronage, primarily because of its powerful popes. There was also an astonishing boom in the collecting of antiquities discovered in the city itself. In the art fever that ensued Michelangelo (1475–1564) died leaving real estate valued at over 12,000 florins while just a generation earlier the Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510) had received only 100 florins for an altarpiece, an increase which reflects the unprecedented rise in the status of artists. In the sixteenth century, dealers and agents emerged. Since the seventeenth century, these professional intermediaries have dominated the art market.

Given the importance of the French Academy (Académie Royale de Peintre et de Sculpture founded in Paris in 1648), the art trade in France had to orient itself around the Academy system. Members of the Academy were prohibited to sell their artworks stimulating an independent art trade, with art dealers acting as an intermediary between artist and purchaser. That is why the art trade in France developed earlier as an independent commercial branch and in contrast to other European countries, where for a longer period of time the art trade was handled mostly by the artists themselves. Artistic patronage and collecting in seventeenth-century Rome was spurred by notable commissions by cardinals such as Scipione Borghese, who patronized Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) and was also an avid collector of Classical antiquities and Old Master paintings. Caravaggio (1571–1610) started his career by creating still-life paintings for the open market in the 1590s. By 1635, picture dealers were sufficiently numerous to be worth taxing, and by the 1650s the Neapolitan painter and etcher Salvator Rosa was exhibiting his works for sale in his own studio. By the end of the seventeenth century, a variety of annual sales exhibitions had been established in Rome.

The evolution of the art market as it is conceived today depended on a growing group of collectors, movable works of art and mechanisms for trading artworks: fairs, markets and exhibitions in artists' shops and studios, or via art dealers and auctioneers. Auctions, which were relatively infrequent before the seventeenth century, have become major determinants of art values in today's art market, which has expanded enormously through globalization.

The first great free-market economy for art was born in the Netherlands of the 1600s. The Netherlands was the wealthiest and most urbanized nation in Europe at the time. Its wealth was based largely on textiles and breweries, as well as the domination of the global trade market by the Dutch East India Company. Such economic power produced a significant urban middle class with disposable income to purchase art. As a result of the Protestant Reformation, and the scarcity of liturgical painting in the Protestant Churches, religious patronage was no longer a major source of income for artists, and the House of Orange was a modest patron. Furthermore, since most of the Dutch aristocrats had been Catholic they moved south after the Reformation. However, to some degree, public patronage did exist in the form of militia portraits, battle paintings, cityscapes, maritime paintings made for town halls and other public buildings. Thus without substantial patronage and working on commission, artists sold their paintings on an open market through their studios, in bookstores, fairs and through dealers. Paintings were made and consumed on an unprecedented scale: it has been estimated that between five and ten million works of art had been produced during the century of the Golden Age of Dutch art. Very few of these, perhaps less than 1%, have survived. The average upper-class house in Amsterdam contained 53 paintings, while even the lowest class averaged seven.

The proliferation of the open art market led to the development of four categories of painting, the latter three of which were not formerly practiced as an independent motif: portraiture, genre (scenes of everyday life), landscape and still life. History painting, which had dominated European art production for centuries, was, at least theoretically, the most prized, most expensive, and often largest in scale, often with biblical or allegorical, mythological themes. But without the financial security of commissions, many artists specialized in very specific categories, such as only painting night landscapes or flower still lifes, which meant that artists could hone an individualized style and create numerous paintings in little time. Furthermore, each category of painting was subdivided into even more specific categories. Seventeenth-century Netherlanders had developed a particular passion for depictions of city and countryside, either real or imaginary unfound in other parts of Europe. Landscape painters, for example, produced naturalistic views of the Dutch countryside, cityscapes, winterscapes, imaginary landscape, seascapes, Italianate, nocturnal landscapes and even birds-eye view of the sprawling Amsterdam metropolis. Some artists, such as landscape artists, cultivated an abbreviated style that allowed them to have a high turnover of painting stock. Other artists, such as Gerrit Dou (1613–1675, Frans van Mieris (1635–1681 and Vermeer, catered to the upper end of the market and worked in a painstaking style that required they charge more for their paintings. The vicious market economy and the low profit margin for paintings sent some of the artists to take other jobs or at least, act as art dealers for the work of their colleauges.

The cost of paintings varied greatly in quality and price. A cheap engraving, for example, could be had for about a third of the price of a small fish or flower still life painting—and for about a seventh of the price of a more elaborate, high-finish banketje still life. On the other hand, a cutting-edge fijnschilder (fine painting) work of Dou might trade hands for 1,000 guilders or more, the cost of a small Dutch house. The Italianate landscape painters and the sumptuous still life artists also used the lavishness and exclusivity of their work to market themselves to a wealthier client. While acknowledging the abundance of paintings in the Netherlands, the art historian Mariët Westermann believes that the foreigners' accounts should not be taken literally because laborers and small peasants surely could not afford more than a few mediocre prints, if that.

In any case, just as today, in seventeenth-century Netherlands the most successful artists marketed not only technical skill and creativity, but were able to position themselves on the market most effectively. Thus, the worlds of "art" and the "market" are not as separate as is often believed, but in a constant state of interaction.

Art Museum/Art Collection

Humans have long preserved artifacts of the past. The ancient Greeks coined the term mouseion when they first built a temple to "the Muses," goddesses who protected the arts and sciences. The Greeks filled their temples with both sculptures and scholars. The tradition was copied in the kingly treasure houses that followed—spoils of war were displayed in the halls of royal palaces and the cages of royal zoos.

The precursor of the modern art museum was called cabinet of curiosities (Kunstkabinett or Kunstkammer): a bizarre, encyclopedic assemblies of paintings, sculptures, fine furniture, maps, globes, stuffed animals, mineral specimens, shells and exotic imports, with no real order or organization. The cabinet of curiosities was regarded as a microcosm or theater of the world. Cabinets of curiosities were limited to those who could afford to create and maintain them. Many monarchs, in particular, developed large collections.

An art museum, or art gallery as we also know it today, is a building or space for the exhibition of art, usually visual art. Art museums can be public or private, but what distinguishes a museum is the ownership of a collection. Paintings are the most commonly displayed art objects; however, sculptures, decorative arts, furniture, textiles, costumes, drawings, pastels, watercolors, collages, prints, artist's books, photographs and installation art are also regularly displayed. On the other hand, a "private gallery" refers to an essentially commercial enterprise dedicated to the propagation of new or old artists and the sale of their art. The rooms in museums where art is displayed for the public are often referred to as galleries as well.

The question of the function of the art museum has long been under debate. Some see art museums as elitist institutions, while others see them as institutions with the potential for social education and uplift. Today, art museums are a major business, attracting millions of art lovers and tourists each year. The world's most visited are: National Museum of China (Beijing), Louvre (Paris), Metropolitan Museum of Art (York City), British Museum, (London), National Gallery (London), Vatican Museums (Vatican City), Tate Modern, (London), National Palace Museum (Taipei) and National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), which tally from 7,550,000 to 4,260,000 visitors a year. Many art museums hold temporary art exhibitions, which present artworks by individual artists, groups of artists, collections or specific forms of art. Particularly successful exhibits are often referred to as "blockbusters."

Privately established museums open to the public were first established in the seventeenth century onward, often based around the former cabinet of curiosities type. In the eighteenth century, in Rome there existed a long tradition of private collections that became a sort of "semi-public" museum open to the elite. They were among the premier sights for aristocratic European travelers on the Grand Tour, who went to Rome expressly to visit them. The widespread notion that the first public art museum was the Louvre, which opened in 1793, is generally associated with the values of the French Revolution, but it is not true. In 1734, almost 60 years before the Louvre made its debut in Paris, the Museo Capitolino (Capitoline Museum) opened in Rome. Established under Pope Clement XII, it was the first public art museum of international importance and served as the model for such institutions as we know them today. The British Museum, established in 1753 as one of the earliest national collections open to the public. In the second half of the eighteenth century, many private collections of art were nationalized and opened to the public. Until the age of the public museum and collection, the overwhelming majority or artworks was accessible only to an elite.

Anastasia Filippoupoli (World History Encyclopedia, Era 7: The Age of Revolutions, 1750–1914, 2010)

In the middle of the eighteenth century, the underpinnings of the Enlightenment valued encyclopedic knowledge and the ability of human reason to organize this knowledge according to general principles. Thus, the main purpose of collecting was geared toward systematic classification and exhibition according to scientific guidelines. The accumulation of natural and man-made curiosities gradually shifted to ordered groups of objects. At that point, the definition of the museum became tied to the specific building that housed collections for public view. Private collections, sold or bequeathed to public museums, formed the core of these institutions. Yet what was "public" remained ambivalent, since access was initially intended for respected groups of the upper-middle class and the aristocracy on an intermittent basis. The British Museum in London was the main example of the transitional phase from private to public viewing of collections. The British Museum, which was founded in 1753 by an act of Parliament, was on the threshold of the process of democratization of museums.

The 35 paintings universally accepted by Vermeer are divided between Europe (22) and America (14).. Vermeer's Concert, once housed in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, was stolen on March 18, 1990 and has not been recovered.

Between Amsterdam and The Hague (60 kilometers apart) there are seven Vermeer paintings including some of his finest works. Between New York and Washington (350 kilometers apart) there are 12 paintings.

If you are traveling especially to view one or more paintings by Vermeer, always contact the museum beforehand to be sure the painting(s) you wish to see are on display at the moment. Paintings can be on temporary loan or in restoration. Please check the Essential Vermeer COMPLETE CATALOGUE to find out where each work is presently located.

Click here to see a map of Vermeer's paintings in Europe, and here to view a map of Vermeer paintings in the United States.


from Wikipedia:
An artisan (from Fr.: artisan, Italian: artigiano) is a skilled craft worker who makes or creates things by hand that may be functional or strictly decorative, for exampl,e furniture, decorative arts, sculptures, clothing, jewelery, food items, household items and tools or even mechanisms such as the handmade clockwork movement of a watchmaker. Artisans practice a craft and may through experience and aptitude reach the expressive levels of an artist.


