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Essential Vermeer Glossary of Art-Related Terms Q - Z

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

Enhanced by the author's dual expertise as both a seasoned painter and a renowned authority on Vermeer, Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder offers an in-depth exploration of the artistic techniques and practices that elevated Vermeer to legendary status in the art world. The book meticulously delves into every aspect of 17th-century painting, from the initial canvas preparation to the details of underdrawing, underpainting, finishing touches, and glazing, as well as nuances in palette, brushwork, pigments, and compositional strategy. All of these facets are articulated in an accessible and lucid manner.

Furthermore, the book examines Vermeer's unique approach to various artistic elements and studio practices. These include his innovative use of the camera obscura, the intricacies of his studio setup, and his representation of his favorite motifs subjects, such as wall maps, floor tiles, and "pictures within pictures."

By observing closely 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 masterworks, which reveal a seamless unity of craft and poetry.

While the book is not structured as a step-by-step instructional guide, it serves as an invaluable resource for realist painters seeking to enhance their own craft. The technical insights offered are highly adaptable, offering a wealth of knowledge that can be applied to a broad range of figurative painting styles.


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


  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

Raking Light

Raking light is the illumination of objects from a light source at a strongly oblique angle almost parallel to the object's surface (between 5º and 30º with respect to the examined surface). Under raking light, tool marks, paint handling, canvas weave, surface imperfections and restorations can be visualized better than with light coming from different angles. In some instances raking light may help reveal pentimenti or changes in an artist's intention. In the case of wall paintings, raking light helps show preparatory techniques such as incisions in the plaster support.

The term "raking light" may also be used to describe a strongly angled light represented in illusionist painting, although not strictly between 5º and 30º. Raking light gives volume to objects and accentuates texture. It is best used to create dramatic or moody images.

Painters instinctively avoid the lowest angles of raking light because they divided solid objects into two essentially equal parts: a face would be half in light and half in shadow, which tends to have a flattening effect. Moreover, raking light create cast shadows that run parallel to the picture plane, so they do not suggest spatial recession as well as shadows that are cast backward by light originating from a higher angle. Since it is easier to evaluate an object's form, color and texture when it is illuminated rather than when it is in shadow, a wider angle of light is generally preferable. Often, painters use three-quarters lighting which reveals the great part of an object's surface but creates at the same time a strong sense of volume.


Rapen, which means "stealing" or "borrowing," is a Dutch term widely used in the seventeenth century when discussing artistic competition and emulation. Rapen was approved by art Dutch theorists of borrowings provided that they were integrated into painting and might appear unrecognizable. Using a play on words—in Dutch rapen is the plural of raap, or "turnip"—the Dutch painter and art writer Arnold Houbraken (1660–1719) recommended that "stolen" fragments should be "welded, molded in the mind as though it were stewed in a pot, and prepared and served with the sauce of ingenuity if it is to prove flavorful."

Ras schilderen

Ras schilderen is the Dutch term for alla prima painting.


Reddering was a critical term which the Dutch art writer Willem Goeree first used in his Inleyding tot de algemeene teyken-konst in 1668, reflecting his knowledge of Leonardo da Vinci's Traitté de la peinture de Léonard da Vinci (Paris, 1651). Reddering indicates the distribution or arrangement of alternating areas of light and dark in the foreground and background in order to intesify the illusion spatial recession, three-dimensionality as well as to unify composition. Goeree and Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711) agreed that reddering could be found in nature.


A type of representational art in which the artist depicts as closely as possible what the eye sees. Realism attempts to represent people, objects, or places in a realistic manner as opposed to an idealized way; also, a later nineteenth century art movement in France which objected to the idealized style of Romanticism by creating works that depicted a more faithful view of everyday life.

Without underestimating the efforts of (Dutch) interior painters to make their works seem realistic, it is important to be aware up to what point we are dealing with modified reality.

Many mid-seventeenth century Dutch genre paintings, including those of Vermeer, depicted elegant interiors of the upper middle-class. These pictures reflect concepts that were important in Dutch culture such as the family, privacy and intimacy. However, it is likely that the world of exquisite refinery of Vermeer's compositions did not accurately portray the world he actually observed.

C. Willemijn Fock, a historian of the decorative arts, has demonstrated that floors paved with marble tiles, one of the most ubiquitous features of Dutch interior paintings, were extremely rare in the Dutch seventeenth-century houses. Only in the houses of the very wealthy were floors of this type were occasionally found, although they were usually confined to smaller spaces such as voorhuis (the entrance or corridor) where they would be most likely to be admired by incoming guests. Fock reasons that the abundant representations of these floors in Dutch genre painting may be explained by the fact that "artists were attracted by the challenge involved in representing the difficult perspective of receding multicolored marble tiling."

Vermeer should not be considered a realist painter in the strictest sense of the word. He frequently modified the scale, the shape of objects and even the fall of shadows for compositional or thematic reasons. His scenes, moreover, appear highly staged. One of the most striking examples of this modified reality is a so-called picture-within-a-picture, The Finding of Moses, which appears on the back wall of two of his compositions. In The Astronomer it appears as a small cabinet size picture whereas in the later Lady Writing with her Maid it appears as an enormous, ebony-framed picture. Which one, if either, was true?

Relining/Lining of Paintings

from Wikipedia:

The relining, or lining as it is also called, of a painting is a process of restoration used to strengthen, flatten or consolidate oil or tempera paintings on canvas by attaching a new canvas to the back of the existing one. In cases of extreme decay, the original canvas may be completely removed and replaced. Lining has been very widely practiced, and during the nineteenth century, some painters had their works lined immediately after, or sometimes even before, completion. There have been some doubts concerning its benefits more recently, especially since the Greenwich Comparative Lining Conference of 1974.

The procedure as carried out in the nineteenth century is described by Theodore Henry Fielding in his Knowledge and Restoration of Old Paintings (1847). The picture was removed from the stretcher and laid on a flat surface. The edges of the canvas were trimmed, leaving the original support smaller than the new lining. A sheet of paper covered in thin paste was laid on the surface of the painting, which was then placed face-down on a board or table. The back of the picture was then coated with paste, copal varnish, or a glue made from cheese. The new lining canvas was pressed down onto the back of the picture by hand; then the outer edges of the lining cloth were fastened to the table by means of a large number of tacks, and a piece of wood with a rounded edge was passed over the back of the cloth, to ensure perfect adhesion. When the glue had dried sufficiently, the lining was smoothed with a moderately hot iron. Fielding cautions that "the greatest care must be taken that the hand does not stop for an instant, or the mark of the iron will be so impressed on the painting, that nothing can obliterate it." The picture was then nailed to a new stretcher, and the paper was washed off with a sponge and cold water.

Fielding also describes the process for the complete removal and replacement of the canvas. In this, the picture was covered with paper, as if for lining, then fastened to a board or table, after which the old cloth was rubbed away with a small rasp with very fine teeth; when the restorer had gone "as far as may be prudent," the remainder of the cloth could be taken off with a pumice stone, until the ground on which the picture was painted became visible. It was then ready to receive its new cloth, which had previously been covered with copal varnish, glue, or paste. In this procedure, the hot iron was not used.

The use of hand-ironing is liable to produce a flattening of impasto. This problem was mitigated by the introduction in the 1950s of vacuum hot-table processes, designed for use with wax-resin adhesives, which exerted a more even pressure on the paint surface; however the longer periods of heating and high temperatures involved often led to other types of textural alteration.

Wax-based adhesives seem to have been in use for lining from the eighteenth century, although the earliest well-documented case of their employment is in the lining of Rembrandt's Night Watch in 1851. Although, initially, pure beeswax was used, mixtures incorporating resins such as dammar and mastic, or balsams such as Venice turpentine, were soon found preferable. During the twentieth century, it came to be realized that the impregnation of the paint layer with wax could have deleterious effects, including darkening of the picture, especially where canvas or ground were exposed.

Although experiments with synthetic fabrics were carried out during the 1960s and 1970s, traditional linen cloths are still usually used for lining. However polyester canvas is often used for strip-lining, where only the edges of the painting are backed, and for loose-lining, in which no adhesive is used. This latter technique helps protect the painting from atmospheric pollution, but does not flatten or consolidate the paint surface.

All of Vermeer's canvases, except for The Guitar Player, have been relined, and one, The Lacemaker, mounted on panel. Not only has The Guitar Player never been relined, it is still mounted on its original wood stretcher with wooden pegs, making it an extraordinary rarity among paintings of the age.


A French label given to an Italian cultural movement and to its repercussions elsewhere. For Italy the period is popularly accepted as running from the second generation of the fourteenth century to the second or third generation of the sixteenth century.

Characteristic of the Renaissance is the steady rise of painting and of the other visual arts that began in Italy with Cimabue (c. 1240–1302), and Giotto (1266–1337) and reached its climax in the sixteenth century. An early expression of the increasing prestige of the visual arts is found on the Campanie of Florence, where painting, sculpture and architecture appear as a separate group between the liberal and the mechanical arts. What characterizes the period is not only the quality of the works of art but also the close links that were established between the visual arts, the sciences and literature.

The period of the Renaissance brought with it many important changes in the social and cultural position of the artist. Over the course of the period there is a steady rise in the status of the painter, sculptor and architect and a growing sympathy expressed for the visual arts. Painters and sculptors made a concerted effort to extricate themselves from their medieval heritage and to distinguish themselves from mere craftsmen. At the beginning of the Renaissance, painters and sculptors were still regarded as members of the artisan class, and occupied a low rung on the social ladder. A shift begins to occur in the fourteenth century when painting, sculpture and architecture began to form a group separate from the mechanical arts. In the fifteenth century, the training of a painter was expected to include knowledge of mathematical perspective, optics, geometry and anatomy.

Although the influence of the Italian Renaissance was felt throughout Europe and in the Netherlands as well, it is interesting to note that none of the great masters of Dutch painting felt the necessity to go to Italy to adsorb its lessons first hand. Jacob van Ruisdael (c. 1629–1682), Frans Hals (c. 1582–1666), Vermeer and Rembrandt (1606–1669) all stayed in the Holland, close to their own culture.


Rendering in visual art and technical drawing means the process of formulating, adding color, shading and texturing of an image. It can also be used to describe the quality of execution of that process. When used as a means of expression, it is synonymous with illustrating. The alternative method to rendering an image is capturing an image such as photography or image scanning. Both rendered and captured images can be mixed, edited, or both.


From the French verb meaning to "push back." Repoussoir is one of the pictorial means of achieving perspective or spatial contrasts by the use of illusionistic devices such as the placement of a large figure or object in the immediate foreground of a painting to increase the illusion of depth in the rest of the picture. Caravaggio (1571–1610) had become famous for his paintings of ordinary people or even religious subjects in compositions. Repoussoir figures appear frequently in Dutch figure painting where they function as a major force in establishing the spatial depth that is characteristic of painting of the seventeenth century. Landscapists too learned to exploit the dramatic effect of repoussoir to enliven their depictions of the flat uneventful Dutch countryside. Repoussoir formulae is still used in landscape painting and is influential in photography as well.

Vermeer adapted various examples of repoussoir to his own compositions that he had derived from other Dutch paintings. The looming figure of the officer in The Officer and Laughing Girl is very similar in color and shape to the repoussoir figure in The Procuress by Gerrit Van Honthorst (1592–1656).

The most spectacular example of repoussoir in Vermeer's oeuvre may be found in The Art of Painting. The large foreground curtain on the left-hand side of the painting seems to have been just drawn back to let the viewer enter the pictorial space. Both the curtain's warm tone and the heavy impasto paint application makes it appear even nearer to the viewer.

This kind of repoussoir was generally placed on the left-hand side of the composition because we tend to rapidly scan images darting from the left to the right as when reading. By consequence, Vermeer's repoussoir is suited to be looked at by the reading eye, which, after a brief moment's delay at the repoussoir, is directed toward the key moment of the representation of the painter and his model and explores the rest of the painting thereafter.


Portrait of a Man, Full-Llength, Handing a Letter to a Boy, in an Interior (The Young Messenger), Gonzales Coques
Portrait of a Man, Full-Length, Handing a Letter to a Boy, in an Interior (The Young Messenger)
Attributed to Gonzales Coques (Flemish, Antwerp 1614/18–1684 Antwerp)
c. 1640s
Oil on panel, 55.9 × 44.1 cm.
Orsay Collection

A reserve is a temporarily unfinished or blank area of a painting which is surrounded by painted areas that re either partially or fully completed. A reserve generally corresponds to the area within the outer-most contour of a single object such as a figure, a tree or an architectural feature. Once painters of the Renaissance and Baroque had established the composition through a thin outline drawing on a monochrome ground, it was then underpainted with a dull monochrome tint. Successively, each area of the composition was worked up in a piecemeal fashion with full color, creating reserves of unpainted objects.

Period art manuals recommended that the background areas, usually the least important from a thematic point of view, be painted first, leaving reserves for the important foreground elements. This sequential system would allow to the painter to softly blend the outer contours of the foreground figures into the colors of the background, slightly overlapping them and creating a more convincing sensation of roundness. However, this system was not applied dogmatically and one can find examples of unfinished paintings which show the figures worked up in color with the background left relatively unfinished. Portrait painters routinely completed the face before working up the background or the figure's body.


A resin is a solid or highly viscous substance of plant or synthetic origin. Many plants, particularly woody plants, produce resin in response to injury. Resin acts as a bandage protecting the plant from invading insects and pathogens. Plant resins are valued for the production of varnishes, adhesives and food glazing and paint mediums. The hard transparent resins, such as the copals, dammars, mastic and sandarac, are principally used for varnishes and adhesives, while the softer odoriferous oleo-resins (frankincense, elemi, turpentine, copaiba), and gum resins are more used for therapeutic purposes and incense.

Resins are used to increase the gloss of oil paint, reduce the color and drying time of a medium, and add body to drying oils. The most commonly used is a natural resin known as Dammar, which should be mixed with turpentine as it will not thoroughly dissolve when mixed with mineral spirits. Dammar can also be used as a varnish. Exudations from conifer resins used in painting are Strasbourg turpentine, Venice turpentine, sandarac and various kinds of copals.


Retouching describes the work done by a restorer to replace areas of loss or damage in a painting. Retouchings are done in a soluble medium that differs from the original so that they can be removed easily. Retouching is usually intended to be invisible to the naked eye, but there may be reasons for it to be distinguishable when the painting is viewed at close range.

Over the period of 250 years after Vermeer's paintings left the artist's studio, a number have been retouched, some only to repair paint damage or fading, while at least one, features a compositional addition that does not reflect the artist's original intentions. On the background wall of Girl Interrupted in her Music a small birdcage, a common prop in Dutch interior painting, was added by a later hand. A violin once hung on the background of same picture, most likely itself another later addition.

Rough & Smooth Styles

Years before Frans Hals (c. 1582–1666) developed his characteristic free handling of paint, Gerrit Dou (1613–1675) specialized incredibly meticulous brushwork, Dutch artists and art lovers already distinguished between two main painting styles: ruwe or rauw, ("rough") and nette, fijn, or gladde ("clean," "fine" or "smooth"). The rough style was also associated with the loss'e style ("loose").

Dou, Rembrandt's first pupil, developed, or rather, brought the fine style to full fruition in the 1630s. Smooth painters went to incredible lengths to achieve the perfect, polished illusion of reality. The time Dou spent on his minutely detailed works is legendary: according to some of his contemporaries it took him days to paint a tiny broom the size of a fingernail. It is said that by sitting down quietly in his studio an hour before he began to paint, Dou was able to defeat one of the mortal natural enemies of the smooth style; dust.

Fine painting, which gave rise to the modern term fijnschilder (Dutch: fine painter) was a practiced in Leiden. In their own time, however, a fijnschilder, or "fine painter," was simply someone who could make a living through art and was distinguished from a kladscilder ("house painter"), both of whom were enrolled in the Saint Luke Guild. Today, art historians adopt the term fijnschilder to define a group of painters who worked in Leiden: Gerrit Dou, Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667), Pieter Cornelisz. van Slingelandt (1640–1691), Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) and Adriaen van der Werff (1659–722). However, the school only came into its own after Gabriel Metsu's (1629–1667), one of the best practitioners of the smooth style, had moved. It is most likely that fijnschilders worked at least partially naer het leven (from life).

In 1604, Karel van Mander (1548–1606), the Dutch painter and art theoretician who first codified the rough and smooth manners, advised artists always to start by learning the smooth manner, which was considered easier, and only subsequently choose between smooth and rough painting. A later Dutch art theoretician, Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711) wrote:

…he who practices the former [smooth] 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.

"The smooth manner of painting had been associated with descriptive tasks, for example flower painting or animal painting, well before the successes of the Leiden school, and in many parts of Europe. But the Dutch had made a specialty of it. Karl van Mander… linked the modern smooth manner of the legendary mysteries of Jan van Eyck's (before c. 1390–1441) technique. Even Van Eyck's underpainting was 'cleaner and sharper' [suyverder en scherper] than the finished work of other painters.'"Christopher S. Wood, "'Curious Pictures' and the art of description," Word & Image 11, no. 4 (1995): 332.

The question remains whether the smooth manner is truly more suited to evoke the illusion of reality than the rough manner is difficult to answer. While it is true that the smooth manner captures texture, form and detail with incredible efficacy, the rough manner, practiced by great artists like Diego Velázquez (1599–1660), Rembrandt (1606–1669) or Titian (c. 1488/1490–1576), is capable of evoking a sense of lifelikeness and naturalness that makes even the reality represented in the best smooth painting look frozen and artificial. To best appreciate the two styles, it was recommended that art lovers adjust their viewing distance: farther away for a roughly painted work, close up for a finely executed one.

It is believed that the rough manner stimulates the activity of the eye far more powerfully than painting with a smooth surface. The unequivocally completed, clear and polished work of art tends to exclude the spectator from participating in the picture. The roughly finished painting demands an intellectual response from the beholder because the painter of the rough manner deliberately exposes the working processes to the spectator making him party to the artifice by which the illusion is achieved. The smooth painter, instead, deliberately conceals his manner and isolates the viewer from the picture making process, which may, is some subjects give rise to a sensation of deception. The rough painter, instead, hides nothing, and is registered as more sincere, or at least to modern sensibilities.

Portrait of Jan Six, Rembrandt van RIjnPortrait of Jan Six
Rembrandt van Rijn
Oil on canvas, 112 x 102 cm.
Six Collection, Amsterdam

Both of these great artists "were working against the prevailing norms of smooth or fine painting, and, for both, the example of late Titian was cited as authorization of their increasingly broken and irregular handling of paint. In a remarkable trajectory that echoed Titian's, Rembrandt moved through his career from being a founding father of the Leiden fijnschilders...—those painters who, with invisible brushstrokes and 'the patience of saints and the industry of ants' (as one contemporary author described it), took the illusionistic depiction of objects to a new level—to his culmination as the undisputed extreme exponent of the rough manner. In his late works, the paint surfaces have the density of rock faces. It is thought that Rembrandt's rough manner may have been a factor contributing to his personal financial troubles in later life.

"The rough manner in Dutch painting was a conscious aesthetic choice and was described in Rembrandt's day as lossigheydt, 'looseness'—the equivalent of the sprezzatura of the Italian writer Baldesar Castiglione (1478–1529), who drew parallels between the effortless nonchalance of courtly behavior and the loose, seemingly careless touches that the artist applied with his brush. The epitome of lossigheydt or sprezzatura in Rembrandt's art is his masterpiece, the Portrait of Jan Six , in which the paint seems to have massed spontaneously into the gorgeous fabric of the sitter's clothes and the powerful passages of his face and hands. Seventeenth-century Spanish art theory, similarly, had terminology for loose, expressive brushstrokes: they were referred to as borrones or manchas, words loaded with the same significance as 'sprezzatura.'"David Bomford, "Rough Manners: Reflections on Courbet and Seventeenth-Century Painting," in papers from the Symposium Looking at the Landscapes: Courbet and Modernism, J. Paul Getty Museum, March 18, 2006, 10, https://www.getty.edu/publications/resources/virtuallibrary/0892369272.pdf.

"Seventeenth-century painters and art lovers had terms to describe the notable changes in painterly technique and compositional method that accompanied the 'gentrification' of Vermeer's work in the 1660s. Whereas the relatively grainy texture of bread, carpets and bricks in the early words would have been seen as rouw or rough, the even, polished facture of the Girl with a Wine Glass or Woman Holding a Balance was explicitly net, neat or smooth. By his increasing commitment to the smooth style, Vermeer essentially sided with the manner that was gaining market and connoisseur favor after mid-century. However different his paintings look from the miniaturist neatness of Dou, Frans van Mieris (1635–1681), and Gerrit ter Borch (1617–1681), they, too, must have been admired especially in the decade that saw a lesser interest in the rough painting associated with Rembrandt and his students and followers. The smooth manner typically went along with more genteel and elegant themes. The rough brothel scenes of the 1620s and 1630s, so often painted with Caravaggesque uncouthness, now became sublimated in more slyly humorous paintings in the neat style."Mariët Westermann, "Vermeer and the Interior Imagination," in Vermeer and the Dutch Interior, ed. Alejandro Vergara (Madrid: Museo Nacional de Prado, 2003), 231.


Rounding is the creation of relief of solid, opaque and convex objects. Rounding was one of the cardinal concerns of renaissance and baroque easel painting. Rounding was not only achieved by the use of light and shade, or more crudely in former times, by shading, but by the proper management of contour. Paramount was to make the edges of objects appear to gradually wrap around to their backside rather than terminate abruptly. Painters were advised to soften their contours of solid objects so they might subtly "melt" into the background, avoid placing the highest light outer edges of the illuminated sides of objects and to avoid outlining the outer edges with sharp black lines. Many painters introduced lines aound objects to accentuate certain of their qualities but they were generally variable in application, colored and never too hard.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was the first to codify the depiction of edges writing "the true outlines of opaque objects are never seen with great precision." Another method for producing rounding was to introduce light (i.e., a reflection) along the inner edges of an object's outermost shadowed edge. If the large mass shadow of an objects is dark along its edges as it is the innermost parts, the mass shadow will appear flat.


Painting satin is a challenging task even for the most talented and experienced painter. It requires not only exacting manipulative skill and a thorough knowledge of the artist's materials, but a comprehension of its peculiar optical and physical properties. Unlike common fabrics, satin does not absorb and diffuse light rays in a more or less predictable manner, because more like a mirror it reflects the great part of the light which strikes its surface. The difficulty of painting satin was vastly exacerbated when rendering the restless patterns of light and dark created by the elaborate cut of contemporary fashion, which behave more like pieces fractured glass rather than a flat mirror.

Two MenPlaying Tric-trac, with a Woman Scoring, Willem DuysterTwo Men Playing Tric-trac, with a Woman Scoring (detail)
Willem Duyster
c. 1625–1630
Oil on oak, 41 x 67.6 cm.
National Gallery, London

It is not known exactly how satin was painted, although the relatively uniform success of its rendering among a significant number of Dutch painters suggests that there must have existed a common procedure. A few Dutch interior paintings with satin garments seem to indicate that the highlights were worked up with wet paint over a dark brown underpainting (see the barely finished background figure of Two Men playing Tric-trac, with a Woman by William Duyster (1599–1635) or over a barely modeled layer of dark paint tinted roughly with the color of the garment, with the untouched base tone functioning as the garment's deepest shadows (see the ochre gown of the left-hand figure of The Card Party (c. 1665) by Caspar Netscher (1639–1684). When the light-colored paint of the highlight is feathered into the surround dark to represents the gradual falloff of light this technique automatically produces the cool, shimmering halftones (via the turbid medium effect this) typical of satin. The lighter shadows and their inner reflections would have been successively rendered with medium tones of paint, somewhere in between the deepest shadows and the highlights. Strongly colored satin was probably worked up in monochrome or lightly colored shades of paint and then glazed with more richly colored paint producing an attractive gem-like quality.

In general, the maximum lights of light-colored satin must be rendered with very light tones of thick paint while the darks must be rendered translucently with somewhat lighter tones than those used for similarly colored but non-reflective fabrics. The deepest shadows are full of complicated reflections, especially when the fabric is tightly bunched. These reflections sometimes take on shades of the color of nearby objects. The half-tones of satin—half-tones are those crucial transitional tones that lie between the illuminated and shadowed sides of opaque, illuminated objects—must be drastically minimized; otherwise the fabric will not glimmer. The depiction of satin is further complicated by the fact that its stiffness makes folds break at more or less sharp angles instead of bending predictably like more pliable fabrics. These angular folds of satin were much appreciated by Vermeer (see The Concert) in his years of maturity and were exaggerated to almost exasperated level in the gowns of the late Love Letter and The Guitar Player. Owing to its capricious behavior, the slightest wrinkles and creases on its surface sends off glitters of light that, if rendered convincingly, charm even the most jaded art-goer, making the painter appear more like a sorcerer than a craftsman. Given the difficulties of representing the unique actions of satin, art historians have assumed that garments made with this fabric were depicted from life.

The satin gowns of Vermeer's mature works are immediately distinguishable from those of his contemporaries for their crisp, angular folds that convey strength and structure, while theirs abound with rhythmically swerving curves and finicky detail. The gown of A Lady Standing at a Virginal appears as a perfect luminous bell while in The Love Letter it is transformed into a cube-like box with flaring sides. In the latter picture the long, unbroken fold that plunges from the figure's left-hand knee to the floor appears wonderfully, but perhaps impossibly, straight.

The "in-your-face" silver gown of The Guitar Player is one of the most criticized and praised motifs—at least by painters—in the artist's oeuvre. Its folds and creases are not inventoried literally but imaginatively reconstituted into abstract shapes of differently toned patches gray paint. Surprisingly, although pattern is largely victorious over chiaroscural modeling, neither the feel of the fabric nor the underlying anatomical forms which determine the its outer appearance are lost. To the left, an oval-shaped plane of light gray, from which spider-like tendrils spread out in all directions, clearly informs us of the musician's propped up knee. To the right, a large, flat shape of light gray adjacent to the strip of fur trim signals the location of the knee of the extended leg.


Saturation refers to the purity of color and measures the amount of gray in a particular color. A color with more gray is considered less saturated, while a bright color, one with very little gray in it, is considered highly saturated. The amount of saturation does not affect the basic hue of a color but it does alter the color's intensity. Saturated colors are considered bolder and tied to emotions, while unsaturated ones are softer and less striking. Vermeer carefully balanced a few areas of strongly saturated colors with larger areas of soft grays and browns.


Relative size, proportion; the determination of measurements of dimensions within a design or artwork.


See, pictorial convention.