An artist is a person engaged in an activity related to creating art, practicing the arts, or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only. "Artiste" (the French for artist) is a variant used in English only in this context. The Greek word "techně," often translated as "art," implies mastery of any sort of craft. The adjectival Latin form of the word, "technicus," became the source of the English words technique, technology, technical.

Most often, the term describes those who create within a context of the fine arts or "high culture," activities such as drawing, painting, sculpture, acting, dancing, writing, filmmaking, new media, photography and music—people who use imagination, talent, or skill to create works that may be judged to have an aesthetic value. Art historians and critics define artists as those who produce art within a recognized or recognizable discipline. An artist is someone who engages in an activity deemed to be an art. An artist also may be defined unofficially as "a person who expresses him- or herself through a medium." The word is also used in a qualitative sense of, a person creative in, innovative in, or adept at, an artistic practice and is also used in the entertainment business, especially in a business context, for musicians and other performers (less often for actors).

During the Renaissance, the word "artist" as a generic term was not often used: a painter was called a painter, a sculptor and so on. What we call today artists were seen as members of a particular occupation, not as people with a special vision and a calling. They had no special title which implied that, either by vocation or inspiration, they were different from any other group of craftsmen.

"The Biography, Saylor.org website, http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/The-Biography.pdf

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. The first history of art in the post-Classical world, Giorgio Vasari's(1511–1574) 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.

Artistic License

Artistic license, also called poetic license, is a colloquial term used to denote a deliberate distortion of a rule, conventional form or logic made by an artist in order to more effectively an idea. If there were no such thing as artistic license, there would be no such thing as art in as much as the artist would be chained to observable reality or established forms of art.

Artists' Travel in the Low Countries

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, http://www.de-zeventiende-eeuw.nl/index.php/dze/article/view/8236/8626

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 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.


See also, studio and botegga.

Mihály Munkácsy in his atelier Mihály Munkácsy in his atelier

An atelier (French: [atəlje], "workshop" or "studio") is, in English, the private workshop or studio of a professional artist in the fine or decorative arts field, where a principal master and, sometimes with a number of assistants, students and apprentices can work together producing pieces of fine art or visual art released under the master's name or supervision. Today, in addition to designating an artist's studio, atelier is used to characterize the studio of a fashion designer. Atelier also has the connotation of being the home of an alchemist or wizard. Atelier is often used in the place of studio and botegga, although each term has a historical meaning of its own.

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the ateliers of successful painters became lavish spaces, replete with gilded frames, Japanese screens and elaborate wooden furniture ceremoniously displayed by painters such as John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), Albert Aublet (1851–1938) and Mihaly Munkacsy (1844–1900). These spaces feed into a mythology of the workspace: the artist is not just a creator but is surrounded by beauty so that he may create it.

The Painter's Studio: A Real Allegory Summing up Seven Years of my Artistic and Moral Life, Gustave CourbetThe Painter's Studio: A Real Allegory Summing up Seven Years of my Artistic and Moral Life
Gustave Courbet
Oil on canvas, 361 x 598 cm.
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

One of the most grandiose representations of the artist's atelier is Gustave Courbet's The Painter's Studio: A Real Allegory Summing up Seven Years of my Artistic and Moral Life. Following his visit to Courbet's one-man exhibition in 1855, Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) commented on The Painter's Studio in his 3 August, 1885 diary entry:

I went to the Courbet exhibition. He had reduced the price of admission to ten sous. I stayed there alone for nearly an hour and discovered a masterpiece in the picture which [the Exposition universelle jury] rejected; I could scarely bear to tear myself away. He has made enormous strides…In …[The Painter's Studio] the planes are well understood, there is atmosphere, and in some passages the execution is really remarkable, especially the thighs and hops of the nude model and the breasts—also the woman in the foreground with the shawl. The only fault is that the picture, as he has painted it, seems to contain an ambiguity. It looks as though there were a real sky in the middle of a painting. They have rejected one of the most remarkable works of our time, but Courbet is not the man to be discouraged by a little thing like that.


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 European ' 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 the 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 various meanings related to the ways in which a work of art is considered authentic. The most important refers to the correct identification of its author. Another refers to the degree of 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 that 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 artworks were 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 painting. 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 that 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," eds. 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 used 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 eighteenth 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 eighteenth 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 autograph painting is one that is thought to have been painted entirely by the specified artist, rather than being, for instance, partly, or wholly, by studio assistants.


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 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 that 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 walls that set the stage for the artist's quiet little dramas are crucial components of Vermeer's interiors. These walls not only mark the limit of the 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 (1629–1684), 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 Gold Weigher by Cornelis de Man (1621–1706). 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.

Backlight/Back Lighting

Backlight or back lighting describes light coming from behind a subject to be represented. In paintin,g backlighting is used much less frequently than oblique lighting because it tends to flatten volume and destroy the sense of spatial depth, two fundamental prerequisites in sixteenth- seventeenth- and half of eighteenth-century painting. English speakers sometimes use the equivalent in French, contre jour. In photography, back lighting creates a certain glow effect at the edges or at the back of the subject.

Although Pieter de Hooch (1629–1684) sometimes lit parts of his courtyard and interior scenes with light from behind, backlighting is rare in Dutch figurative painting, although it was used with great effect in landscape painting. Vermeer never used backlighting.

Badger Brush

badger brush

The badger brush is a flat fan-shaped brush used to smooth out visible brushstrokes in layers of paint and to create almost smooth 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 visible strokes throughout. Perhaps Vermeer used the badger brush for the blending the flesh tones 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 (1483–1520; Le Stanze della Segnatura) and Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519; 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 a certain importance; it contributes to the peaceful atmosphere and the solemnity appropriate of religious feeling 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 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 (i.e., design) contributes to an overall sense of repose, permanence and purposefulness.

There is scarce evidence that Vermeer planned his compositions using any sort of predetermined mathematical scheme. It is likely that he first determined the poses, positions and attitudes of his figures, as well as the objects which surround them. Afterward, 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. 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."

Balpoot, Balpoottajel or Trektajel

2nd half 17th century
Oak, rosewood, ebony, 78.5 x 125 x 84 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The balpoot, whose origin can be traced to the beginning of the seventeenth century, is a draw-leaf table that had evolved from a solid everyday object into richy ornamented veneered showpiece. One of the most characteristic features of the draw-leaf table are its bulbous spherical legs, which are most clearly visible in Vermeer's The Art of Painting. Rather than waste an extremely thick piece of wood, the cabinet maker added wood blocks to all four sides of each leg before turning them. Thus, the leg was thickened only at the position of the ball. This process also reduced the chance of splitting the wood. The stretchers between the legs strengthen the table. In the first half of the seventeenth century, they form a rectangle; in the second half of the century, the stretcher moved to the middle of the table with a V-shaped connection at the two ends, a so-called double-Y form. The tables that appear in Vermeer's paintings appear to have the stretchers of the later type.

The extendable table seen in the Woman Holding a Balance various times in Vermeer interiors, as was represented many times in Dutch painting of the time and would have been considered a luxury item. One painted example is featured in A Man Weighing Gold (c. 1670) by Cornelis de Man (1621–1706).

The Rijksmuseum possesses a similar table. The legs have a striking bulbous form. The remarkable bun-shaped feet later provided the Dutch name of this style of furniture—balpoot. The frame below the tabletop is decorated with volutes. Under this, the legs are joined by a double Y-frame stretcher. A thin veneer of rosewood has been cemented to the oak. Some parts have been decorated with ebony. The table measures 78.5 x 125 x 84. cm.

Tables were very expensive in the seventeenth century. Many families made do with a few planks placed on two barrels.


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. They 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 were sold for high prices to esteemed collectors.

Banquet Piece (Dutch: 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 (1593/1594–c. 1680/1682), 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 (Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), Rubens (1577–1640); (2) dramatic realism (Caravaggio (1571–1610); and (3) everyday realism, a development seen in particular in Holland (Rembrandt (1606–1669) and 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 to keep viewers faithful to the Church of Rome.

Baroque was the first style to have a significant worldwide impact. It spread from Italy and France to the rest of Europe, then traveled via European colonies, missions and trading posts to Africa, Asia and South and Central America. The style was spread through international trade in fashionable goods, through prints, and also by traveling craftsmen, artists and architects.

Chinese carvers worked in Indonesia; French silversmiths in Sweden; Italian furniture makers in France; sculpture was sent from the Philippines to Mexico as well as Spain; London-made chairs went all over Europe and across the Atlantic; French royal workshops turned out luxury products in the official French style that were both desired and imitated by fashionable society across Europe. However Baroque also changed as it crossed the world, adapting to new needs and local tastes.


Beauty is a characteristic of an animal, idea, object, person or place that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure or satisfaction. Beauty is studied as part of aesthetics, culture, social psychology, philosophy and sociology. An "ideal beauty" is an entity that is admired, or possesses features widely attributed to beauty in a particular culture, for perfection. Ugliness is considered to be the opposite of beauty.

The experience of "beauty" often involves an interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature, which may lead to feelings of attraction and emotional well-being. Because this can be a subjective experience, it is often said that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

There is evidence that perceptions of beauty are evolutionar determined, that things, aspects of people and landscapes considered beautiful are typically found in situations likely to give enhanced survival of the perceiving human's genes.

The earliest Western theory of beauty can be found in the works of early Greek philosophers from the pre-Socratic period, such as Pythagoras. The Pythagorean school saw a strong connection between mathematics and beauty. In particular, they noted that objects proportioned according to the golden ratio seemed more attractive. Ancient Greek architecture is based on this view of symmetry and proportion. Plato considered beauty to be the Idea (Form) above all other Ideas. ] Aristotle saw a relationship between the beautiful (to kalon) and virtue, arguing that "Virtue aims at the beautiful."

Beauty is also studied by psychologists and neuroscientists in the field of experimental aesthetics and neuroesthetics respectively. Psychological theories see beauty as a form of pleasure. But since the late 18th century, beauty has lost prestige, and those who taught it in serious art discussion may appear naïve, silly and out of style. In any case, the concept of beauty in art, particularly modern art, is no longer the prime value by which a work of art is appreciated and judged.