In 1604, the term schilderachtig, which corresponds approximately to "painterly" or "picture worthy," was used first in the Schilder-boeck by Karel van Mander (1548–1606). However, schilderachtig refers to two separate qualities: on one hand the image that best demonstrates an artist's painterly ability and at the other hand to describe those subjects fit for an artist, allowing for free imagination and invention. Schilderachtig implied values close to the Dutch such as rustic simplicity, naturalness and a love for the unadorned. The idyllic world of the past as well as curious unusual or even ugly had become worthy of the painter's attention. Rembrandt (1606–1669) could find an audience for the old run-down farm houses outside of Amsterdam and Vermeer an old house along a secluded Delft canal. However, "whether or not the painterly was used to describe an artist's activities or his pictures, it was always used as a concept in connection with the artistic ambition to take one's point of departure in reality, or at least portray the motif as it could appear in nature. 'I have followed the schilderachtig saying (a saying common among painters) that 'the best painters are those who get closest to reality' wrote the painter and poet Gerbrand Bredero (1585–1618) wrote in 1618."David Burmeister Kaaring, "Reality as Icon–The cottage motif in Dutch landscape painting 1600–1650," SMK Art Journal (2007): 99. After the middle of the seventeenth century the term shifted in meaning and was used to denote painting of buildings, cottages and people marked by aging and weathering, subjects that did not fit in well with the tenets of the upcoming classicist painting.

Around the end of the seventeenth century, the painter and art theorist Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711) made a passionate plea that art lovers stop applying this word to pictures of old people with very wrinkled faces or dilapidated and overgrown cottages, and reserve it for well-proportioned young people and idealized landscapes.

School (of painting)

In reference to painting the word "school" is used with various meanings. In its widest sense a school may include the painters of a single country, regardless of date such as "the Dutch School." In its narrowest sense, it denotes a group of painters who worked under the influence of a single artist as in, the "School of Raphael." In a third sense, it applies to the painters of one city or province who worked under some common 'local influence, and with some general similarity of design, color, or technique, such as the "Florentine School."

Painters of a specific geographical area were once bound together more closely than in modern times. In order to sign and sell their works, they were required to belong to the Guild of Saint Luke, the corporation of artists and artisans which regulated the local art commerce and assisted painters in illness and old age. Each guild had a clearly defined set of rules, traditions and a system of apprenticeship that compelled young painters to work for a term of four to six years with a recognized guild master. Thus, an important master might stamp his manner of working on a large number of pupils, some of whom would be more than willing to acquiesce to the tastes of local collectors who had guaranteed their master's prosperity.

The "School of Delft," or the "Delft School," belongs to the third type of school, although its "members" would probably not have been aware that they belonged to any school at all. They were, however, bound by their obligatory guild membership and could not have avoided contact with each other is such a small town as Delft. For further information on the School of Delft, click here.


Although the founding father of the United Provinces, William the Silent, had championed religious and cultural tolerance, in practice, Calvinists were openly hostile towards people of different faith and attitude. Only foreigners, like Jews emigrated from other countries, were able to practice their religion freely, without significant restrictions. But Catholics, Remonstrants and Mennonites were explicitly forbidden to practice their faith in the public. They were violently deprived of their churches, cloisters, grounds and were forced to take refuge within domestic walls, warehouses, cellars, attics and even barns. These environments were then rebuilt and decorated for the purposes of celebrating the Holy Masses and holding other religious meetings evolving into so-called schuilkerken (hidden churches). In the rural areas they were called schuilkerken (Dutch schuur = barn) since barns were frequently used for the purpose. Initially, Calvinistic authorities reacted harshly against these hidden churches. In Zwolle, for instance, Catholic families were forbidden to live in houses side by side in order to impede them from tearing down the walls to create a room large enough for a church.

But in the course of the time, the schuilkerken gradually became tolerated by officials. However, it was strictly prohibited that their entrances could be accessed directly from the street and no sign (crucifixes or other Christian symbols) could be placed above the entrances. Even bell towers were banned because they could have pointed to the existence of a building of religious use other than the Reformed one. Bell-ringing was completely forbidden. Furthermore, no congregational singing was permitted to be heard from outside. Nevertheless, hidden churches quickly spread all over the country, particularly in the protestant Seven United Provinces.

The Jesuits, who had established their first Dutch mission in 1592, moved to a permanent location in Delft in 1612. In 1650, Catholic inhabitants of Delft had the "choice" between three schuilkerken: two (dated from 1630–1650) in the Bagijnhof at the Oude Delft canal, dedicated to Saint Hippolytus and Saint Ursula and attended by secular priests, and the third one, established 1617 in an old warehouse at Oude Langendijk, dedicated to Saint Josef and supervised by the Jesuits.


In a certain sense, scumbling is the opposite of glazing. The term scumbling refers to the use of opaque paint thinly applied over a dried layer of different colored paint. Glazes are also applied thinly but only inherently transparent pigments are employed for the purpose. Another difference between the two techniques is that glazes are applied over lighter-toned paint layers while scumbles are generally applied over darker ones. The difference produces two completely different optical effects. Scumbles produce pearly opalescence or a soft smoky effect while glazing creates a deep jewel-like one. Scumbles tend to appear cooler (bluer) in hue, especially when applied over warm dark browns of the underpainting. Scumbles seem to advance towards the surface of the canvas while glazes create depth. By manipulating the optical effects of these two valuable techniques in tandem, the painter may enhance depth and atmosphere of his work.

Scumbling can also be used to create smooth transitions from light to dark or to subtly alter the tone or hue of the underlying paint layer. In order to scumble, the artist first picks up a bit of paint with his brush and then wipes away surplus paint with a cloth. In a sense, the paint is then "scrubbed" or "rubbed" over an underlying dry paint layer. Little or no medium is required since it would make the paint flow. If applied lightly, scumbles remain attached to the highest relief of the paint surface but if they are rubbed with vigor they will penetrate into the interstices of the canvas grain. Fingertips and the ball of the hand are very good tools for fine scumbling.

It is sometimes said that Titian (c. 1488/1490–1576) discovered that a light, opaque tone could be rendered semitransparent by the addition of a bit more oil and/or simply by scrubbing it on thinly with a stiff brush. A scumble over a flesh tone would produce an analogous effect as powder on a woman's face; that is, it makes its texture appear softer. This is a useful device when painting women and young people of both sexes. Scumbling may be used to modify the color of a given area after that area is dry. Such an application tends to soften transitions of tone from the previous sitting that were done too harshly. If used properly, it confers a higher degree of refinement to the image.


Holland is more intimately linked to the sea that any other nation on the earth. It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of Dutch artists devoted their careers to seascapes. "The sea was significant in a variety of ways to the Dutch. They were constantly warring with it in the struggle to increase and retain their land. On the other hand, the sea was the source of their wealth and their economic stability. The United Provinces was a great maritime trading nation; this was the backbone of its economy. The Dutch relied on the sea for a crucial part of their food supply. The herring, so often represented in still life paintings, was indeed a national treasure. Salted, it remained edible and provided sustenance during the long sea voyages that promoted Dutch prosperity, and it also enriched the economy as a major item for export. The sea was also the scene of their military successes. Dutch national heroes were admirals rather than generals; the great tomb sculptures in Dutch churches are tombs of admirals. Paintings of seascapes reflected the specific maritime interests of the Dutch people, and there seems to have been a large market for them in the seventeenth century.

"A number of Dutch artists whose work consisted mainly of other kinds of subjects painted seascapes as well. Jan van Goyen (1596–1656), for example, painted numerous coastal scenes and purely marine subjects. Jacob van Ruisdael (c. 1629–1682) and Aelbert Jacobsz Cuyp 1620–1691) also painted seascapes. Some artists, however, specialized in seascapes. Most marine painters were experts on ships."Madlyn Millner Kahr, Dutch Painting in the Seventeenth-Century (New York: Routledge, 1978), 232–133.

Vermeer is not know to have ever painted a seascape. However, the maps which hang on the background walls of his compositions often remind the viewer of the fundamental role that the sea played in the lives of many Dutchmen. In the late Love Letter, an ebony framed seascape hangs directly behind the maid and mistress who has presumably just received a letter from her loved one. This picture-with-a-picture mostly likely was intended to clarify the meaning of the composition as it refers to the loved one of mistress' who is not present. Ships at stormy seas often were connected to the idea of uncontrollable the passions of the lover's heart. But the seascape in Vermeer's composition seems to be relatively calm. In Dutch emblematic traditions a calm sea represents a good omen for love.

Self Portrait

Selft Portrait, Jean Fouquet
Self Portrait
Jean Fouquet
Gold cameo and black email on copper
Louvre, Paris

A self-portrait is a representation of an artist, drawn, painted, photographed, or sculpted by the artist. Although self portraits have been made by artists since the earliest times, it is not until the Early Renaissance in the mid-fifteenth century that artists can be frequently identified depicting themselves as either the main subject, or as important characters in their work. With better and cheaper mirrors, and the advent of the panel portrait, many painters, sculptors and printmakers tried some form of self-portraiture.

"Jean Fouquet's self portrait (c. 1450), a small picture created in gold on black enamel, is seen as the earliest clearly identified self portrait that is a separate painting, not an incidental part of a larger work. However, self-portraits are known to go back as far as the Amarna Period (c. 1365 B.C.) of Ancient Egypt. Pharaoh Akhenaten's chief sculptor Bak carved a portrait of himself and his wife Taheri out of stone. This is significant because Bak and Taheri were not like the rich and powerful who could afford the privilege of a portrait therefore the artist must have had another reason for creating this work of art. Sean Kelly points out in his book The Self-Portrait, A Modern View, while we know a number of self-portraits from the ancient world, we also know very little about the psychological motivations which inspired them.

"Though Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) is credited for being the first artist to consistently create self-portraits, Rembrandt (1606–1669) is given credit for being the first artist to intensely study of the self through art.""Self-Portraits as a Self-Study," http://www.research.umbc.edu/~ivy/selfportrait/study.html.

It wasn't until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when scholars studied Rembrandt's oeuvre as a whole, that it was discovered how very many times the artist had portrayed himself. The number is still a matter of contention, but it seems he depicted himself in approximately forty to fifty extant paintings, about thirty-two etchings, and seven drawings. It is an output unique in history; most artists produce only a handful of self portraits, if that. And why Rembrandt did this is one of the great mysteries of art history.

Most scholars up till about twenty years ago interpreted Rembrandt's remarkable series of self portraits as a sort of visual diary, a forty-year exercise in self-examination. In a 1961 book, art historian Manuel Gasser wrote, "Over the years, Rembrandt's self portraits increasingly became a means for gaining self-knowledge, and in the end took the form of an interior dialogue: a lonely old man communicating with himself while he painted.

Art historian Ernst van de Wetering sets forth a view that has gained a number of adherents over the past few decades. The "self portraits" (there was no such term in the seventeenth century) could not have been made for the purpose of self-analysis, he claims, because the idea of self as "an independent I who lives and creates solely from within" is one that arose only in the Romantic era, after 1800. In the literature of Rembrandt's day, he contends, personality was seen primarily as being bound to certain immutable types discussed in classical sources. Van de Wetering basically sees that Rembrandt's "programme" in these self portraits was to make paintings for which there was a ready market. He points out that a detailed inventory of Rembrandt's possessions made in 1656, when he faced bankruptcy, included no portrayals of the artist by himself.) In self portraits, artists in Rembrandt's day and previous eras sometimes included a painting in the genre for which they were best known, as an example of their style. In the case of Rembrandt, he was most noted for his eccentricity of technique and for his tronien and depictions of one or a few figures. So, in making his self-portraits, which Van de Wetering contends were probably all seen as tronien in their day, Rembrandt was making the kind of images art buyers expected of him, which had the added attraction of being depictions of their maker and exemplars of his unusual technique.

Susan Fegley Osmond, "Rembrandt's Self-Portraits," THE ARTS, January, 2000.

According to a succinct description in an auction catalogue of 1696 (the Dissius estate sale in Amsterdam) which featured twenty-one Vermeer paintings, the artist had at one time or another depicted a "portrait of Vermeer in a room with various accessories uncommonly beautifully painted by him." Unfortunately, this "uncommonly beautiful" work is currently missing or has not survived. But over the years various works have been candidated as Vermeer self portraits including The Art of Painting even though the artist who is depicted at work in this masterpiece has turned his back to the viewer.

While the Dissius self-portrait has disappeared, the pose, the glance, the fancy costume and the lateral position of the figure on the left of the composition of Vermeer's The Procuress (1656) all suggest it a self-portrait by Vermeer. This grinning figure, who clutches a cittern in his right hand and seemingly cheers to both the viewer and his companions with a glass of beer, is a typical Caravaggesque merry drinker popular pictured frequently brothel scenes of the Utrecht Caravaggists. The semi-comical figure serves as a kind of third-person "fictional narrator," within yet partially extraneous to the scene which unfolds. He wears a fanciful black doublet with broad slashes on the sleeves and so-called shoulder-wings. A similar figure appears out a work by Gerrit Dou (1613–1675). At the time of The Procuress was painted the painter was nearly twenty-four.


A technique, theorized and developed by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), in which the transitions from light to dark are so gradual they are almost imperceptible; sfumato softens lines and creates a very natural soft-focus effect. This slight blurring of contours was associated with the realization that air has a mellowing effect comparable of smoke or vapor. "Fumo" in Italian means smoke. Leonardo advised that "the painter, depicting figures and objects distant from the eyes, should put in only blots, not detailed but with distinct outlines."

Vermeer, in his individual way of rendering sfumato, let areas of paint slightly overlap at the transition areas along contours in order to create a special luminous effect around his pictorial motifs. The result of this technique can be seen, for example, around the skirt of The Milkmaid and the Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, but also between the floor tiles in The Music Lesson.

Another extraordinary use of sfumato in Vermeer's oeuvre can be seen in the late Guitar Player. The strings of the guitar are blurred and appear that they had been just plucked. Curiously, the Spanish master Diego Velázquez (1599–1660), with whom Vermeer's painting have been compared even thought there are no historically proven ties between the two masters, also experimented with blurred contours to convey the sense of movement in the spinning wheel of the Las Hilanderas (The Spinners) c. 1657.