Bentvueghels (Dutch: "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 craftsmen. 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 the publication of Karel van Mander's (1548–1606) 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 that holds together (binds) the pigment and makes the paint stick to whatever it's painted on, in oil painting, an unctuous natural drying oil such as linseed, walnut or poppy oil. (see medium).

Precious little is known 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 because specific tests must be performed to detect it and most of Vermeer's canvases have not been examined in depth.


One of the most common traits of the amateur painter is to overblend the transitions between lights and darks in the belief that the smoother the modeling, the greater will be the illusion of reality. However, overblending produces exactly the opposite result; color becomes tired, the sensation of natural light disappears and form becomes mushy and heavy. Much as modern art teachers do today, seventeenth-century art writers admonished against overblending time and time again. Willem Goeree (1635–1711) wrote "young Draughtsmen at the beginning of their studies almost always have a dislike for firm edges and flatness, seeming instead to take more delight in, indeed, to be drawn by nature towards, a soft and spongy (voose) haziness (dommeligheid)." Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678) wrote, "if you fiddle about with trying to smooth everything sweetly away, you run the risk of getting lost entirely." "It is above all desirable that you should accustom yourself to a lively mode of handling, so as to smartly express the different planes or surfaces (of the object represented); giving the drawing due emphasis, and the coloring, when it admits of it, a playful freedom without ever proceeding to polishing or blending: for this annihilates feeling, supplying nothing in its stead but a sleepy constraint, through which the legitimate breaking of colors is sacrificed. It is better to aim at softness with a well-nourished brush, and, as Jacob Jordaens (1593–1678) used to express it, 'gaily lay on the color,' caring little for the even surface produced by blending; for, paint as thickly as you please, smoothness will, by subsequent operations, creep in of itself." And while distinct edges may make sometimes make modeling appear inordinately stiff, they can always be smoothed, while the modeling done in the "spongy manner" must be rubbed out and restarted. Blending is sometimes called feathering.

Roger de Piles (1635–1709) railed against overblending as well: "We must use them [colors] cleanly and in layers,...the main colors each in their place, without blending with a small paintbrush or with a wide brush..." "To avoid this problem, there are two things to observe: the first is to get accustomed to paint and blend colors promptly and with lightness of brush, with strength, if possible not pass the same place twice. The second is that, after so slightly mixing colors together, we must take care not to brush over pure and fresh colors, which are correct for the places where they are placed, and which are the same tones as those that have already been painted and mixed underneath. To learn how to paint with strength, there is nothing better to do than to copy a few works byr Correggio (1489–1534) or Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) for the lightness of their brush strokes, and others, Paulo Veronese (1528–1588) and Rubens (1577–1640), for the purity of colors."

Blockbuster Exhibition

See also, Exhibition/Art Exhibition and Exhibition Catalogue

Blockbuster, a word not usually associated with fine art, has now entered the lexicon as a term applied to art exhibitions of particular success and public attendance. Although as early as 1930 (Italian Art 1200–1900, London) art exhibitions had begun to generate wide-reaching public acclaim, the term "blockbuster" became associated with special and spectacular exhibitions in a museum or art gallery in the 1980s. Historically, the London 1972 "Treasures of Tutankhamen" was the grandfather of all blockbusters. Though the show was scheduled to run from April until September, its duration was extended to December. Endless lines formed when exhibits traveled to the U.S. in 1976. In 1995 and 1996 there were several notable blockbusters: various were devoted to the Impressionists and Postimpressionists. The public attendance was massive: 965,000 at the 1995 Claude Monet retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago. For better or worse, by 1996 blockbuster exhibitions had become mainstream cultural events by no means limited in appeal to art cognoscenti.

Blockbusters became increasingly controversial among professionals in the field. Museums claimed that despite their high costs and nightmarish organizational logistics, blockbusters bring the uninitiated public closer to the art experience, keep regulars coming back and gather critical finances necessary to keep them running. Detractors, who are routinely accused of snobbery, hold the blockbuster has more to do with fast food than haute cuisine, and, in real measurable terms, do not benefit the public: on the contrary. In any case, the era of blockbuster has come to an end if not for other than for fact that the business model on which thye are based has proven ultimately unsustainable.



Blockbuster exhibitions draw an extraordinary number of visitors to art museums and greatly increase public appreciation of art.

The success of blockbusters led to such congested viewing conditions that the visitor's contact with unfamiliar works of art is actually impoverished. Overcrowding may force museums to limit admission. Blockbusters do not educate but lead to a "dumbing down" of the museum and its message. Artists become celebrities like sport and movie stars.

Visitors see many artworks that otherwise they would have never been able to have seen. Blockbusters, which generally display numerous works of art, are the best possible chance to understand a particular artist, group of artists or period in art.

Blockbusters discourage the public from actively seeking out art and developing strong individual points of view. Visitors accustomed to blockbusters wait passively for prepackaged experiences to be delivered to their door. Many blockbusters present so many works or art that viewers fall victim to acute exhibition fatigue after the first gallery rooms and thereby neglect considerable parts of the exhibition.

Blockbusters create a once-in-a-lifetime, eye-opening experience.

Since blockbusters become "unmissable" social events, they increase expectations and lay the groundwork for disappointment. Blockbusters are received as events to be witnessed undermining the notion that art necessitates prolonged contemplation to be fully experienced. The sensationalizing of the art exhibition distracts from the nature of the artwork itself.

Blockbusters attract new visitors, who then go on to visit the rest of the museum and return.

The low quality of viewing experience during blockbusters may actually dissuade repeat visits to the museum. After being fed on blockbuster exhibitions even museum members, who are more connected to museums' permanent collections than the general public, wind up responding only "blockbuster" stimuli.

Blockbusters stimulate scholarly research and produce high-quality art publications. Many blockbusters are accompanied by weighty catalogues that contain informative critical essays that are illustrated lavishly with hundreds of state-the-art reproductions.

Reliance on high-level sponsorship to finance pricey blockbusters acts as a form of censorship. Because not all themes will appeal to sponsors, the museum cannot afford to stray outside of certain subject boundaries which are acceptable to sponsors. In order to maintain a steady flow of exhibitions, which viewers come to expect, catalogues must be written by many specialists. This discourages coherent views, original research or the expression of controversial ideas. The great part of blockbuster souvenir catalogues are intelligible only to specialists and some are simply too costly for a substantial part of museum-goers.

Blockbuster exhibitions allow curators to bring into focus important artists and art movements that have not previously receive sufficient attention.

Since many of the works requested art treasures, loans are frequently refused affecting the fundamental thesis of the exhibition even though the exhibition is always presented as a disinterested expression of an argument. Art historians are forced to cultivate business and administration skills as much as art expertise.

Blockbusters are able to convince visitors to pay sizable admission fees enabling the museum to improve the rest of its service.

The high ticket cost of blockbuster exhibitions penalizes individual citizens and especially large families belonging to lower economic classes who could, after all, most benefit from contact with artworks.

Blockbusters generate media coverage and attract sponsors raising the profile of the museum. By being associated with global brands, museums receive huge marketing benefits.

Spectacular blockbuster successes may persuade public funding bodies to reduce their support. Museums are no longer perceived as custodians and promoters of visual arts culture but cogs in the exhibition-industrial complex. Oppositely, commercial enterprises greatly enhance the prestige of their brand by associating with high-brow cultural organizations.

Money earned by blockbusters can be used to conserve precious works of art in permanent collections.

Fragile works of art may be damaged or even lost during shipping.

Blocking In

Before starting a painting, an artist may block in the composition of the painting using rough outlines or geometric shapes to show him how everything fits on the canvas. Virtually all portrait painters use this blocking-in method.


A dull, progressively opaque, white effect caused on varnished surfaces by damp conditions It is caused by vegetable oils and animal fats are the main materials that are saponified.

Body Color

Opaque paint that has the covering power to completely conceal the underlying color.

Bordello Scene (Dutch: bordeeltje)

Loose Company, Dirck van BaburenLoose Company
Dirck van Baburen
Oil on canvas, 110 x 154 cm.
Gemäldegalerie, Mainz

The bordeeltje genre which dealt in mercenary love had long been popular with Netherlandish artists. In the sixteenth century, the pictorial tradition of the brothel was closely associated with the New Testament parable of the Prodigal Son (Saint Luke 15:11-32) who squandered his inheritance on wine, women and song. However, like many other traditional genre themes, during the first decades of the seventeenth century, the brothel scene became gradually distanced from its religious origins and took on a life of its own.

In 1658, the 26-year-old Vermeer painted his first dated work, The Procuress, different in atmosphere, execution and subject matter in respects to the history works. It is not known why the young artist changed so abruptly his artistic course and embraced the so-called bordeeltjes subject. Perhaps, after expected commissions from the nearby court of The Hague failed to materialize, the young painter may have wished to be more in tune with his times even though the motif had already been exploited for decades.

Although the subject of prostitution seems entirely out of key with respect to his later production, it should be remembered that Vermeer was brought up in his father's inn where drinking, shouting and betting must have been the norm. Sex peddling, if not witnessed directly on the premises of Mechelen, must have been unavoidable to some degree for anyone who moved about urban centers.

The Procuress, Gerrit van HonthorstThe Procuress
Gerrit van Honthorst
Oil on panel, 71 x 104 cm.
Centraal Museum, Utrecht

The Procuress, which had close precedents in the Loose Company by Dirck van Baburen (c. 1590–1624) (see image above-left) and A Concert by Jan Gerritsz van Bronkhorst (1603–1661), is perhaps the first of a long line of borrowed compositions on which Vermeer would elaborate his works according to his own sensitivity.

Particularly notable is the Delft painter's detached treatment of the hot-blooded convention. Although the cocky and/or drunk rake makes no secret of his intentions—his hand is unceremoniously plopped flat upon the young prostitute's breast—never was a member of the world's oldest profession was decked out with such fine lace, chaste headgear and a dress pulled so tightly around the young prostitute's neck that it leaves literally everything to be imagined. Compare Vermeer's rendition to The Procuress by Gerrit Van Honthorst (1592–1656), one of the most successful exemplars of the motif.


See also, atelier and studio.

Ponte Vecchio in FlorencePonte Vecchio, Florence

An artists' shop of the Renaissance, called a botegga, was similar to those of many other crafts. Usually located together in the same area of town, the botegga was usually a small room opened to the street by the raising of heavy wooden shutters, making it a semi-public shop. A number of similar structures still survive on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, although these are now filled with the stores of some of the world's most exclusive jewelers.

The production of art was a cooperative venture, organized and efficient, with the master, journeymen and apprentices working to satisfy the needs of society, rather than the inspiration of the master; for although art was meant to be beautiful, one of its main goals was to be useful, with patrons who determined not only the size, subject matter, eventual location and the quality of the materials, but the date for delivery as well, although there are many records of disputes regarding the delivery. With each new commission, the master took charge of the overall design. The apprentices did menial tasks until they proved themselves talented enough to learn the art of their masters. The more advanced apprentices and specialized journeymen cooperated with the master attempting to meet the requirements of the commission as envisioned by the master as efficiently as possible. The model of the botegga produced many artists of great stature. Assistants occasionally outgrew their master artistically even during the apprenticeship period. Michelangelo (1475–1564) was formed in the botegga of Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448–1494), Raphael (1483–1520) was formed in the botegga of Perugino (c. 1446/1452–1523) and Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519? sprung from the botegga of Verrocchio (c. 1435–1488). If the master died after beginning a work, then other members of the workshops immediately took over the completion.

Nova Reperta / Color oliviNova Reperta / Color olivi
After: Jan van der Straet
c. 1580–1605 (published in Antwerp)
Engraving, 20.4 x 27.1 cm.

There were generally two or three assistants in a botegga but large-scale operations, which entailed a division between design and the execution, many laborious execution procedures, and many technical preparatory and subsidiary tasks, involved numerous personnel. For example, the construction of the first bronze doors in the Florentine Battistero di San Giovanni by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378–1455). With perhaps, eleven assistants in 1403. For the great works, In the succeeding Mannerist period, the workshops refined their operating techniques to become even more entrepreneurial, with an army of collaborators and specialists available to speed the execution of works.

The botegga was eventually overcome by the studio, which was reflexive space, a combination of the workroom and a study in which the act of contemplation was incorporated into the process of painting itself.


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


Bravura is a descriptive Italian term often applied to spirited passages of music. By extension, it is also used to describe examples of virtuoso brushwork or flamboyant technique in paintings.


Brightness is a subjective attribute of light to which we typically assign values such a dim, very dim, bright or very bright (brilliant). Brightness, therefore, is perceived, not measured. For example, the same light emitted by a flashlight may seem very bright in the evening but very dim in the day. Brightness is what is perceived when lumens fall on the rods and cones of the eye's retina. This response is non-linear and complex. The term "brightness" is different than luminance, which, instead, is the objective measure of light that an object gives off or reflects from its surface, measured in objective units such as candela per square meter (cd/m2).

Broken Color

the following is drawn from an abstract of the lecture entitled: "Broken Colours: A Key Concept in Seventeenth-century Colour Theory," by Ulrike Kern,
in Colour in the 17th and 18th centuries: Connexions between Science, Arts, and Technology, TU Berlin, 28–30 June 2012)

Broken color was a key concept in seventeenth-century color theory. The concept of broken colors was most relevant in early modern art theory. The idea of broken colors (corruptio colorum) was derived from antiquity by the Dutch writer Franciscus Junius in his treatise on art of 1641. It refers to color harmonies created by combinations of muted tones that were achieved either by mixtures of pigments or gradations of local color. The importance of broken colors was promoted with the help of both aesthetic and scientific arguments, using optical knowledge available at the time.

Charles Alphonse Dufresnoy, in his poem De arte graphica of 1668, attributed the idea of broken colors to the Venetians of the sixteenth century, especially the circle around Titian, although no such concept existed in Italian art theory. By relating broken colors to reflections of colors, however, Dufresnoy could show that the Venetians must have had a notion of broken colors that derived from antiquity as Junuis had argued. The origination of broken colors in antiquity and Italian Renaissance art was important as an argument for their artistic validity in the seventeenth century.

The concept of broken colors was linked to optical science with the explanation that they were caused by reflections of colors: reflected light that transports the color of the reflecting surface to a differently colored surface, thereby creating a mixture of colors. By relating the artistic concept to a natural light phenomenon, the idea of broken colors and color law were connected.

Concepts related to the idea of broken colors, "friendly" or "related colors," were discussed in Dutch art theory of the seventeenth century. These concepts describe the ways in which artists would use gradations of similar hues to apply smooth connections of colors to their pictures. Ideas of broken colors include a broad range of possible combinations of color that extends from the work of painters who used a restricted palette of hues such as Rembrandt, to those who, like Rubens, employed contrasts of bright and subdued colors. By applying the method of "breaking" pigments painters were able to create color harmonies and contrasts, as well as the muted tone that was sought after in painting between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries.


(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 line. 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 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 nineteenth 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 The View of Delft, fragments of coarse hog's hair were found embedded in the paint of the sky area. The artist had evidently used a 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. The intends term not only the movement of the brush but the thickness or thinness of the paint applied. It is understood that brushwork, like handwriting, can be highly individual and can be an important factor in identifying an artist's work.

In modern art theory, emphasis is placed on the idea that a painting should have its own reality rather than attempting to imitate the three-dimensional world. Value is therefore placed on distinctive brushwork because it asserts the two-dimensional surface of the work and the reality of the paint itself. Distinctive brushwork is also seen as valuable because it foregrounds the role of the medium itself. Today, it is often thought that brushwork in itself can be highly expressive, playing a role in conveying the emotion or meaning of the work.

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 (1641–1711), 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 vigor 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 (1588–1629). This overlooked-by-the-general-public master possessed one of the most sophisticated techniques in the Netherlands, so much that Rubens (1577–1640) 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 (1606–1669). Closer to Vermeer in brush handling were Pieter de Hooch (1629–1684), Gabriel Metsu, Frans van Mieris, Gerrit ter Borch (1617–1681) and Gerrit Dou (1613–1675), all of whom of which possessed subtly distinctive brushwork. While Pieter de Hooch 's (1629–1684) brushwork 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 twentieth-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 (1606–1669) 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 a 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 fijnschilderen, even his most evident brushwork is extremely subdued with respect to the gestural brush handling of the great baroque masters Rembrandt, Frans Hals (c. 1582–1666), Velázquez and Rubens (1577–1640). When Vermeer's brushwork is evident, rather than suggesting the 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 the 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. Minuscule 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.

Buitenpartijen (Dutch: garden party)

Dutch paintings of outdoor revelers are today most often referred to as "love gardens" or "garden parties." In Dutch, they were known as buitenpartijen. However, in an inventory listing of 1627 a garden party by Esaias van de Velde ((baptized)–1630 (buried) is recorded as "a little piece depicting a plaisance," a term derived from French which was used in the sixteenth century to describe Flemish tapestries representing gardens of love. This suggests that seventeenth-century audiences perceived a relationship between paintings of garden parties and earlier depictions of related subject matter. It is thought that the themes originated in the Middle Ages—of the pleasure-garden—a dream world with various references to love, such as a love castle, the chateau d'amour, mostly in illuminated manuscripts and prints rather than panel paintings, and often as part of calendar series showing the months, or book illustrations. In the Renaissance, such scenes tended to be given specific settings from religion or classical mythology, such as the Feast of the Gods which, unlike merry company scenes, was an excuse for copious amounts of nudity. In sixteenth century, Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting traditions of genre painting of festivities or parties began to develop, most famously in the peasant scenes of Pieter Brueghel the Elder (c. 1525–1530–1569), which were the first large paintings to have peasant life as their sole subject.

The action of the Dutch seventeenth-century garden party motif takes place in an idyllic garden landscape, with an idealized house, with figures a small fountain depicted there symbolic of fertility is one of the classic elements of this motif. Elegant youths congregate and engage in restrained ritualized forms of courtship in the utmost relaxed elegance and luxury framed by a classical portico before a park setting, frequently with a statue of Cupid. In addition to the well-dressed young couple these pictures usually included, musical instruments, especially lutes, songbooks, wine and a servant. The women wear silky dresses, expensive lace collars, and elaborate hairdos that complement their idealized beauty. The beauty of women was often compared to the beauty of nature. The garden settings were designed to complement the women, and although they are themselves scarcely individualized, they convey an atmosphere of refined gallantry through posture and attire. Another common theme of courtship paintings is the spurned lover. Although By the mid-seventeenth century, many successful Dutch burghers had bought country houses as bucolic retreats and venues for garden parties and social gatherings, garden party paintings cannot be considered attempts to document the actual country houses, gardens or couples.

The garden party garden, which appeared on the cover of a number of songbooks and demonstrated the close links between courtship, art and amatory literature. The widespread popularity of the garden party motif suggests that, counter to what is often suggested, Calvinism did not dominate all aspects of Dutch society of the period, especially, popular culture. The amatory literature of the period advocated moral restraint but also portrayed innocent pleasure in its promotion of courtship.

David Vinckboons (baptized 13 August 1576–c.1632), Dirck Hals (1591–1656), Esaias van de Velde (baptized)–1630 (buried), Willem Buytewech (1591/1592–1624) and Adriaen van de Venne (1589–1662) were masters of the musical party theme, which, in the following decades gave birth to myriad forms of Dutch genre painting. The Dutch garden party, which was eventually re-baptized the fête galante, reached its apex of popularity in the first half of the eighteenth century in France with painters such as Jean-Antonie Watteau (1684–1721) and Nicolas Lancret (1690–1743).

c. or ca.

C. or ca. are abbreviations for the word circa, usually in conjunction with dates, meaning about; approximately.

On the Essential Vermeer website, only "c." is used for dates.