Shading, which aims at creating a sense of volume of solid objects through the manipulation of gradients rather than registering of the effects of natural light, generally issues from the contour and gives way gradually to lighter values toward the center. Shading can be achieved even by non-painters while the creation of a convincing feel of natural light and shadow requires training. Since shading is in not accordance with the rules of illumination, an object shaded by gradients alone implies no fixed source of light. Creating form with shading can be done without actually seeing an object so it is essentially a conceptual exercise, and it is immediately distinguishable with respect to true chiaroscural modeling.


In painting, there are two kinds of shadows that occur when light shines upon an object, cast shadows and a form, or attached shadows.

Cast Shadows
In the simplest terms, a cast shadow is a shadow that is projected on a form nearby by an object which occludes the light which emanate from the principal light source (multiple cast shadows are caused by multiple light sources, usually avoided in painting). Each object which blocks light has a cast shadow associated with it. The shape of the cast shadow, which appears to be separated from the object which casts the shadow, is determined not only by shape and dimensions of the object that blocks the light, but by the surface form on which the cast shadow falls as well as the direction, origin and intensity of the light—and, crucial for the painter, the point from which the shadows are observed. An example of a cast shadow is a shadow of a tree that falls on the ground below, or the shadow cast upon the tabletop from an apple sitting on it. The farther a cast shadow is from the object the lighter and softer are its edges. A general rule for painters is that cast shadows are darker than any part of an objects attached shadow.

"Attached shadow (chiaroscuro) is not universally used in depiction, but even where it is mastered skillfully, it is not generally accompanied by the use, let alone the mastery, of cast shadows—as shadows are rare until the European Renaissance. After the Renaissance, shadows in European painting were canonized and shadow painting was the subject matter of a number of painting treatises. During a circumscribed period in history, the depiction of cast shadows has been the object of a representational struggle. Painters of the early Renaissance appear to have been fascinated by shadows, and to have learnt over about one century how to depict them in a geometrically and perceptually adequate or satisfactory way." Roberto Casati, "Methodological Issues in the Study of the Depiction of Cast Shadows: A Case Study in the Relationships between Art and Cognition," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 62, no. 2 (2004): 165.

Attached Shadows
An attached shadow is an area of an object which does not receive light directly from the light source but is not blocked (cast) by another object. In real life situations, attached shadows are less defined that than a cast shadow and are more difficult to paint.

It is not enough to darken the local color(s) of the object with black or brown paint as amateur painters usually do. When painting attached shadows, the painter must take into consideration many variables: the intensity of the light, the overall chiaroscural scheme, the color and texture of the object whose shadow it belongs to. And, shadows are generally much more true to nature if they are painted thinly.

The adequate depiction of cast and attached shadows is essential for creating the illusion of volume, mass and depth. Without shadows, objects have no substance do not seem real. Understanding the subtle variations of attached and cast shadows requires careful observation: squinting at the subject to see tends to simplify the relationships between lit and unlit areas of the scene and make figure-ground making value relationships clearer. In the eighteenth century, the so-called Claude glass was considered an indispensable tool for an amateur landscape artist. Named for French seventeenth-century painter Claude Lorrain (1600–1682), the Claude glass is a black mirror, slightly convex, that serves to concentrate and frame scenery, as well as simplifying the color and tonal range. This created an image with the qualities of a painting by Claude and made drawing scenery much simpler.

Painters typically represent less detail in the shadowed areas rather than the illuminated areas. Detail in shadow subtract from sensation of natural light and the painting surface overworked. By rendering shadows flat and relatively devoid of detail, the painter enhances through his medium the unsubstantial nature of the shadow itself.

Seventeenth-century artist were keenly aware of the proper rendering of shadows. The painter and art theoretician Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678), warned against overworking shadows lest they become hard:

But whether you begin or end with the shadows, you should split them up in your mind into lesser and greater, and depict each in a flat manner, according to its darkness; for by working them too much, and melting them in, all your work would turn to copper; and you would even lose the capacity to judge it. Don't allow yourself to be bothered by small modulations [kantigheden] in a soft shadow, nor by the fact that, when viewed from close by, a darker one can be seen in the middle of it; because the force will be all the greater if you hold it at arm's length…

From inspecting his theory and his practice, it would seem that what Van Hoogstraten wanted was a drawing built out of crisp contrasts, in which light and shade were clearly articulated, both between and within themselves.Paul Taylor, "Flatness in Dutch Art: Theory and Practice," Oud Holland Jaargang 121, no. 2/3 (2008): 161.

Vermeer himself greatly minimized detail of his shadows, especially the mass shadows. For example, the mass shadow of the blue attire of the blue morning jacket of the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter is rendered almost entirely with a single tone of unmodulated dark blue (natural ultramarine). This pictorial strategy not only enhances the sensation of natural light but simplifies the planimetric composition of the painting into large masses of dark and light which can be more comfortably assimilated by the observer. However, the drastic simplification of Vermeer's shadows may not only owe to Dutch practice recommenced by Van Hoogstraten but to the peculiar image produced by the camera obscura (known to have been employed by Vermeer) which, in situations of all but exceptionally strong illumination, does not evidence tonal variations in shadowed areas of objects.


A shape of an object or its external boundary, outline, or external surface, as opposed to other properties such as color, texture or material composition. Some simple shapes can be put into broad categories. For instance, polygons are classified according to their number of edges as triangles, quadrilaterals, pentagons, etc. Each of these is divided into smaller categories; triangles can be equilateral, isosceles, obtuse, acute, scalene, etc. while quadrilaterals can be rectangles, rhombi, trapezoids, squares, etc. In the visual arts Shape is a flat, enclosed area of an artwork created through lines, textures, colors or an area enclosed by other shapes such as triangles, circles and squares. Likewise, a form can refer to a three-dimensional composition or object within a three-dimensional composition. Shapes are limited to two dimensions: length and width.

Geometric shapes are precise edged and mathematically consistent curves, they are pure forms and so consist of circles, squares, spirals, triangles, while geometric forms are simple volumes, such as cubes, cylinders and pyramids. They generally dominate architecture, technology, industry and crystalline structures.

In contrast, organic shapes are free-form, unpredictable and flowing in appearance. These shapes, as well as organic forms, visually suggest the natural world of animals, plants, sky, sea, etc... The addition of organic shapes to a composition dominated by geometric structures can add unpredictable energy.

Artists must pay attention not only the surface qualities and underlying form of the objects he depicts but the shape these objects describe on the picture plane.


notes for The Sight-Size Portrait Tradition, Nicholas Beer (2009)

Since the very earliest commentaries on painting, it has been acknowledged that to ascertain unity of effect the artist should stand back and view the picture at a distance (commonly called sight-sizing). In Della Pittura of 1436, Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) suggests that if it is possible to think of a painting as a vertical plane which intersects the field of vision, then there is an optimal position from which it should be viewed: "Each painter, endowed with his natural instinct, demonstrates this when, in painting this plane, he places himself at a distance as if searching the point and angle of the pyramid from which point he understands the thing painted is best seen."

A generation later, in a passage from his Tratatto della Pittura, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) states: "It is also advisable to go some distance away, because then the work appears smaller, and more of it is taken in at a glance, and lack of harmony and proportion in the various parts and in the colors of the objects is more readily seen."


A signature is a handwritten depiction of someone's name, or, in some cases, even a simple "X" if he is not able to write, or other mark that a person writes on documents as a proof of identity and intent. Analogous to a handwritten signature, a "signature work" describes the work readily identifying its creator. A signature may be confused with an autograph, which, instead, is chiefly an artistic signature. The act of signing a painting can be very meaningful: by applying words onto an image, intentionally or not, the artist reminds the viewer that they are looking at a flat surface purposefully created by a real person.

Although the great majority of extant artworks from Greek antiquity lack signatures, the Greek artist nonetheless signed his products far more than any other artist of the time. Artist signatures first became prevalent during the early Renaissance, which saw art production shift from co-operative guild systems to a celebration of individual creativity. Between the fourteenth and fifteenth century the artist's signature was conventional and straightforward. The signature included the artist's name, a date, usually assumed to be the date of completion, and occasionally, information about the person who commissioned the work and the site where the work was completed. Signatures were usually placed on the frame or along the bottom edge of the painting. Latin was preferred with numbers in Roman Numerals. After the mid-1400s Gothic fonts were replaced with Roman letters and the signatures were sometimes placed in more conspicuous places so as to add to its meaning. Additional phrases were adjoined to the signature telling the viewer how the artist felt about his work or what he wanted them to feel about it. Duccio Bouninsegna (c. 1255–1260–c. 1318–1319) of Siena inscribed on the base of a sculpture of the high alter of the Siena Cathedral "Holy Mother of God, be peace for Siena's sake, be life for Duccio who painted you thus." Michelangelo left only one of his works signed (The Pieta'), which has given rise to much scholarly speculation. One of the most prolific and sought after paintings of the Baroque, Pieter Paul Rubens, rarely signed his work. Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) placed his famed monogram on everything from printed masterpieces to hurried sketches.

The manner in which painters have affixed their signatures varies enormously. Some painters signed with their initials, some with their whole names and some with Latinized names. Some used only a monogram, and some adopted their own handwriting style while still others in elegantly formed calligraphy, and a few a style midway between the later two. Particularly popular was the use of Roman lettering. Some signatures are incorporated within the image itself, and some appear to belong to the object over which they are superimposed. For example, a painter may place his signature on a piece of marble or stone rendering it with shadowed and illuminated sides as if the letters were carved into the marble itself. Some signatures were affixed on a small tromp-l'oeil paper called a cartellino. In any case, signatures were always applied with a brush, usually over a layer of dry, rather than wet paint. Occasionally, signatures took unusual forms such as secret codes, hidden signs and bizarre imagery. Lucas Cranach the Elder's (c. 1472–1553) signed his Adam and Eve (1526), on Tree of Life in the form of a winged snake-like creature wearing a crown and carrying a ring in its mouth.

Owing to the close operative relationship between the master, assistants and apprentices of a botegga or workshop, signatures may have been less meaningful than today. Authenticity was not of overriding importance so a signature did not necessarily bear evidence that the work had been done entirely by the hand of the master, although some sources suggest that contemporaries were interested in knowing by whom a work had been made. Early paintings could be marked by the personal mark or stamp of the artisan or of his workshop as well as the hallmark of the guild or city council, in order to guarantee a certain level or quality. By the second half of the sixteenth century artists began to sign their works with signatures that resembled their written signatures, but monograms remained in usage. Still, not all painters signed their works. Before the 1600s, Italian painters often signed their works in full followed by a "P" or "pinxit" (Latin for painted) while in the Netherlands painters used "pingebat," although the term "fecit" (Latin for made) was increasingly used. Seventeenth-century Dutch paintings with signatures were almost always followed by "f[ecit]." The great part of Dutch paintings are not signed except those by the most ambitious painters in order to distinguish their works from those of their less illustrious colleagues. Rembrandt seems to have signed almost all of his works. Some Dutch painters hid their signatures while some placed them so that they could not be overlooked. Many painters had variant signatures. The earliest documentation of falsely applied signatures can be pin-pointed to the last quarter of the seventeenth century.

However, even when signatures are present caution must be exercised when examining it. Signatures were routinely added to works—without malign intentions, but simply to authenticate a well-known fact.

After an analysis oif hundreds of artists' signatures the professor Yi Zhou of Florida State University holds that the size of an artist's signature may be closely linked to self-regard and that artists with bigger-than-average signatures, possess bigger egos and get greater-than-average attention. Zhou's paper argues: "A one standard deviation increase in narcissism increases the market price by 16% and both the highest and lowest auction-house estimates by about 19%."

For a complete analysis of Vermeer's signatures, click here.

Sinking In

George O'Hanlon, "Paint Glossary," Natural Pigments website, 2011. https://www.naturalpigments.com/artist-materials/paint-glossary-terminology

In the technique of applying successive coats of color to a picture, the oil in each superimposed coat can sink into the previous one (especially if the latter is not perfectly dry), resulting in color that appears dull. Before applying fresh paint, therefore, the artist may spread a thin coat of oil or medium over the colors already laid, in order to match the tone and hue of the fresh color, uniting the new layer with the previous. This is called "oiling out," and the thin glaze of medium is called a "couch." Sinking-in of the vehicle should be distinguished from that of the pigment: in the former, the surface becomes dull, in the latter it becomes shining from the supernatant oil. Sinking-in is also the result of a ground that is too absorbent or unevenly absorbent, draining the paint layer of its vehicle. Using too much thinner with paint, weakening the binder's capacity to form a film and exposing pigment particles to the air, can also counter-sinking.


A person who poses for the figure(s) to be represented in an artist's work

Women are seem to be the central focal point of many of Vermeer's paintings. "Vermeer painted about 49 figures of women, but only 12 men, and no children (despite having an extremely large family himself). This emphasis on women is logical in the work of an artist who was entirely devoted to the painting of interiors, as the domestic space was the realm which society had assigned to women. Nonetheless, while for Pieter de Hooch (1629–1684) and Nicolaes Maes (1634–1693) the home was a setting for maternity and domestic tasks, Vermeer was alert to the appearance of a new type of woman, better educated than her predecessors and more absorbed in her interior life. It is not my chance that among the innovations of interior paintings we find a sensibility towards the intimate psychology of individuals, given the concept of an interior life was developing at just this time. Street life and family life became more separated in houses at this period and more private spaces and areas for withdrawing begun to appear." Alejandro Vergara, ed., Vermeer and the Dutch Interior (Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2003), 20.