Cabinet Painting

A cabinet painting (or "cabinet picture") is a small painting, typically no larger than about 50 cm. 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 whom they 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 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.


Caffa is a rich silk cloth with printed or woven designs with ferret silk warp and a linen weft popular in the sixteenth century. It was originally called satin caphart, satin caffard or capha, by the Flemish. Waves of specialized artisans from Antwerp, Bruges, Rijssel and other weaving centers of southern Flanders eventually migrated to Holland around 1615, 1644, 1655 and 1669 brightening their skills with them. Reynier Jansz. Vermeer, Vermeer's father, produced caffa and was also active as an art dealer.

Camera Lucida

from Wikipedia:
A camera lucida is an optical device used as a drawing aid by artists. The camera lucida performs an optical superimposition of the subject being viewed upon the surface upon which the artist is drawing. The artist sees both the scene and drawing surface simultaneously, as in a photographic double exposure. This allows the artist to duplicate key points of the scene on the drawing surface, thus aiding in the accurate rendering of perspective. The camera lucida was patented in 1807 by William Hyde Wollaston. The basic optics were described 200 years earlier by Johannes Kepler in his Dioptrice (1611), but there is no evidence he or his contemporaries constructed a working camera lucida. By the nineteenth century, Kepler's description had fallen into oblivion, so Wollaston's claim was never challenged. The term "camera lucida" (Latin "light room" as opposed to camera obscura "dark room") is Wollaston's. (cf. Edmund Hoppe, Geschichte der Optik, Leipzig 1926).

While on honeymoon in Italy in 1833, the photographic pioneer William Fox Talbot used a camera lucida as a sketching aid. He later wrote that it was a disappointment with his resulting efforts which encouraged him to seek a means to "cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably."

In 2001, artist David Hockney's book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters was met with controversy. His argument, known as the Hockney-Falco thesis, is that the notable transition in style for greater precision and visual realism that occurred around the decade of the 1420s is attributable to the artists' discovery of the capability of optical projection devices, specifically an arrangement using a concave mirror to project real images. Their evidence is based largely on the characteristics of the paintings by great artists of later centuries, such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780–1867), Jan van Eyck (before c. 1390–1441), and Caravaggio (1571–1610).

The camera lucida is still available today through art-supply channels but is not well known or widely used.

Despite the fact that Vermeer literature is full of references to the optical timbre of his work and pro and contra evidence that he used the camera obscura, no one has convincingly argued that he might have used a camera lucida.

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 (1697–1768), Vermeer and other Dutch painters of the time, including Torrentius (Johannes van der Beeck,; 1589–1644). It has also been hypothesized that Carel Fabritius (1622–1654), 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 (1596–1687), 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 to the Netherlands where he enthusiastically recommended it to painters. Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678), the Dutch painter and art theorist stated: "I am certain that seeing these 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.


See also thread count.

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

Although canvas as a support for painting was known 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 a number of closely woven materials of relatively coarse 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 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 plain 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 preferred pre-prepared canvases rather than face the laborious task of preparing them by himself.


In Italian capriccio (plural, capricci) means that which is capricious, whimsical or fantastic. In relation to painting the term is usually used to describe imaginary topographical scenes.

The Venetian landscape painter Francesco Guardi (1712–1793) recombined capricci with natural architectural elements, drawn from actual sites, to create inventive relationships for decorative effects.

Carpet/Turkish Carpet

By the thirteenth century, merchant travelers like Marco Polo had remarked on the beauty of the Oriental carpets they encountered in their journeys. Soon after, carpets began to be imported into Venice and then distributed throughout the rest of Europe. While early carpets of this kind are rarely preserved, European great masters, from Giotto (1266–1337) and Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494) to Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497 –1543), Jan van Eyck (before c. 1390–1441), Lorenzo Lotto (c. 1480–1556/57) and Vermeer, frequently depicted those from Turkey and Iran. Their works are testimony to the exceptional value that the Oriental carpet had gained as a symbol of international taste. As with all costly imports, attempts were made to imitate or adapt them to preexisting European models. The fact that so many carpets appear in Dutch interior paintings of the time might lead us to believe that they were an integral part of Dutch living. However, they do not occur so frequently in death inventories and moreover, these "turkse" and "persiche tapijten" are not documented in appreciable quantities on the cargo of Dutch merchant ships.

It is known that some painters supplied clients with the carpets themselves and a single carpet might be used for generations of artists. Vermeer himself seems to have used one carpet more than once.

With the rapid expansion of the foreign trade of the Netherlands, oriental carpets became very popular in the sixteenth and particular in the seventeenth century as decorative objects, usually laid over tables or chests with the knotted surface up. The Dutch normally placed them on tables to avoid wearing them down. The tradition of showing carpets on tables in upper-class interiors continued until the end of the century when Oriental carpets lost their previous status. Nonetheless, in Vermeer's times, practical, wooden-planked floors were generally employed for household use, sometimes covered with woven reed mats to shield the inhabitants' feet from the gelid Dutch winter. Thus, paintings with carpets demonstrate that the artists' renderings of domestic interiors rested somewhere between artifice and reality.

By the eighteenth century, the fascination for oriental carpets had begun to wane due, perhaps, at least in part, to the inferior quality and quantity brought on by the decline of ruling dynasties of the East.

Due to the fact that so few seventeenth-century carpets have survived, European paintings are a primary source for scholarship on early carpets, and many groups of Islamic carpets from the Middle East are today called by the names of European painters who depicted them.

In nine of Vermeer's paintings we find carpets, most with different patterns but always, presumably, painted from an existing model. Amazingly, in the Northern Netherlands, only three carpets known to have been in Dutch possession in the seventeenth century have survived. The carpet of A Maid Asleep has been identified by Onno Ydema as a seventeenth-century Anatolian carpet from Turkey, while that of The Music Lesson is a sixteenth-century Ushak type from Turkey and is faithfully described by the artist.


Caravaggio's (1571–1610) 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 that 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 secure 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 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 (1483–1520), Titian (c. 1488/1490–1576), 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 twentieth 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: Gerrit Van Honthorst (1592–1656), Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588–1629) and Jan van Bijlert (1597 or 1598–1671).

John Michael Montias has hypothesized that the young Vermeer may have passed his period of apprenticeship with the elderly Abraham Bloemaert (1566–1651), 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. Afterward, 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."


Madonna and Child, Carlo CrivelliMadonna and Child (detail)
Carlo Crivelli
c. 1480
Tempera and gold on wood, 37.8 x 25.4 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A cartellino (Italian for a small piece of paper) was a piece of parchment or paper painted illusionistically, often folded and as though attached to a wall or parapet in a painting, commonly with the artist's name or that of a sitter.

Giovanni Bellini's The Virgin and Child and The Doge Leonardo Loreda in the London National Gallery are among a number of examples of this artist's work with a cartellino, painted as a piece of unfolded paper with creases still visible, attached to the center of the parapet. It creates the illusion of being almost real.

The cartellino signature of Carlo Crivelli's (c. 1430–1495) Madonna and Child appears to be fixed on the foreground cloth with bits of red sealing wax on three of its corners, which enhance the illusion of its illusory presence by casting tiny shadows that anchor it firmly to the cloth. A truly spectacular cartellino is that of the Francisco de Zurbarán's (1598–1664) Martyrdom of Saint Serapion, which bears the name of the saint and the artist's signature below in much smaller but elegant script. The crumpled paper hovers somewhat ambiguously next to the lifeless body of the robed saint, although it is presumably "attached" to the surface of the canvas with a slender nail that projects a slight shadow on the paper enhancing its illusionist presence.

The Martyrdom of Saint Serapion, Francisco de ZubaranThe Martyrdom of Saint Serapion (detail)
Francisco de Zurbarán
Oil on canvas, 120 × 103 cm.
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT


The term "cartoon" is derived from the Italian word "cartone" which means a large sheet of paper. A cartoon is a full-size and usually detailed preparation on paper for a painting (in fresco, on canvas or panel) or a tapestry.

There are different methods for transferring the composition. The composition could be traced with a stylus thus leaving a faint indentation on another surface. If the reverse was covered with chalk or some other substance, the design traced would be transferred in distinct lines. The reverse could also be rubbed with chalk and the composition then run over with a stylus, so recording the design on the desired surface. Alternatively, the lines of the composition could be pricked with tiny holes; charcoal is then "pounced" through to transfer the design. A third method is for the outlines to be incised with a stylus without anything on the reverse of the sheet.

In some cases, the compositions of cartoons for tapestries, such as those of Raphael (1483–1520) in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Royal Collection), have to be conceived in reverse because of the process of manufacture. This can also apply to engravings.

Catalogue Number

Catalogue number is a term used in a variety of ways in museums and other collecting entities. In some museums, a catalogue number is assigned to a work based on its class, so that the number's purpose is description. In some museums, the accession number is called a catalogue number, in which case its purpose is identification. A catalogue number may also be the number assigned to an object in a printed publication or catalogue of a special exhibition or collection.

Since only three of Vermeer's paintings were dated by his own hand, the catalogue numbers given in the Essential Vermeer website are derived from a synthesis of the dates as estimated by four authoritative scholars of Dutch art and Vermeer: Albert Blankert (Vermeer: 1632–1675, 1975), Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. (Vermeer: The Complete Works, 1997), Walter Liedtke (Vermeer: The Complete Catalogue, 2008) and Wayne Franits (Vermeer, 2015).

For a complete table of estimated dates, click here.

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 the 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
Catalogue 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, Vermeer: The Complete Painting, (2008), Vermeer, by Wayne Franits (2015) and Vermeer, Karl Schûtz (2016).


See also, portrait lighting.

A "catchlight' is simply the specular highlight of a light source reflected off the surface of the eye. This highlight lightens the iris and adds humidity, depth, sparkle and roundness to the eye, and notwithstanding its tiny dimension, it bestows life in a portrait or photograph. Without catchlights, the eyes will appear dark, opaque and lifeless. At least one eye should have a catchlight to give the subject life.