Oddly enough, the only historically documented sitter in Vermeer's oeuvre was Vermeer himself who posed for a now lost self-portrait cited in the 1696 Dissius auction of 21 Vermeer paintings. The remaining women and men who populate the artist's extant interiors remain anonymous. Perhaps this fact has encouraged much speculation by scholars and public alike as to just who they may have been.

Due to the intimate nature of Vermeer's art, there has been a certain inclination to link Vermeer's own family members to the sitters of his paintings, some of which seemed to have posed more than once. The economic advantage of employing sitters from the artist's family willing to pose long hours without pay would be obvious. This fact would not be without precedent. Gerrit ter Borch (1617–1681), a fellow Dutch artist whose discreet genre interiors probably inspired some of Vermeer's own compositions, frequently used members of his own family as models, in particular his step-sister Gesina. The tenderness with which Ter Borch portrays this woman on numerous occasions indicates his fondness for her.


Material applied to a surface as a penetrating sealer, to alter or lessen its absorbency and isolate it from subsequent coatings. Traditional sizes for paintings may have been rabbit skin or fish glue. Parchment was also used. Size also serves to protect the canvas, as oil paint in direct contact with the canvas will cause it to become weak and brittle.

Traditional size for oil was a solution of rabbit skin collagin heated with water. Although this has been used for hundreds of years it is know known by conservators to cause more problems than it solves. Since the size continuously absorbs moisture from the atmosphere, causing it to continuously swell and shrink, over time, this constant flexing causes the oil paint on top, which is quite brittle, to crack. It is now believed to be the main cause of cracking in old oil paintings.


A sketch is a rapidly executed depiction of a subject or complete composition, which is usually produced in preparation for a more detailed and completed work. "Despite the interest in the outdoors, the Dutch landscape painters rarely painted their. His usual practice was to make sketches of scenes that caught his eye; then, returning to his studio, he would begin to paint, using his drawings for reference. And since he might use as many as a dozen drawings from different locations in a single painting, the final scene was often entirely the product of his imagination."Hans Koningsburger, The World of Vermeer 1632–1675 (New York: Tine-Life Books, 1968), 109.

Many Dutch painters also sketched their initial idea directly on the canvas (see in-depth investigation of Rembrandt's (1606–1669) drawing techniques in Ernst van de Wetering (Rembrandt: Artist at Work). Although a great number of sketches on paper by Rembrandt have survived, very few of them were intended as preparatory works for his painting compositions.

Although no preparatory or final drawings of Vermeer remain, this does not necessarily mean that he had not at some time or the other produced them. Drawings, although collected by some connoisseurs at the time, did not have the same value as they do today and considering that Vermeer's preparatory drawings might have been done in a more schematic rather than expressive style, it is not unreasonable that they were not deemed of great value. A single "folio" such as the ones listed in the artist's death inventory may have contained his precious drawings which could have been lost or destroyed.

As odd as it may seem, it is possible that Vermeer was able to transfer the final image of his composition without having ever realized any kind of material sketch or drawing. Philip Steadman, in his study of Vermeer's use of the camera obscura (a sort of precursor of the modern photographic camera widely known by painters in Vermeer's time), conjectures that the artist may have actually traced the image projected by the camera obscura directly on the canvas. The camera obscura, which certainly served Vermeer as a compositional aid, would have rendered preparatory drawing superfluous. Although some scholars still strongly dissent with Steadman's arguments, a growing number have begun to concede they have a strong rational base and moreover are in conformity with Vermeer's pictorial and expressive objectives. (For detailed information on the subject, read Steadman's Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces, or visit his web site at: http://www.vermeerscamera.co.uk/home.htm.)


A skill is the ability to carry out a task with pre-determined results often within a given amount of time, energy or both. Skill is acquired through deliberate, systematic and sustained effort to smoothly and adaptively carryout complex activities or job functions involving ideas, things and/or people.

All of the arts have traditionally demanded great levels of skill. Until the 1850s, the greatest artists we were also the most skillful. Today, skill is no longer a requirement for visual artists longer or a meter for judging artworks; conceptual artist views skill as largely irrelevant, or "busy work." They are happy to hire highly skilled artisans to create their physical work.

The two components underlying the creation of a painting or sculpture, conception and execution, were characterized around 1400 by Cennino Cennini (c. 1370–c. 1440) as fantasia (imagination) and operazione di mano (handiwork), and by Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) in 1568 as il mio pensiero (my considered judgment) and le mie mani (my hands). Renaissance society focused on the second component, the arte or, in Latin, ars, that signified the skill of hand or mastery of illusionism required to execute the work, a skill that could be mastered by practice. The artists themselves, on the other hand, emphasized the ingegno or ingenium, the inborn talent or creative power needed to conceive the work in the first place, that could not be learned. For Vasari, a key element in the intellectual component of art lay in disegno (planning/drawing) which underlay the three "arts of design" (painting, sculpture, architecture). These principles were incorporated into the Florentine Academy of Design (founded 1563) which, although it did not replace the apprenticeship system, did much to elevate the status of artists.

In the time of Vermeer there existed a level of skill among artists that is now scarcely imaginable. As Ernst van der Wetering pointed out, "if we wish to get an idea of the discipline and skill of a painter like Rembrandt (1606–1669) today, we would do better not to look at the great majority of our contemporary painters, but at the performing musician or ballet dancer. In these arts, it is still understood that professional skill can only be built up through endless practice from an early age on...and the same pertained just as much in Rembrandt's day to the art of drawing and painting. But it should be added that whoever inquires more than superficially into the careers of those dancers and musicians of our own time who have practiced all their lives, will realize that only a few arc able to command that unique set of qualities and talents that are necessary in order to develop into major artists. Without that basis of skills, there is, however, no way that this can happen."

Basic artistic skills were taught through the tried-and-proven master/apprentice relationship in which the young painter acquired hands-on experience regarding every facet of painting technique. The apprentice's skills were developed gradually through unremitting practice and as his skills improved, he was allowed to work on his master's work, filling in anonymous backgrounds or tedious vegetation, while attending to his chores such as cleaning brushes, setting out the daily palette, stretching canvases, processing and grinding pigments and running errands. Some of the most important skills were drawing from previous works of arts (copying), drawing from life, foreshortening, perspective, composition and chiaroscural modeling.


A solvent is a substance that dissolves a soluble material (or solute). For example, varnish is insoluble in water but might dissolve in propanone or acetone. The solubility of a substance depends on many factors, but a solute will dissolve in a solvent that has a similar polarity.

Solvents such as turpentine, mineral spirits, and odorless mineral spirits are the most commonly found in the artist's studio. Turpentine, is the strong smell that is associated with an oil painter's studio but turpentine many causes health problems for some people including irritation of the skin, eyes, mucous membranes and upper respiratory tract.

Spatial Depth

See also, overlap.

Herod's Banquet, Filippo Lippi
Herod's Banquet
Filippo Lippi
Duomo, Prato

The creation of a convincing illusion of three-dimensional depth, or spatial depth, in artworks is considered a major achievement of the Renaissance although various techniques had been employed to achieve depth from Antiquity onwards. Color was no longer primarily symbolic and the relative scale of various figures was determined by their religious significance, as was the case in medieval Last Judgment paintings and frescos. Renaissance painters realized that objects appear to get smaller as their distance from the observer increases and that color, the manipulation of detail and chiaroscural values could all enhance the sense of depth. Willem Seitz, a painter and art historian, maintains that "through one pictorial device or another the greatest percentage of the world's paintings has dealt with the representation of space."William C. Seitz, Monet (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1960), 40.

Spatial depth can be achieved by a number of methods. Since depth is not really present in painting (except for slight relief of the canvas tooth, paint thickness and the discreet overlapping of different paint layers) its sensation must be communicated by exploring a series of so-called visual depth cues. Depth cues can be applied singularly in different parts of the painting (e.g., overlap) or over the whole design (e.g. perspective) but are most effective when used systematically in unison. Each cue communicates different visual information.

The cues used in painting to achieve the illusion of depth are called monocular cues. Monocular cues can be perceived with just one eye or both eyes. On the other hand, binocular cues are based on information gathered from both eyes.

The principal means of creating the illusion of three-dimensional depth on a flat surface are overlapping, changing size and placement, linear perspective, and relative hue and value. For the oil painter the illusion of spatial depth may also be also enhanced by exploiting the inherent physical and optical properties of paint itself.

Overlap, or occlusion, is the strongest cue for depth and overrides all other cues when a conflict seems to be present. When one object occludes part of another object there must be space between them although simple overlap by itself does not furnish clues at what distance they are from one another. Objects that occlude seem nearer while objects that are occluded seem further away. The viewer must be able to recognize the partially overlapped object otherwise the two objects might appear to be sitting side by side.

Size and scale - Larger objects tend appear closer and smaller objects appear further away.

Linear perspective is a technique which allows artists to simulate or construct the appearance of three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface in a rational manner. The property of parallel lines converging in the distance, at infinity, allows us to reconstruct the relative distance of two parts of an object, or of landscape features. An example would be standing on a straight road, looking down the road, and noticing the road narrows as it goes off in the distance. It is one of the major innovations of European art, with an extraordinary impact on western visual culture from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

Relative hue, value, focus, texture and detail provide various clues of visual depth such as:

  • Things with more detail, sharper or larger textures are seen as closer
  • Things with few detail, sharper or larger textures are seen as far away.
  • Things with darker colors look closer.
  • Things with lighter colors look further away.
  • Things with sharp silhouettes seem to advance.
  • Things with blurry outlines seem to recede.
  • Objects with colors that are close in value seem close to each other in space.
  • Strongly contrasting colors appear to separate in space.
  • Comparable sized objects that are placed lower in the image as closer to us, and objects that are placed higher as being further away.
  • Warm colors (red orange, yellow) seem to advance towards to the viewer.
  • Cool colors (blue and bluish green and purple) seem to recede from the viewer.
  • Objects with saturated colors seem to advance.
  • Objects with low saturated colors seem to recede.
  • The manner in which light falls on an object and reflects off its surface are effective cues for the brain to determine the shape of objects and their position in space. The shape and direction of cast shadows also provide depth cues

The sensation of spatial depth can also be greatly enhanced by exploiting paints inherent physical and optical properties.

  • Objects painted with thick, textured paint and visible brushstrokes seem to advance.
  • Objects painted with thin or transparent paint seem to recede.
  • Physical overlap of paint layers tends to enhance overlap cues.
Thge Girl with a Wine GlassThe Girl with a Wine Glass (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1659–1662
Oil on canvas, 78 x 67 cm.
Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick

In The Girl with a wine Glass, the most ambitious and carefully contrived of Vermeer's three early interiors, the artist employed various tactic to reinforce the sense of spatial recession: overlapping, geometrical perspective, sharp and blurred contours, and variations in color saturation (brighter colors which seem nearer to the viewer's eye are reserved for the foreground figures while the background figures are depicted with drab greens and mute browns). The disorderly recession of the small ochre and blue ceramic tiles in proximity to the background walls of both pictures reveals a less than complete mastery of perspective.


See also, je ne sais quoi.

Sprezzatura is a term coined by Italian statesman Baldesar Castiglione in his Il libro del cortegiano (1528) to describe an ideal of courtly behavior. Castiglione defined sprezzatura as a style of behavior in which every action "conceals art, and presents what is done and said as if it was done without effort and virtually without thought" (Book 1, Chapter 26). Sprezzatura is usually translated as "nonchalance." The Italian author was likely elaborating upon "an ancient Roman notion of seeming negligence that was already expressed by Ovid and Virgil. According to Castiglione, sprezzatura had to be found primarily in the courtier's speech and in the gracefulness of his movements while exercising, giving the example of a horseman who does not sit stiffly in the saddle, but seems to ride without any effort with an ease and confidence as if he were on foot."Harry Berger Jr., The Absence of Grace: Sprezzatura and Suspicion in Two Renaissance Courtesy Books (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 296.

Sprezzatura is a contradictory concept because it demands "the ability to show that one is not showing all the effort one obviously put into learning how to show that one is not showing effort."Harry Berger Jr., The Absence of Grace: Sprezzatura and Suspicion in Two Renaissance Courtesy Books (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 296. Castiglione resolved this paradox of contrived spontaneity by contrasting sprezzatura with affettazione (affectation), which "exceeds certain boundaries of moderation" and must be avoided "in every way possible as though it were some very rough and dangerous reef.." Affectation draws attention to the effort the courtier makes in maintaining the appearance of taking "no thought in what he is about." Castiglione illustrated the difference between affectation and sprezzatura by contrasting the ungraceful rider who tries "to sit stiff in his saddle (in the Venetian style, as we are wont to say" with "one who sits his horse as free and easy as if he were on foot."

It has been hypothesized that the rough manner in Dutch painting, practiced by Frans Hals (c. 1582–1666) and Rembrandt (1606–1669), was a conscious aesthetic choice and is tied to the concept of lossigheydt, "looseness." Castiglione, in effect, had already equivalent of the sprezzatura of the Italian writer Baldassare had already drawn parallels between the effortless nonchalance of courtly behavior and the loose, seemingly careless touches that the artist applied with his brush. He explicitly drew the parallel between the manner of the courtier and the artist's ability to draw a seemingly effortless line: "Often too in painting, a single line not labored, a single brushstroke easily drawn, so that it seems as if the hand moves unbidden to its aim according to the painter's wish, without being guided by care or any skill, clearly reveals the excellence of the craftsman, which every man appreciates according to his capacity for judging."


Human figures or animals added into a painting, especially in a landscape. Some painters had other artist add these elements to their works if they felt that they were not as adept at painting the figures. It was standard practice with many architectural painters (and landscape painters) that figures were added by collaborators, often from different cities. Staffage figures were always added once the underlying architecture or landscape was dry.