Catchlights come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the shape and size of the light source, and its distance from the subject. The reason why most catchlights are positioned at 10 or 2 o'clock is unknown, but the earliest portrait painters found that the most pleasing balance resulted when either of those positions was used. However, it may be that early artists used the sun or light from a large open window in their studios with the result of light originating from above and causing a high catchlight. In any case, catchlights below 9 o'clock, as well as the 3 o'clock position, create relatively unnatural images, because when the sun is down and it's dark, there are no catchlights.

Cinema audiences tend to perceive eyes without catchlight to be lifeless or evil, and for this reason many cinematographers specifically eliminate catchlights on antagonistic characters. Catchlights are a characteristic vocabulary in anime, usually used in an over-dramatized manner as a means to convey exaggerated expressions. Modern portrait photographers go to great lengths to manipulate their lighting equipment in order to ensure the right catchlights.


The term "chalk," when applied to an instrument for drawing, is used loosely to describe various natural substances formed into sticks for the purpose of drawing or writing.

White chalk is limestone-based. In contrast, black chalk is made from carbonaceous shale found in northern Italy and France. A further variety, red chalk, is a rare form of clay. This last form, introduced in the late fifteenth century, was favored by the artists of the High Renaissance, and later especially in the eighteenth century. Since chalk has a low refractive index, when oil paint is superimposed it disappears and can no longer be detected. Chalk was mixed with animal skin glue as a preparatory coating, called priming, in order to seal raw canvas.

Despite the fact that scholars do maintain that Vermeer's The Art of Painting is not a faithful raccount of how he himself painted, the seated painter appears to have used chalk, or white paint, to introduce the basic outlines of the figure on his upright canvas.


Chiaroscuro is an Italian term that literally means "light-dark." In painting chiaroscuro generally refers to clear tonal contrasts used to suggest the sense of volume of the objects depicted. Although chiaroscuro is often used in association with Caravaggio's (1571–1610) 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 (1452–1519) 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 as not all critics claim) of his paintings bears a date; the early Procuress (1656).

The present-day chronology of Vermeer's paintings is the fruit of stylistic analysis and comparisons to works of other Dutch genre artists whose styles are similar and whose dates are more reasonably established. Some dates have been proposed by analyzing the dress and hairstyles 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 the exact datae of all but three works (The Procuress, The Astronomer and The Geographer) must be considered hypothetical, their sequential order has remained much the same 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 film-making.


View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam, Jan van der heydenView of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam
Jan van der Heyden
Oil on panel, 41 x 59 cm.
Wallace Collection, London

Although slices of cityscapes commonly appear as settings for Flemish peasant gatherings in the sixteenth century or through background windows of secular portrait painting or religious interior scenes, art historians hold that the origins of the Dutch cityscape genre may be traced back to the cartographic tradition in the Netherlands, in which elaborately decorated maps show cities in silhouetted skylines, so-called profile views, which the early cityscapes strongly resemble. The cityscape motif includes not only broad views of famous cities and less illustrious towns usually pictured from a great distance, some of whose skylines that are still recognizable today, but more intimate alleys, courtyards, prominent streets, cluttered canals, locks, gates, busy squares, loading docks and markets. The evils of city life—crime, poverty and filth—were conspicuously deleted from the popular genre as, curiously, although to a lesser degree, humans themselves. Jan van der Heyden (1637–1712) rendered Amsterdam's canals, bridges and architecture with a near-photographic detail while relegating figures to the status of staffage. His enormous depiction of the city's town hall—a great white Italianate building that the Dutch considered the eighth wonder of the world—is as much a masterpiece as the building it depicts. In any case, cityscape painters, who strongly identified with their cultural and social advancements, hardly thought of themselves as social critics, the way many landscape painters today do.

The desire to depict city life may stem from the unprecedented urbanization of the Netherlands.

Among the practitioners in this genre include not only some of the Golden Age's most highly esteemed and skilled artists such as Vermeer and Rembrandt (1606–1669) —Rembrandt produced thundered of cityscape drawings, but essentially no paintings. Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (1638–1698), Jan van der Heyden and Hendrick Vroom (c.1562–1640) specialized in the cityscape and some of the Netherlands' finest landscape painters were not averse to the genre, such as Pieter Jansz. Saenredam (1597–1665), Jan van Goyen (1596–1656) and Jacob van Ruisdael (c. 1629–1682). While Pieter de Hooch's (1629–1684) Delft courtyards are not true cityscapes but backdrops for amiable gatherings of the self-satisfied burgers and humble home-workers alike, De Hooch recorded in paint some of the most intimate slices of city life ever to be painted as most likely inspired The Little Street by Vermeer, one of the latter's finest pieces. The once-obscure Jacobus Vrel (fl. 1654–1662) painted a series of awkward but suggestive cityscapes which have begun to attract critical attention among Dutch art historians. Vrel's birthplace is unknown but he is considered to have worked in Delft and Haarlem. Thoré-Burger discussed Vermeer as a townscape painter largely on the basis of works that were actually by Vrel. Vrel concentrated on close-up renderings of small communities, a: part of a street, a short lane, a row of houses, shops, passersby and banal quotidian activities, in effect, a neighborhood rather than a town.


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 Geranial (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, theonce 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 personal and 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 della Francesca (c. 1420–1492) and Poussin (1594–1665), 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.

Claude Glass

A Claude glass (or black mirror) is a small mirror, slightly convex in shape, with its surface tinted with a dark color. Bound up like a pocketbook or in a carrying case, Claude glasses were used by artists, travelers and connoisseurs of landscape and landscape painting. Claude glasses have the effect of abstracting the subject reflected in them from its surroundings, reducing and simplifying the color and tonal range of scenes and scenery to give them a painterly quality.

They were famously used by picturesque artists in England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as a frame for drawing sketches of picturesque landscapes. The user would turn his back on the scene to observe the framed view through the tinted mirror—in a sort of pre-photographic lens—which added the picturesque aesthetic of a subtle gradation of tones.

It is said to have been devised by Claude Lorrain (1600–1682). It was popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and may still be seen in action today.


The following entry is drawn from:
Maund, Barry, "Color," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/color/

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 the 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 (1641–1711) lamented in his Groot Schilderboek (1707) "It is remarkable, that, though the management of the colors in a painting, whether of figures, landscape, flowers, architecture, & 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 essentially 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 nearly 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 a 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 account by the layman in regards to the coloring of renaissance and baroque painting. But it is highly probable that painters of those times thought 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 than 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, called pigments.

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 the 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. Karel van Mander (1548–1606) 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 (1617–1681) step-sister, Gesina ter Borch (1631–1690), 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 colors 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 colored 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, gray 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 Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) 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 have 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 the 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 complementary 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 color containing cool, blue-toned pigments; or it could be achieved—and Rubens' (1577–1640) later paintings are perhaps the most outstanding example of the method—by exploiting the so-called turbid medium effect. A light color 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. 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.

Color Wheel

from Wikipedia:
A color wheel or color circle is an abstract illustrative organization of color hues around a circle, which shows the relationships between primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors etc.

7-color and 12-color circles from 17087-color and 12-color circles from 1708
Probably Claude Boutet
Traité de la peinture en mignature (The Hague, 1708)

Some sources use the terms color wheel and color circle interchangeably; however, one term or the other may be more prevalent in certain fields or certain versions as mentioned above. For instance, some reserve the term "color wheel" for mechanical rotating devices, such as color tops or filter wheels. Others classify various color wheels as color disc, color chart, and color scale varieties.

As an illustrative model, artists typically use red, yellow and blue primaries (RYB color model) arranged at three equally spaced points around their color wheel. Printers and others who use modern subtractive color methods and terminology use magenta, yellow and cyan as subtractive primaries. Intermediate and interior points of color wheels and circles represent color mixtures. In a paint or subtractive color wheel, the "center of gravity" is usually (but not always) black, representing all colors of light being absorbed; in a color circle, on the other hand, the center is white or gray, indicating a mixture of different wavelengths of light (all wavelengths, or two complementary colors, for example).

The original color circle of Isaac Newton showed only the spectral hues and was provided to illustrate a rule for the color of mixtures of lights, that these could be approximately predicted from the center of gravity of the numbers of "rays" of each spectral color present (represented in his diagram by small circles). The divisions of Newton's circle are of unequal size, being based on the intervals of a Dorian musical scale. Most later color circles include the purples, however, between red and violet, and have equal-sized hue divisions. Color scientists and psychologists often use the additive primaries, red, green and blue; and often refer to their arrangement around a circle as a color circle as opposed to a color wheel.

Strictly speaking, there is no straight-line relationship between colors mixed in pigment, which vary from medium to medium. With a psychophysical color circle, however, the resulting hue of any mixture of two colored light sources can be determined simply by the relative brightness and wavelength of the two lights. A similar calculation cannot be performed with two paints. As such, a painter's color wheel is indicative rather than predictive, being used to compare existing colors rather than calculate exact colors of mixtures. Because of differences relating to the medium, different color wheels can be created according to the type of paint or other medium used, and many artists make their own individual color wheels. These often contain only blocks of color rather than the gradation between tones that is characteristic of the color circle.


Colorito (colore) is an Italian term usually applied to sixteenth-century Venetian painting in which color is employed in a dominant manner, for sensual expressive purposes and as an important compositional element. At the time, color was not distinguished in meaning from paint itself, so an emphasis on color could also imply an emphasis on the handling of paint.

The main alternative to colorito was disegno, which flavored the art of drawing over colorism, because the former was deemed to be inseparable from the intellectual conception of the painting itself, and thus superior to the mere mastery of color paint. This debate, which raged throughout the years of the Early Renaissance (c.1400–1490) and the High Renaissance (c. 1490–1530) was a very serious dispute over aesthetics and was argued over by many of the leading exponents of academic art, up until the nineteenth century.

Complementary Colors

Complementary 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 (1853–1890) noted, blue and lemon yellow (accompanied by gray) are characteristic of Vermeer's palette much as gray and pink were of Diego Velázquez's (1599–1660). 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 complementary.