The Dutch word stelsel, from stellen (to place), is similar to ordineren (to arrange). Both terms were used to describe the organization of the composition. Stesel refers to generalized sketch in any material, used as a guide to the composition.

Stand Oil

Stand oil is nothing more than linseed oil that has been heated to about 525–573º F under conditions that exclude oxygen for a number of hours. This process changes the oil's mechanical and physical properties. The change is a molecular one called polymerization; nothing is added to the oil and nothing is lost. Stand oil forms a tough strong film for paint and its working qualities differ so much from the drying oils listed above that it is hard to believe that it has been obtained only by heat.

Although stand oil appears darker than oil in its pure from, if diluted with turpentine to obtain good working consistency, it is actually paler than straight linseed oil. It turns much less yellow with age than raw oils do and when it is diluted or mixed with other ingredients to a usable consistency, the resulting medium is practically non-yellowing. Only very little quantity of stand oil is necessary to appreciable alter a paint's characteristics.

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.

Even a small amount of stand oil imparts to paint an enamel-like smoothness and tends to make the paint fuse and blend. The paint layer, even if applied thickly, levels out to a smooth, enamel-like surface. Being so heavy, it supplies the paint with a "drag" that permits the painter to manipulate the brush with the greatest deliberation obtaining the most precise control imaginable. Contours can be subtly fused with the background and one can easily manage thick layers of opaque paint without digging up the underlying paint with the brush. It is particularly useful for achieving thick, perfectly homogeneous layers of opaque paint and lends pure white pigments an extraordinary luminosity. It also stays fluid for a length of time sufficient for elaborate modeling.

When used properly, it produces a satin-like surface that recalls the finer works of Vermeer's mid career. Stand oil is also frequently used as a component for glazing mediums as well.

No trace of stand oil have been found in the works of Vermeer but this is probably due to the fact that specific tests must be performed to detect it and the great parts of Vermeer's canvases have not been examined in depth.

Still Life

A painting in which the subject matter is an arrangement of objects—fruit, flowers, tableware, pottery and so forth—brought together for their pleasing contrasts of shape, color and texture. Dutch still life painters delighted in the play and contrast of transparent and reflective surfaces: the finely wrought metal of the ewer, the representation of smooth glass, the weave of the linen drapery, the dry crumbly texture of the bread, and the wet, shiny insides of the open pomegranate. At first glance, this still life implies an absence of human presence. But a closer look reveals just the opposite. The torn bread, half empty glass of wine, sliced fruit, and overturned glass allude to human intervention, as if these lavish delicacies were abruptly left on the table.

Breakfast Table with Blackberry Pie, HedaBreakfast Table with Blackberry Pie
Willem Clasz. Heda
Oil on oak, 54 x 82 cm.
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

The term derives from the Dutch stilleven, which became current from about 1650 as a collective name for this type of subject matter. Still life painting flourished in Holland in the 1600s. A great interest in botany arose toward the end of the 1500s, when collectors of herbs and plants were spending fortunes on their gardens; their desire for portraits of their prized possessions fueled the popularity of flower painting. Later on, Dutch still-lives were eagerly taken up by French painters and collectors and came to decorate the most fashionable French salons. Among the most famous Dutch and Flemish painters who specialized in still life subjects were Willem Heda (1593/1594–c. 1680/1682), Willem Kalf (1619–1693), Jan Fyt (1611–1661), Frans Snyders (1579–1657), Jan Weenix (1640/1649–1719), Melchior d'Hondecoeter (c. 1636–1695), Jan van Huysum (1682–1749), and the de Heem family.

"In seventeenth-century Holland the pressures of art theory were less heavy and real, and it was here that landscape and still life, as an autonomous categories of painting, began to occupy major place in art production. Even so, there was no serious theoretical discussion of them; Dutch theorists tended to regard the practitioners of still life in particular as something of a joke. Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678), just after the middle of the seventeenth century, called them 'common footmen of the Army of Art. '"R. H. Fuchs, Dutch Painting (London: Thames & Hudson, 1976), 42.

"Though it started in the kitchen, still life painting soon branched out to include a whole catalogue of decorative and useful items which Dutch burgers surrounded themselves: silver tankards, half-filled wine glasses, tobacco pipes, musical instruments, parchment and globes, along with the usual fruit, vegetables and game. As the century wore on, still life reflected the increasing of middle-class luxury; the late 1660s simple white tablecloths had given way to ornate Persian rugs and china was often fine Ming. Such glorification of the Good Life matched the mood of the prosperous art buyer. The paintings obviously fit nicely over his dining table, and the artists who made them were assured of a steady demand."Hans Koningsburger, The World of Vermeer 1632–1675 (New York: Tine-Life Books, 1968), 101.

By far the most common generic name for what are today called still lifes is "bancquet" (diminutive "bancquettien"); the abstract designations are "vanitas" and "memento mori"; the specific may be any title from a "roemer with oysters" to a "skull." The words ontbift/ ontbijtken (breakfast) and stil leven may also be construed as generic terms. The word stil leven first appears in Delft in the inventory of Gertruy van Mierevelt who died on 30 October, 1639, and again in an Amsterdam inventory of 1647.

A bancquet could equally well denote a seated meal (as in "banquet of the gods") or a still life (as in "a little banquet of oysters"). These are quite different sorts of paintings-the former coming closer to genre or "history" than to still life-and it may have caused confusion in identifying paintings in inventories.John Michael Montias, "How Notaries and Other Scribes Recorded Works of Art in Seventeenth-Century Sales and Inventories," Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 30, no. 3/4 (2003): 225.

Competition in the Dutch art market was fierce and consequentially, prices were generally low. In order to survive each painter had to secure himself a particular style to differentiate his work from others already available. Many painters depended on secondary sources of income to survive. Since it took a very long time to become proficient in any one category of painting such as landscape, still life, or portraiture, painters usually worked in one area only.

Within this context Vermeer, like Rembrandt (1606–1669), was a part of a minority of more talented Dutch painters who were able to work in different categories. However, neither Rembrandt nor Vermeer are known to have painted independent still lifes.

Stretcher & Strainer

Heavy duty stretcher with single cross-barHeavy duty stretcher with a single cross-brace

A wooden chassis for textile supports that has expandable corners. Even though canvas is generally attached to a stretcher or a strainer, it may remain unsupported, or be stuck onto some sort of rigid support such as panel. Stretchers and strainers are generally made of wood (most commonly pine or ash) and usually with tongue and groove joins, mitred at the corners and beveled away from the canvas toward the inside. The terms stretcher and strainer are often used interchangeably, but should differentiate between a framework which has no method of opening out the joins to tighten the canvas (strainer), and one which does by means of wedges or keys (stretcher). Recently new methods of creating a more even tensioning have been developed using metal inserts in the wood which enlarge the joint evenly through each member of the stretcher. Large paintings require the stretcher itself to be further supported. This is provided by cross members or cross bars. Today's familiar expandable stretchers which take up the lost tension by means of wedges inserted in the corners became common only in the 1750s.

The profiles on the stretcher bar should be slightly rounded. This has two advantages: It allows the framer to see and obtain clear edges on images that have precise borders; it also allows the canvas weave to "roll over" the profile rather than snap over a sharp edge which is a major cause of canvas cracking.

There are many different stretcher bar profiles, and many different styles of cutting of the wood. So it is impossible to say anything is "standard." There are also many big regional difference in the style and cutting of the wood, due to the historical reasons. For the same reasons, the wood used for making stretcher bars differs a lot from country to country depending on the forest that is present. But most stretchers, to avoid warping is made in well dried Nordic pinewood sourced from Scandinavia, Russia and Canada.

Another way in which stretcher bars can be strengthened is by having a cross brace inserted. It is advised that lengths over 40 cm. or 1 meter be fitted with a cross brace. By doing this it ensures the wood will not warp and will hang flat.

In sevententh-century Netherlands, cloth was measured by el, a measurement that varied from town to town. It generally ranged from 68–70 cm. Dutch paintings, which have often been studied, approximate this standard size. In a study of Vermeer's paintings, observations reveal different formats used for different subjects. These could be distinguished by the differences in height-to-width ratios. Prepared artists' materials existed in the Netherlands and standard sizes occurred, but, again not with the standardization of the French charts or numbers to identify one size from another. By the 19th century, French color merchants had such influence on the market that in Holland, as in many other places, the French system was followed.

Vermeer's late Guitar Player is a rarity of seventeenth-century paintings in as much as it is one of the few canvases of seventeenth century that is still is on its original stretcher complete with the original wooden pegs once used fasten the canvas to its stretcher.


The term stofuitdrukking, exclusive to the Dutch language, describes the way the painter conveys the look and feel of materials, especially fabric. In addition to a composition or narrative, the expression of virtuoso rendering of various substances was one of the prime goals of the Dutch painter. Dust, gloss, rough and smooth textures were side by side in order to heighten their reciprocal effects. Many still lifes were composed expressly to show as many different surface textures as possible. Recurring motifs were glasses, often partially filled with wine and a plethora of metal objects: a rusty knife, a tin can, and silver, pewter or gold objects, or a dusty lute. Other favorite stofuitdrukking motifs were foods with a different surface qualities such as grapes, crustaceans, lemons, bread and fruits. One of the most accomplished practitioners of this type of painting was Willem Heda (1593/1594–c. 1680/1682) who often represented two different tablecloths in his still lifes.

Strong Colors

The bright colors of the seventeenth-century palette were known as the "strong colors." Compared to those available at a reasonably supplied art shop of today, the seventeenth-century painter had to do with a paltry few bright and stable colors, the most widespread being: ultramarine blue, azurite, lead-tin yellow, vermilion, verdigris, orpiment and red madder. Various yellow and red lakes were available but produce a bright hue only when the are used as a glaze. Strong light tends to destroy the local color, just as a strong colors partially or totally destroy the effect of light. Strong colors confined to one object have a hard, cut-out effect. Strong colors seem to advance toward the eye. They were general reserved for brightly colored drapery, skies, fruit, flowers and vegetation.

Seventeenth-century artist lacked strong oranges and purples. Moreover, the strong colors that were available were not always mutually compatible and even if two strong colors are mixed to produce a new tint (e.g., blue and yellow to create green) the intensity of the new color is always less intense that either of the original colors. Strong colors were generally used in their purest state possible, to preserve their intensity and minimize adverse behavioral properties.


See also, atelier and botegga.

A studio is an artist's or worker's place of work. This can be for the purpose of actin or producing architecture, painting, pottery (ceramics), sculpture, woodwork, photography, graphic design, music and other artistic activities.

The word "studio" is derived from the Italian: studio, from Latin: studium, from studere, meaning to study or zeal. In the Renaissance, the "studiolo," a room where the painter might pursue the intellectual and inpsirational aspects of his art, was separate from the actual workshop. The French term for studio, atelier, in addition to designating an artist's studio is used to characterize the studio of a fashion designer. Atelier, as studio, also has the connotation of being the home of an alchemist or wizard. The renaissance term botegga indicates an artists' workshop, which was similar to those of many other crafts (it was usually located together in the same area of town, the botegga was usually small room opened to the street by the raising of heavy wooden shutters, making it a semi-public shops). The botegga was eventually replaced by the studio, which, differently, was also a reflexive space, a combination of the workroom and a study in which the act of contemplation was incorporated into the process of painting itself.

In sixteenth-century Florence artists struggled with the place the botegga occupied in their artistic identity. Though art-making with the collaboration of assistants remained the norm, among elite artists the concept of the workshop became troublesome. In his Lives of the Artists, in fact, Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) uses the term "ordinary painters" to refer negatively to "painters who keep a workshop," which was tied to its associations with artisanal trade. The workshop also tied the artist to a single location, while many cinquecento artists relied on the ability to move freely between cities in response to patronage.

In any case, twentieth-century notions of art—that the painter's job is to communicate personal subjective states rather than to transmit traditional values—do not prepare us to understand the studio environment of the past. Artists did not think of themselves solely as independent individuals living siolated on the fringe of society if necessary, but a member of society who practiced a craft within the social and economic boundaries of the system that supported it. The idea of painting often entailed important concepts but the handicraft of paintings was still of primary value, which was transmitted through the tried and proven master/apprentice relationship. While the master practiced his art in his studio, the apprentice was instructed in the fundamentals of art—geometry, perspective, anatomy. The master was expected to be the young artist's guide to this higher realm of learning. The studio was frequently the place where the artist might actually display and sell his work to collectors, even though paintings were for sale at public markets, dealers and auctions. In the seventeenth-century Netherlands paintings of studios proliferated partly because painters were growing more self conscious but because the general public seemed particularly vexed by the mysterious goings-on in the painter's studio. Depictions of artists' studio emphasize different facets of the studio activity, such as teaching, discussing art matters with visiting connoisseurs and commerce.

Not all artist's studios were laid out in the same way. The landscape painter had different requirements from the portrait and still-life painter, these were again different from those who painted interiors only. The first always worked from drawings and sketches he had made on his trips by field and path, and therefore a space with only one window was sufficient. If he got enough light on his work he was satisfied; it was not necessary to group anything but a few drawings on the floor nearby his easel. The still-life painter collected the objects of his choice and arranged them on a small table, painting them directly and from close range. He had need of no more space. The portrait painter required a larger window to cast light on his sitter, and more space so that he could keep himself at a comfortable distance from the sitter, as various representations of portrait painters in their studios demonstrate.

The painter of interiors, instead, needed more space still. If he had the opportunity, he liked to work in an environment with at least two windows, which afforded him the possibility to distance himself from the subject, and the opportunity to open and close theii Given the variety of interior scenes that appear in the works of certain interior painters, it is likely that many interior paintings were not executed from life, but from sketches.