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 was more restricted than those of many fellow genre painters. He used orange and purple only in his first history paintings.


See also ordinantie.

War and Peace, RubensMinerva Protects Pax from Mars (Peace and War)
Peter Paul Rubens
Oil on canvas
203.5 × 298 cm.
National Gallery, London

"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' (1577–1640) 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 and conflict.

Today, the words "composition" and "design" when applied to the visual arts are often used as if they were interchangeable, but each connotes something rather different. Composition is an arranging or pushing-about of the various parts of a picture—of the items of main interest and of secondary and tertiary interest—in such a manner that the narrative picture explains itself and tells a given story. Design, instead is the arranging of an agreeable or significant pattern, a formal framework that complements the composition and its story. Among many other elements of design is the disposing of the dark masses so that they will balance agreeably with the light masses. In modern commercial art, as is well known, the designer goes to great pains to relate the dark masses of his poster or advertising placard to the light masses. Strictly speaking, while the function of composition is narrative, that of design is aesthetic.

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 (1404–1472), 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 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 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 are 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 of the Rape of the Sabine Women.

Much scholarly research has been done on renaissance and baroque composition but there is an extreme paucity of historical documents that might substantiate their theories.

Vermeer was perhaps one of the greatest painting composers of all time. 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 The 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."

Compositional Line

Madonna of the Meadow, RaphaelMadonna of the Meadow
Oil on board, 113 x 88 cm.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Compositional lines, sometimes referred to as implied lines, some examples of which have already been discussed above, are imaginary lines that are perceived as connecting two or more different lines, guiding the viewer's eye in and around the composition. It is said that compositional lines were used to direct the viewer's eye towards the most important parts of the compositions and/or organize compositional elements within broader geometric shapes in which figures are united, such as circles and triangles, although there is no mention of such usage in period literature.

Compositional lines can be both straight and curved. In almost every picture, Vermeer used compositional lines to unite distinct elements and imbue the picture with a greater sense of purpose. Vermeer's late The Astronomer provides an interesting example of how the compositional line may be used as a structural and expressive tool. The horizontal line that represents the illuminated edge of the windowsill extends to the right connecting with the horizontal stand of the globe. This line is continued by the upper edge of the figures's extended arm and is finally picked up on the other side of the composition by the lower edge of the picture-within-a-picture. This imaginary line gives abstract structure to the composition and brings key elements of the picture into geometrical relation: the window, which sheds light on the scientist's endeavors, the celestial globe, which he contemplates, and the painting of Moses in the background, which according to art historians carries key iconographical implications. It is probably not coincidental that the same compositional line passes very near the vanishing point of the perspective, bonding, as the artist had already done in Woman Holding a Balance, the fundamental, but conflicting realities of the picture: illusionist depth and the flat picture plane.


Confraternities (religious brotherhoods) were secular groups who came together in order to pursue penitential charitable works. They sometimes had their own buildings: foundations, invariably attached to religious institutions which could be of considerable opulence.


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 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 eighteenth 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 twentieth 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. http://www.eskff.com/uploads/Files/Carol_StroneReconceiving_Connoisseurship.pdf

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 pointillés on the bread of the Christ is blessing, is necessary to that we have a—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 nicknamed "the Pope."

The work was by the hand of Han van Meegeren, a mediocre Dutch artist who had lived and worked in almost relative 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 of 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.


The profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future. Conservation activities include examination, documentation, treatment and preventive care, supported by research and education. The conservation and restoration of paintings are carried out by professional painting conservators. Paintings cover a wide range of various mediums, materials and their supports (i.e., the painted surface made from fabric, paper, wood panel, fabricated board, or other). Painting types include fine art to decorative and functional objects spanning from acrylics, frescoes and oil paint on various surfaces, egg tempera on panels and canvas, lacquer painting, watercolor and more. Knowing the materials of any given painting and its support allows for the proper restoration and conservation practices. All components of a painting will react to its environment differently, and impact the artwork as a whole. These material components along with collections care (also known as preventative conservation) will determine the longevity of a painting. The first step to conservation and restoration is preventative conservation followed by active restoration with the artist's intent in mind.


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.

For many years after Vermeer's "recovery" in the 1860s, 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 the life of common people. With the rise of the modernist school of painting in the early twentieth century, his work began to be appreciated principally for its 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 point of own contemporaries. However, no general agreement has been reached in regards and the question of the precise iconographical meaning of his paintings in many cases 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 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 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.

The art historian Mariêt 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 ...is 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."


from "The Elements of Art," in Art History: A Preliminary Handbook (1996) by Dr. Robert J. B.

Context means the varied circumstances in which a work of art is (or was) produced and/or interpreted. As in the case of content, there are three levels of complexity, arranged numerically here, but without an intrinsic hierarchy.

Conventional wisdom would have it that primary context is that pertaining to the artist, although there are equally good reasons to assert the primacy of historical and material conditions of production, as in Marxism. However, similar conditions are known to produce very different artists (e.g., Raphael (1483–1520) and Michelangelo (1475–1564), so we will adopt the convention simply for convenience. Primary context is thus that which pertains to the artist: attitudes, beliefs, interests and values; education and training; and biography (including psychology). Special mention must be made of the artist's intentions and purposes because it is very easy to fall into a trap called the intentional fallacy. This happens when a writer derives an artist's intention only from the work he or she produced. This is not logically valid: in the absence of documentary evidence, a work which seems to mean "X" can either imply; a) that the artist's intention was "X" and that he or she was successful, or b) that the work is not successful and that the artist's intention was actually "Y."

We have no way of knowing which of these is the correct answer, although the common practice has been to treat artists as if they were inspired beings, with no obligation to carry the burden of proof. If, on the other hand, we have a letter or a diary in which the artist wrote "my intentions are such and such," the information thus gathered can often be validly employed.

Secondary context is that which addresses the milieu in which the work was produced: the apparent function of the work at hand; religious and philosophical convictions; sociopolitical and economic structures; and even climate and geography, where relevant. The tertiary context is the field of the work's reception and interpretation: the tradition(s) it is intended to serve; the mind-set it adheres to (ritualistic [conceptual, stylized, hieratic, primitive], perceptual [naturalistic], rational [classical, idealizing and /or scientific]; and emotive [affective or expressive]); and, perhaps most importantly, the color of the lenses through which the work is being scrutinized—i.e., the interpretive mode (artistic biography; psychological approaches [including psychoanalysis, Jungian archetypal theory, ethology and Gestalt]; political criticism [including Marxism and general correlational social histories]; feminism; cultural history and Geistesgeschichte; formalism [including connoisseurship and raw scientific studies]; structuralism; semiotics [including iconography, iconology and typological studies; hermeneutics; post-structuralism and deconstruction]; reception theory [including contemporary judgments, later judgments, and revisionist approaches]; concepts of periodicity [stylistic pendulum swinging]; and other chronological and contextual considerations. It should be clear, then, that context is more than the matter of the artist's circumstances alone.

Continuous Narrative

The Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi, Jacopini di FrancescoThe Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi
Jacopino di Francesco
c. 1325–30
Tempera and gold leaf on panel, 52.7 x 80.3 cm.
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

Continuous narrative represents different parts of a single story within the same visual space, using of two or more chronologically distinct episodes, which repeat characters as necessary. Typical of Roman art were side-by-side scenes winding around commemorative columns which would have been understood by contemporary audiences to be telling a story in chronological order. Continuous narrative was often employed in medieval art as well. In a painting as well. For example, in The Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi (c. 1325–1330) by Jacopino di Francesco the Virgin and Child appear twice, side by side. On the left-hand side of the picture, the Nativity scene with Saint Joseph and three angels takes place, while in the right-hand part they appear with the three Magi in the later episode of the Adoration.

These side-by-side scenes are sometimes thought of as pr-cursors to today's comic strips.


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 (1475–1564), 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 it 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 subdued 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 relationship between the painter and his model. Through the tension created by the opposing directions 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 contour is 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 fourteenth century, they acquired more sense of spatial effect, and appear to be alternately more or less emphatic. Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) 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, the artist became increasingly 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, a 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 returned 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 that 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 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.

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, complemented 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 affected 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 of old varnish have been removed. The recent restoration of Vermeer's early Procuress provides an excellent example.

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 from 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 (1577–1640) 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 (c. 1488/1490–1576) 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 Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863), "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." Afterward, 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 (1566–1641), 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 (1606–1669), 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 (Fr.: 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 color 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

Critic/Art Critic

A critic is who analyzes, 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.

An art critic is a person who is specialized in analyzing, interpreting and evaluating art. Their written critiques or reviews contribute to art criticism and they are published in newspapers, magazines, books, exhibition brochures and catalogues and on websites. Some of today's art critics use art blogs and other online platforms to connect with a wider audience and expand debate about art.

Differently from art history, there is not an institutionalized training for art critics (with only a few exceptions); art critics come from different backgrounds and they may or may not be university trained. Professional art critics are expected to have a keen eye for art and a thorough knowledge of art history. Typically the art critic views art at exhibitions, galleries, museums or artists' studios and they can be members of the International Association of Art Critics which has national sections. Very rarely art critics earn their living from writing criticism.

The opinions of art critics have the potential to stir debate on art-related topics. Due to this the viewpoints of art critics writing for art publications and newspapers adds to public discourse concerning art and culture. Art collectors and patrons often rely on the advice of such critics as a way to enhance their appreciation of the art they are viewing. Many now-famous and celebrated artists were not recognized by the art critics of their time, often because their art was in a style not yet understood or favored. Conversely, some critics, have become particularly important helping to explain and promote new art movements—Roger Fry with the Post-Impressionist movement, Lawrence Alloway with Pop Art as examples.

Criticism/Art 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.

Art history and art criticism are intellectual activities aiming at the study, comprehension and interpretation of works of art. Their basic difference concerns not only the recentness of their objects but also their objectives: the art historian studies the works of the past and constructs contemporary art, which he analyzes and interprets with the aim of evaluating it critically. More simply, while art historians are interested in the meaning of a work of art within its cultural and historical context, the job of the art critic is to evaluate if a particular piece of art is "good" or "successful," often taking on the additional role of philosopher or theorist of art. The critic must make judgments because the art he deals with is generally new and unfamiliar—unless the critic is trying to reevaluate an old art with a fresh understanding of it—and thus of uncertain aesthetic and cultural value. The critic is often faced with a choice: to defend old standards, values and hierarchies against new ones or to defend the new against the old. Generally, critics view art at galleries and museums, or in private collections, and they write their personal opinions about the art they see. On the other hand, the research art historian generally has a scientific character, aiming at objectively valid formulations.

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 January 2013. http://muse.jhu.edu/

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 (1641–1711) Groot Schilder-boeck (Amsterdam 1707), and Dubois de Saint-Gelais's descriptions of Parisian art treasures, to reprints of older manuals by Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) and Karel van Mander (1548–1606).

Self Portrait, John RichardsonSelf Portrait
Jonathan Richardson
Oil on canvas, 73.7 × 62.9 cm.
National Portrait Gallery, London

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 the 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 1720s. 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 is the removal of the outer parts of an image to improve framing, accentuate subject matter or change aspect ratio. Depending on the application, this may be performed on a physical photograph, painting or film footage, or achieved digitally using image editing software. The practice is common to the film, broadcasting, photographic, graphic design and printing industries.

Although it was occasionally employed as means to fit a canvas into a desired frame because it is so technically difficult cropping a canvas physically was rarely an aesthetic measure. Compositional decisions were all but worked out through preparatory drawings before the canvas itself was drawn upon. However, by the Renaissance, painters cropped parts of the figures that occupied the left and right-hand extremes of the canvas, more or less routinely. In order to maximize the sensation of dramatic nearness and involvement of the spectator, Caravaggio (1571–1610) violently cropped his figures drawing to the very foreground of the scene, an effect which must have appeared unsettling.

The use of the strong crop was introduced to the Netherlands via the Dutch Caravaggists in Utrecht. It has been noted that among genre interior painters, Vermeer was the most prone to deliberately crop both inanimate objects and figures in order to accentuate the engagement with the viewer. The drastic cropping of the left-hand elbow of the musician of his Guitar Player still strikes many for its audacity. It has been suggested that the cropping of Vermeer's works may have been stimulated by the camera obscura but the cropping of figures was already well-known device.

Cross Section

A cross-section is a slice through any object which shows its layer structure. In the context of the technical examination of painting it is a minute sample of paint layers, commonly, removed by using a scalpel, applying lateral pressure with a scalpel to obtain a piece of paint along tacking margins or from an existing area of loss. The sample is mounted in a block of resin and then ground and polished. When it is illuminated under a microscope the pigments present can be identified by their color and optical properties. Cross-section analysis of artwork is a conventional way to investigate the layered structure of paint, identify pigments, binding mediums and varnishes, and restoration materials from prior treatment campaigns, and can tell us exactly which pigments were used by an artist. Such analysis is useful for dating a picture and making matching pigments for retouching damaged areas. In works of particular fragility, artistic worth or dimensio,n cross sections are removed only from outermost edges of the canvas, which is usually covered by the frame.

Cross sections can provide a large amount of precise information about the composition of a very small area from a work of art. It complements other techniques such as x-radiography and examination under ultraviolet and infrared light, which give rather more general information over a large area. Pioneering work on painting cross sections was conducted by Raehlmann, who published his results in 1910.

Crushed Impasto

Impasto (the application of thick layers of paint) leaves distinct patterns of an individual artist's brushwork often identifying the authenticity of a particular painter's work–these sharp peaks and well-defined valleys are easily crushed through inept restoration where the application of too much heat during lining will soften and partially melt the paint layer itself, crushing it downward, partially or totally flattening it. The distinctive feature of "crushed impasto" is a soft, rolling crest to the top of the impasto.

Crushed impasto can be seen in the white chemise of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring.


Cupid is the son of Venus and the god of Love; in Latin he is called Amor, and in Greek, Eros. He is usually shown as a winged child. His attributes are a bow, arrow and quiver. Those hit by his arrows become lovers. Cupid often does not play an active part when pictorially represented but is included to signify the importance of love to the major narrative shown.

Cupids are a frequent motif of both Roman art and later Western art of the classical tradition. In the fifteenth century, the iconography of Cupid starts to become indistinguishable from the putto. Cupid continued to be a popular figure in the Middle Ages, when under Christian influence he often had a dual nature as Heavenly and Earthly love. In the Renaissance, a renewed interest in classical philosophy endowed him with complex allegorical meanings. In contemporary popular culture, Cupid is shown drawing his bow to inspire romantic love, often as an icon of Valentine's Day.

Specific stories which relate to him include The Education of Cupid (see The School of Love by Correggio (1489–1534), Cupid Stung (see Cupid Complaining to Venus by Cranach (c. 1472–1553), and Cupid and Psyche (see Claude's Enchanted Castle).

In Vermeer's interiors, pictures-within-pictures are portrayed 16 times. Three works, The Love Letter, A Lady Standing at a Virginal and The Concert, feature two pictures-within-pictures. One picture-within-a-picture, a pot-bellied, oversized Cupid, originally appeared in four different works, partially or entirely: A Maid Asleep, Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window, Girl Interrupted in her Music and A Lady Standing at a Virginal. In Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window, it was overpainted by Vermeer himself.

Evidence strongly suggests that Vermeer's pictures-within-pictures were not inventions but copies of extant works, which were either part of his mother-in-law's art collection or works in which the artist dealt. For example, in a probate inventory of Vermeer's house, a Cupid was listed in the upstairs back room of his house among other items. Art historians presume that the Cupid in A Lady Standing at a Virginal admonishes the spectator to have but one lover. The style of the Cupid is very near that of the famous Dutch history painter Cesar van Everdingen (1616/17–1678).


from Wikipedia:
A curator (from Latin: curare, meaning "to take care") is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g., gallery, museum, library, or archive) is a content specialist charged with an institution's collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material. A traditional curator's concern necessarily involves tangible objects of some sort—artwork, collectibles, historic items, or scientific collections. More recently, new kinds of curators have started to emerge: curators of digital data objects and bio curators.

In smaller organizations, a curator may have sole responsibility for acquisitions and even collections care. The curator makes decisions regarding what objects to select, oversees their potential and documentation, conducts research based on the collection and history, provides proper packaging of art for transportation, and shares that research with the public and community through exhibitions and publications. In very small, volunteer-based museums such as local historical societies, a curator may be the only paid staff member.

In larger institutions, the curator's primary function is that of a subject specialist, with the expectation that he or she will conduct original research on objects and guide the organization in its collecting. Such institutions can have multiple curators, each assigned to a specific collecting area (e.g., curator of ancient art, curator of prints and drawings, etc.) and often operate under the direction of a head curator. In such organizations, the physical care of the collection may be overseen by museum collections managers or museum conservators, and documentation and administrative matters (such as personnel, insurance and loans) are handled by a museum registrar.


A wavy distortion of the weave along the edges of a canvas caused by it being stretched and attached to a strainer or stretcher using cords or tacks.


  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, http://www.kfki.hu/~arthp/welcome.html
  2. Arie Wallert and Willem de Ridder, "The Materials and Methods of Michael Sweerts," in Michael Sweerts (16181664), eds. Guido Jansen and Peter C. Sutton, Zwolle: Waanders Books, 2000, 373
  3. Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, "Art & Artists: the Renaissance and the Rise of the Artist," http://www.arthistory.sbc.edu/artartists/renaissance.html
  4. John Michael Montias, "The Guild of Saint Luke in 17th-century Delft and the economic status of artists and artisans," Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, vol. 9, no. 2 (1977), 104.
  5. James Shelley, "The Concept of the Aesthetic," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2012/entries/aesthetic-concept/
  6. "Dutch and Flemish Painting of the 16th and 17 Centuries," National Gallery of Art. http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/dutch.shtm
  7. "The Allegory of the Catholic Faith," Metropolitan Museum of Arteds. Ivan Gaskell and Michiel Jonker, National Gallery of Art Washington D.C., New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998.
  8. Mark Lesney, "Analyzing artistry. Spectroscopy is indispensable in examining the provenance of artifacts and paintings," Today's Chemist at Work, 2002. http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/archive/tcaw/11/i03/html/03lesney.html
  9. Lydia Thompson, "Authentication and the Art Market," Thompson and Martinez Fine Art Appraisals, posted on August 2, 2012. http://thompsonandmartinez.com/authentication-and-the-art-market/
  10. Ronald D. Spencer, "How Decisions on the Authenticity of Visual Art are made by Courts." website no longer accessible
  11. Taylor, Paul, "Vermeer, Lairesse and Composition," Hofstede de Groot-lezing, Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague. 2010, 7.
  12. Mariët Westermann, "Vermeer and the Interior Imagination," in exh. cat. Vermeer and the Dutch Interior, ed. Alejandro Vergara, Madrid: Museo Nacional de Prado, 2003, 229.
  13. Hume, D., "1738/1911," Treatise of Human Nature, ed. A. D. Lindsay, London: Dent. Bk III, part I, Sect. 1, 177; Bk I, IV, IV, 216.
  14. Palmer, S. K., Vision Science, Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1999, 95.
  15. Maxwell, J. C., 1890/1970, "On Colour Vision," in Sources of Color Science, .ed. D. L. MacAdam, Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 75.
  16. Eugene Clinton Elliott, "On the Understanding of Color in Painting,"The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 16, no. 4 (Jun., 1958), 453–470.
  17. 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.
  18. Roy Ashok and Jo Kirby, "Rembrandt's Palette," Art in the Making: Rembrandt, eds. David Bomford et al., 12–13.
  19. Juliette AristNew York and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006, in Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice, New York: Watson-Guptill, 2008, 64.
  20. Spike Bucklow, "The Description and Classification of Craquelure,"Studies in Conservation, vol. 44, no. 4 (1999), 233–244.
  21. Spike Bucklow, "The effect of cracks on the perception of paintings," 1996. http://www-hki.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/research/hist/cracks.htm

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