The contents of the studio depended on both the artist's means and the character of his work, although certain pieces of furniture and equipment were indispensable, such as an easel, a stool, a cabinet for storing brushes, lumps of raw pigment, ground pigments, drying oils and essences. Plaster casts of classical sculpture were extensively used for instruction and can be seen in almost any portrayal of an artist's studio of the time. Skulls too, are constantly pictured and not only in the studios of painters who devoted themselves to Vanitas still-life genre. The artists who were most successful in painting ducks are known to have kept them in their gardens. Otto Marseus van Schrieck (c. 1613–1678), famous as a painter of insects and reptiles, kept his "models" in a building behind his house to study them at his convenience. On the other hand, flower painters worked extensively from prints or sketches that they had done during the blooming seasons, allowing them to create "impossibl" bouquets throughout the year. Figure painters, especially interior painters, usually had a lay-figure on which they could arrange fancy costumes. Some painters, like Rembrandt, collected exotic costumes, natural oddities, weapons etc.

La Villa CaliforniaLa Villa California

One of the most iconic artist's studios in modern times is that of the Spanish master Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). In 1955, Picasso relocated with his last wife-to-be, Jacqueline Roque, to Cannes where he bought an eccentric nineteenth-century house which became known as "La Villa California." Villa de la Californie, with its art nouveau studio space with uninterrupted sea views, has often been dubbed the "court of Picasso," where movie stars, poets and bullfighters would congregate for the artist's pleasure. The villa was built in 1920, and was the residence of artist Pablo Picasso from 1955 to 1961.

Informed specialists maintain that Vermeer probably worked in two or three different studios during his twenty-year career. This hypothesis is based on the differing structures of the side windows of his interior scenes, although it cannot be not ruled out that he painted in fewer rooms but introduced variants to make them look different, a practice which is particularly evident in the work of Pieter de Hooch (1629–1684). Henk Zantkuijl, former head of the Amsterdam Office of Monuments, suggested that the windows shown in some of Vermeer's earlier paintings might be rooms in Maria Thins' house; but according to Philip Steadman these are pictures dated to the period before Vermeer and his wife moved to Thins' house, some time in the late 1650s. It has been speculated that the windows shown in The Astronomer and The Geographer belonged to the house of the Delft scientist Antony van Leeuwenhoek, although there is not evidence in regards.

Only two of Vermeer's studios have been identified with any degree plausibility. The first is the upper floor of his father's inn, called Mechelen. This conjecture is based on the architectural features of the early The Little Street, which supposedly gives a view of the façades of early Delft houses from an upper floor window located at back Mechelen across the canal on Voldersgracht. The houses were torn down to make way for the new Guild of Saint Luke soon after the artist depicted them. Some believe that the rustic-looking windows of the Officer and Laughing Girl and The Milkmaid suggest that both works were painted there as well. The second candidate, more credible than the first, is the Oude Langendijk studio, which is probably represented in The Music Lesson and other paintings with similarly constructed window fittings. According to estimates made by Steadman, this studio was about 6.6 meters deep, 4 meters wide and about 3 meters high. The walls were layered with thick coats of white-wash applied over a brick wall to create a smooth, hygienic and light-reflective surface. Since it was located on the second floor, the brownish coloring of the glass panes of the window nearest to the background wall of The Music Lesson may possibly represent a part of the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk or other buildings nearby. Vermeer's chief biographer, John Michael Montias, speculated that Vermeer might have maintained a studio in the family inn after this move to Oude Langendijk. In any case, archival evidence proves that Vermeer had a studio in a "front room" of his mother-in-law's house at one time or another although the year he transferred his family from one location to the other is not known precisely.

Art historians have unanimously discounted the possibility that Vermeer's studio was actually fitted with real black and white marble floor tiles. Marble flooring was far too expensive for the artist's income—there is no marble native to the Netherlands—and it was probably too heavy for use for upper floors. It is possible, however, that the studio was fitted with the small ceramic tiles like those seen in his earliest shoe-box interiors.

Chris Eckersley, a freelance designer and sculptor, has recently suggested that Vermeer may have possessed a stock of real marble tiles and laid them out on the floor in these varying patterns for each of his paintings. After Eckersley had read Steadman's calculation that the floor tiles in Vermeer's paintings measured 29.3 cm. (derived by a process of adjusting the entire size of the studio and all its contents to arrive at the best fit to the known sizes of many objects: chairs, tables, virginals, painted paintings, maps, as well as the Delftware skirting tiles), he realized that this size is extremely close to half of a Florentine brachia (29.18 cm.), which was the standard size of seventeenth-century Italian marble tiles (presumably from Carrara). However, it is hardly out of the question that the artist used faux tiles made of colored wood which could be arranged in any pattern desired. With the collaboration of the industrial designer Allan Kuiper (based upon reconstruction drawings by Zantkuijl) the Dutch art historian Kees Kaldenbach developed a digital reconstruction of Vermeer's home at the Oude Langendijk.

Vermeer's studio was a noisy place, near the bustling hub of the town's civic life (Markt) only one story above the narrow Oude Langendijk. Below, carts full of fruit and vegetables rolled in the street hours before the artist had enough light to work by. Throughout the day street peddlers hawked their wares, traders shouted and children played kolf. Street musicians sang and played the latest tunes on droning bagpipes or screeching hurdy-gurdies. The back side faced a narrow alley which connected Oude Langendijk to the noisy cattle market. At only a stone's throw away was the mastodonic tower of the Nieuwe Kerk which was armed with 32 bronze bells that clanged throughout the day at regular intervals keeping time and lifting the spirit of the town's hard working citizens. Some foreigners enjoyed the frequent carillon concerts but some were annoyed by their "incessant jangling." Moreover, Vermeer's resilient wife, strong-willed mother-in-law, domestic maid and a slew of children roamed around just beneath the timber floor which separated the artist's studio from the living quarters below. Factoring in the already noisy environment and that children are children—it is well know that foreigners thought Dutch parents were intolerably tolerant to their children's misconduct—the silence which exudes from the artist's perfect constructs is all the more perplexing.

Meteorology also played an important role in Vermeer's studio activities, a fact that is generally ignored by many who look at his paintings. Dutch winters, already inimical to the fine painter who must remain seated dead-still at his easel for hours on end, was even more merciless in Vermeer's time owing to the so-called Little Ice Age that started during the mid-sixteenth century and ended about 1850. In this period, the average temperature was significantly lower, winters were very much colder and expanses of water remained frozen over longer periods. Vermeer's biographer John Montias discovered that the artist may have bought an ice sled equipped with a sail for his children for eighty guilders to make the best of the stern conditions.

On the average, Vermeer had to factor into his working schedule more than 200 days of rain per year with less than two hours a day of sunshine in the winter months. In the Netherlands, winter days can be exceptionally gloomy even at midday; rain, intermittent drizzle and cloudy skies were, and still are, the norm. Light was so scarce that windows could fill from two-thirds to three-quarters of an external wall. Various combinations of curtains, shutters and half-shutters were used to retain warmth or exclude sunlight on bright days.

Although the three large windows of the Vermeer's studio let in the cool, constant light of the north adapted for painting, its intensity was often unpredictable owing to the incessant march of low-flying clouds that with no warning plunged the studio into a deep penumbra and released it back to brilliance in a matter of seconds. In such conditions, the rendering of light and shadow, which plays such a crucial role in establishing atmosphere and compositional unity in Vermeer's art, would have been almost maddening.

The bottom two casements of Vermeer's windows had shutters on the outside, which are never seen in his paintings.i We do not know if the upper casements also had shutters although these can be seen in many paintings of Dutch household. It is likely that Vermeer did not portray them for aesthetic reasons. By opening and closing the shutters, the artist could create almost any lighting situation he desired. A third window outside the picture cast light on the artist's work station. On heavily overcast or rainy days the artist may have found more productive things to do than paint his brightly lit pictures. Perhaps, the brighter works were programmed for the summer months when light was more abundant. In any case, Vermeer's studio was reasonably well-lit. Approximately 40% of the area of the wall visible to the left was occupied by windows.

Studio Light

See Northern Light.

Studio Prop

A studio prop is an object which is kept in an artist's studio for the purpose of being represented, often many times, in one or more works. Typical studio props include plaster casts of classical sculpture, musical instruments, tapestries, kitchenware, Oriental carpets, books, wall maps, paintings, lay figures (mannequins) and any number of pieces of furniture and clothing. Pieces of the painter's equipment also were featured in representations of artists' studios. Some props were property of the painter while more expensive items might be borrowed for the occasion.

Many of the most attractive and frequently pictured props in Dutch interior painting, such as the gilt chandeliers and Oriental carpets, were, in fact, parts of a fictitious world created ad hoc for the purpose of making paintings more appetizing to well-to-do consumers. Vermeer is well know for a number of easily identifiable props that appear throughout his work, which, perhaps, a fact which create a sense of reassuring familiarity for the viewer.


In the visual arts, style is a "...distinctive manner which permits the grouping of works into related categories."Eric Gombrich, "Style," in The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology, ed. Donald Preziosi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 150. or "...any distinctive, and therefore recognizable, way in which an act is performed or an artifact made or ought to be performed and made."Eric Fernie, Art History and its Methods: A critical anthology (London: Phaidon Press, 1995), 361.Style refers to the visual appearance of a work of art that relates it to other works by the same artist or one from the same period, training, location, "school" or art movement. In critical analysis of the visual arts, the style of a work of art is often treated as distinct from its iconography, which covers the subject and the content of the work.

Style can be used in two senses: It can refer to the distinctive visual elements, techniques and methods that typify an individual artist's work. It can also refer to the movement or school that an artist is associated with. This can stem from an actual group that the artist was consciously involved with or it can be a category in which art historians have placed the painter. The word 'style' in the latter sense has fallen out of favor in academic discussions about contemporary painting, though it continues to be used in popular contexts. The names of many styles are the invention of art historians and would not have been understood by the practitioners of those styles. Some originated as terms of derision, including Gothic, Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical.Hugh Honour and John Fleming, A World History of Art, 7th ed. (London, 2009), 13–14.

Ever since Johann Joachim Winckelmann and more specifically since the late nineteenth century, under the influence of such scholars as Heinrich Wölfflin and Alois Riegl, the history of art has been equated with the history of styles, and this approach has still a great many advocates in the third quarter of the twentieth century. Starting from Greece and the Italian Renaissance, standards of judgment, terms of reference, and a critical language have been developed, and step by step the history of art of all cultures and periods has been approached and investigated with similar stylistic criteria.

No one can doubt that large cultural areas (such as Europe and China) have developed mutually exclusive artistic conventions to which they have adhered for very long periods of time; that there are national (French, English), regional (Venetian, Neapolitan), and period styles (Gothic, Renaissance), all vastly different; and that these puzzling phenomena may be described as bearing the mark of individualism of peoples, regions and periods. Nor can one doubt that by a strange emotional and intellectual but basically unconscious submission, creative individuals partake in and, at the same time, become active heralds of the characteristic style of their country, region and period. Each artist has, in fact, an individual style and a fluctuating degree of freedom within the broader stylistic setting of the national and period styles. It must be admitted, however, that individual styles of artists reveal idiosyncratic traits to a varying extent at different periods and in different cultural contexts and, moreover, that the recognition of personal styles is often dependent not only on the degree of study and empathy but also on the theoretical standpoint of critics and historians.Rudolf Wittkower, "Genius: individualism in art and artists," in Dictionary of the History of Ideas, ed. P.P. Wiener (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1973).

Comprehending Vermeer's style is problematic. Many art critics maintain that Vermeer's style is "optical," "impersonal" or "mannerless," or even "reticent." However, such a claim would seem somewhat at odds with the fact that his work is able to affect so deeply so many people of such a broad social spectrum. To many museum-goer Vermeer's paintings appear largely consumed in what they represent, the style and atmosphere of his works being by-products of the artist's guiding interest in painting things "exactly they way they are" or "photographically. But as Philip Steadman pointed out (Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces, 2002) "But what does it mean, precisely, to describe his work as 'photographic? There is the matter of perspective accuracy and the concomitant perspective distortions resulting from taking close-up or wide-angle views, which Joseph Pennell (1857–1926) was the first to notice. Beyond this, a conception of what is 'photographic' might put greatest emphasis on labored, painstaking accuracy in the minute explanatory transcription of detail. If this was truly the distinguishing criterion, then it would be Dou and the Leiden 'fine painters' who would better qualify as 'photographic…" The truth is that Vermeer manages to achieve 'photographic' results while painting in a way which is often locally imprecise, where focus is sometimes lost, where areas of color may be simplified and flattened, texture obliterated. Vermeer is true to tonal values, true to the light from objects seen indistinctly, true to the view through half-closed-eyes as it were, not always true to detail."

In any case, the deeper structure of his style is manifold, complex and consciously elaborate.

The principal components of Vermeer's style are a great attention to spatial depth, planimetric organization and the relationship between light and shadow, as well as frankness in coloring and simplicity in representation. His drawing is unaffected by empathy or an overt rhythm. Form is understood optically rather than physically, although the sense of volume is generally not lost. The artist's touch is generally uncommunicative, although of highly sensitive. A narrowness of thematic range and the sparseness of objects represented in his scenes (with respect to what one would expect to see in average seventeenth-century Dutch living conditions) might also be considered characteristic stylistic components, although they are more properly aspects subject matter. Likewise, the poses of the figures are understated but expressive—theatrical posing is always shunned.

But Vermeer's style distinguishes itself most deeply from that of any other seventeenth-century European painter not for the presence of one or another unusual component, such as the optical register, but because the components of his style are so tightly bound and so reciprocally influential that it is often difficult to understand at what point they are divided. For example, the central discourse on light and shadow is simultaneously functional to compositional ends, as color is to spatial depth. Many times the perfect illusion of a cast shadow is inseparable from its shape. If fact, no other painter of the glorious Golden Age was so intensely aware of or able to reconcile the dichotomy of the formal values of the flat canvas and the illusion of depth. Many critics and painters are captivated by this aspect of his art. Kenneth Clark wrote in Looking at Pictures (1960), "Every shape is interesting in itself, and also perfectly related to its neighbors, both in space and on the picture plane. To see pattern and depth simultaneously is the problem that exercised Cézanne throughout half his career, and many layers of agitated paint were laid on the canvas before he could achieve it. Vermeer seems to glide through these deep waters like a swan."i Andre Malraux wrote, "some have spoken of the 'recessions' in the View of Delft and the Street in Delft. Actually, when we examine the originals…we are struck by their lay-out in large planes perpendicular to the spectator." And Lawrence Gowing spoke of Vermeer's canvases as "mosaics" of shapes which "bear equally on one another…clasped together by their nature, holding each to every other in its natural embrace. We see a surface which has the absolute embedded flatness of inlay, of tarsia." By giving formal, aesthetic structure to three-dimensional scenes, he was able to connect the senses to the intellect, and convey a sense of permanence and universal meaning to the otherwise transient and unmomentous scenes of daily life.

Stylized & Stylization

Simplified or exaggerated visual form which emphasizes particular or contrived design qualities.

As Vermeer's mastery of painting technique progressively matured, his stylistic concerns shifted from the faithful recording of reality's appearance to the representation of a purified vision of the world in which his own pictorial instinct became predominant. In his later works, Vermeer's painting technique has reached an extreme of economy; paint layers are meager, tones have been reduced to a paltry few and the canvas appears in the thinly painted shadows.

No detail can represent the departure from the former naturalistic vision more than the rendering of the sleeve of the seated mistress in his late Lady Writing a letter with Her Maid. If this passage is isolated from the context of the rest of the painting, the viewer is at odds to understand just what is being represented. The mosaic of flat shapes carved with knife-like precision which stand in the place of what once were the folds of green satin and starched white cotton, have undergone such a severe process of abstraction that the sense of natural continuity is entirely lost. However, the signs and patterns left by the master's brush are so convincing that, even if we may question the identity of what Vermeer has painted, we are never able to question their authenticity.

Subject Matter/Subject

The subject matter of an artwork is generally intended to be what the artist has chosen to paint, draw or sculpt. "Subject matter" and "content" are terms that are frequently used interchangeably referring to both what an artwork depicts as well as its meaning. However, subject matter is more specifically describes exactly what is represented devoid of a deeper or broader meaning, while content is used to refer to the work of art's deeper meaning. Subject matter is the literal, visible image in a work while content includes the connotative, symbolic and suggestive aspects of the image.


See also, framing.

Sub-framing is a device used to emphasize the subject and create depth within a composition. Sub-framing is essentially framing a specific object within a scene that has already been framed by the artist.

Sub-frames can be created by natural or man-made elements, they may take multiple shapes or forms and may either dominate an image or constitute a small component in a wider composition. Sub-framing may accentuate unexpected sensation of depth to the picture and a better focus on what the main subject is. Objects used to sub-frame are typically architectural elements such as doorways, window frames, archways or framed mirrors, although natural elements such as trees, or even patterns of light and shadow are also are equally effective.

To illustrate the difference between framing and sub-framing one might say the scene of Vermeer's Woman Holding a Balance frames a woman standing in the corner of a room, in front of a table and large painting. A curtain and mirror hang to the left a few tiles are seen below the table. Instead, the figure of the woman is sub-framed by the picture-within-a-picture which appears to wrap around her protectively.


Orderly, mutually corresponding arrangement of various parts of a body, producing a proportionate, balanced form.

The fundamental role of symmetry in art is not exhausted by its connection with ornament or geometric abstraction. Art historians often used symmetry to characterize the formal qualities of a work of art, distinguishing symmetry as a basic principle of all artistic rules—the canons, laws of composition, criteria of well-balanced form. As the most significant property of harmony and regularity, symmetry is one of the main organizational principles in every art: painting, sculpture, architecture, music, dance, poetry. Even in the most extreme modern art—conceptualism or minimalism—it lays in their intellectual background.

The very roots of the theory of symmetry (in Greece) are inseparably linked to the establishment of the aesthetic principles—the canons and theory of proportions. The links between the theory of symmetry and aesthetics

Vermeer generally avoided strict symmetry as a method to balance his compositions.

Tacking Edge

tacking edges of an old canvas Detail of tacking edge showing canvas loss at the stretcher corner.  

In painting, especially when referring to canvas paintings, the "tacking edge" is the outer edge of the canvas where it wraps around the stretcher bars and is secured, typically with tacks or staples. This edge holds the canvas tight and flat, ensuring a smooth surface for the artist to work on.

When a canvas painting is framed, the tacking edge is usually hidden from view. However, when conservators or art historians examine a painting, they often look at the tacking edge for clues about the work's history, any potential alterations, or to gather information about the materials and techniques used by the artist.

The Lacemaker is now slightly wider than it would have been when first stretched, since both left and right tacking edges have been unfolded and incorporated into the painting. Although the original tacking edges have been removed from the upper and lower edges, it is possible to calculate the initial height based on the distance (2 cm.) between the left and right fold edges and the strainer bar marks. Assuming the strainer bars to have been of the same width, the canvas of the Lacemaker would have measured 24.5 by 19.25 cm.

It's intriguing that Vermeer's inventory lacks frames for stretching canvas, a common feature in many seventeenth-century studios. Contemporary illustrations of artists' studios depict them working on canvases either set in larger frames, often referred to as the Dutch method, or tacked onto strainers. In most of Vermeer's examined paintings the paint layer doesn't extend over the tacking edges. This suggests that Vermeer preferred to stretch his canvas onto its strainer before beginning to paint. This observation is further supported by his inventory, which lists ten canvases and six panels prepped and ready for painting.

The original tacking edges of the Little Street are present and marks from the original strainer bars are 3. 5 cm. from the edge on all sides. The original tacking edges of the Woman Holding a Balance remain intact. The top edge is broader than the others and seems to have been folded over. Marks from the initial strainer bars can be seen along the top and right sides. Remnants of the original tacking edges of A Lady Writing remain, and the canvas is glue-lined. Only fragments of the original tacking edges of the Girl with a Pearl Earring remain. Not only the tacking edges, but the original canvas, stretcher and wooden pegs remain in the Guitar Player, a rarity in seventeenth-century paintings.


Tapestry is a form of textile art, traditionally woven on a vertical loom. Tapestry is weft-faced weaving, in which all the warp threads are hidden in the completed work, unlike cloth weaving where both the warp and the weft threads may be visible. In tapestry weaving, weft yarns are typically discontinuous; the artisan interlaces each colored weft back and forth in its own small pattern area. It is a plain weft-faced weave having weft threads of different colors worked over portions of the warp to form the design. Most weavers use a natural warp thread, such as linen or cotton. The weft threads are usually wool or cotton, but may include silk, gold, silver, or other alternatives.

The success of decorative tapestry can be partially explained by its portability. Kings and noblemen could"roll up and transport tapestries from one residence to another. In churches, they were displayed on special occasions. Tapestries were also draped on the walls of castles for insulation during winter, as well as for decorative display. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, a rich tapestry panel woven with symbolic emblems, mottoes, or coats of arms called a baldachin, canopy of state or cloth of state was hung behind and over a throne as a symbol of authority. The seat under such a canopy of state would normally be raised on a dais.

By the sixteenth century, the Flemish towns of Oudenaarde, Brussels, Geraardsbergen and Enghien had become the centers of European tapestry production. In the seventeenth century, Flemish tapestries were arguably the most important productions, with many specimens of this era still extant, demonstrating the intricate detail of pattern and color embodied in painterly compositions, often of monumental scale.

Although some interesting tapestries were produced in Holland in the second half of the sixteenth century, it was the migration north caused by the religious wars that enabled Delft to become a center of international importance. François Spiering (c. 1550–1620), a weaver operating from Brussels and Antwerp, fleeing religious persecution was given premises in 1592 in the St. Agnes Convent in Delft. From the late 1580's until his retirement in 1620, he produced the greatest tapestries in Europe. His patrons were mostly protestant rulers and aristocrats.

There are various examples of richly designed tapestries in Vermeer's paintings, some of which, erroneously, have been described as carpets. In most cases the tapestries are hung from an unseen rod and serve as a repoussoir devise which serves to heighten the illusion of three-dimensional space by placing a large figure or object in the immediate right-hand foreground. None of tapestries have been identified with surviving own tapestries but experts of the field believe that they were most likely woven in Vermeer's native Delft.

Intricately woven tapestries appear in the large-scale Art of Painting and, Allegory of Faith, The Love Letter and A Lady Seated at a Virginal. In Allegory of Faith the tapestry resembles examples of the Oudenaarde style made in Belgium in the second half of the sixteenth century. All Oudenaarde tapestries were made by hand with sometimes up to five weavers sitting next to each other on a horizontal loom (as opposed to the French vertical loom). During the work, only a part of the tapestry was visible to the weavers who based their weaving on a carton copy of the design. Only when the tapestry was finished, the result could be admired in its fullness. It took a long time to weave a complete tapestry. An average weaver was able to produce a piece of tapestry as big as a grown man's hand in a day. In the beginning, only a limited number of colors were used, mainly shades of green, hence the typical name Verdures, (French for "greenery").

The somewhat analogous floral patterns of the two heavily rucked-up pieces of fabric in The Geographer and The Astronomer suggest that they too are woven tapestries rather than imported Oriental carpets. Parts of what appear to be woven tapestries also appear in The Lacemaker. Since tapestries are labor-intensive objects they would most likely would have been quite expensive, out of reach of Vermeer's means. The absence of any tapestries among the movable objects listed in the inventory of Vermeer's living quarters suggests that they were lent by his eventual clients or supporters.

Tavern Scene

In seventeenth-century Flanders, paintings of peasant scenes began to take on a new character, emphasizing carousing, drinking and smoking. The central action of this painting is a variation on the theme of cardsharks made popular by Caravaggio (1571–1610). Josse van Craesbeeck's Card Players also shows the influence of his friend and teacher Adriaen Brouwer (c. 1605–1638), who also painted sordid tavern scenes.

Some of the most common tavern scenes show the dark confines of a spacious tavern with country folk who have gathered to pass the evening hours warming themselves by the fire, playing cards or backgammon, or just kibitzing while enjoying the soothing effects of tobacco and beer. One senses that such scenes are a recurring rituals, in which residents from the local community play out familiar roles throughout the year. Much of the appeal of these small paintings comes from the sense of atmosphere that helps unify the composition. One can imagine the quiet din of conversation within the dark recesses of this smoke-filled space. Light from various sources—the fire, the candle attached to the hearth, and the hidden candles on the tables—gives a warmth to the scene that is reinforced by the attitudes and expressions of the figures themselves.

With the presence of beer, tobacco, playing cards, and a backgammon game, other scenes show men and women who have succumbed to vices so often associated with those who have yielded to sensual pleasures: here, someone passed out, there, someone vomiting or threatening a fellow man.

Adriaen Brouwer, The SMokersThe Smokers
Adriaen Brouwer
c. 1636
Oil on panel, 46.4 × 36.8 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A few painters like Brouwer and Jan Steen (c. 1626–1679), a painter and himself briefly a brewer, were thought to portray the sordid tavern scene as pictures of their own life. Perhaps, the earliest drunkard painter of legend is Frans Hals (1582/83–1666). The image of Hals as an alcoholic and wife-beater was established by Arnold Houbraken's(1660–1719) colorful biography in The Great Theatre of Dutch Painters (1718–1721). Houbraken claims that Hals was "filled to the gills every evenin'," and that when Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) came to meet him in Haarlem he was not at home, and "it took a long time to scour the taverns for him." Despite the fact that these raccounts may be only in part true the reputations of the artist had been fixed.

Early biographers describe how Brouwer and his artist friends spent considerable time partying in the local taverns, often joined there by fellow artists. Brouwer painted a tavern scene called The Smokers, which included a self-portrait together with portraits of Jan Cossiers (1600–1671), Jan Lievens (1607–1674), Joos van Craesbeeck (c. 1605/06– c. 1660) and Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1606–1684) The company of friends is shown sitting around a table and smoking. Brouwer is the figure in the middle who is turned around to face the viewer. This type of group portrait doubled as a representation of one of the five senses (in this case the sense of taste). Despite his reported dissolute lifestyle and his preference for low-life subjects, Brouwer was highly respected by his colleagues as evidenced by the fact that Rubens (1577–1640) owned 17 works by Brouwer at the time of his death, of which at least one had been acquired before Rubens got to know Brouwer personally. Rembrandt (1606–1669) also had paintings by Brouwer in his collection.

The art historian Seymour Slive opined, "'the fallacious idea that an artist who depicted merry drinkers must needs have been a tosspot himself dies hard." In fact, recent scholarship has shown the myth of the drunkard painters of the Dutch Golden Age not always true to form, but a product of an erred identification of artists with their subject matter, and a misunderstanding of just how respectable and dignified brewers were as civic figures.

Technique/Painting Technique

Technique, a French word, is defined as a procedure that is used to accomplish a specific task in any profession or trade, but it is also a factor in many things that we all do in life such as cooking or washing a car. The French derived the word from ancient Greek word technikos, which meant "to be skillful" as pertaining, however, only to the artistic endeavor. The concept of technique in the art of painting has taken on various shades of meaning. Technique may be said to encompass the processes, or methods, which are necessary to create a painting. A painting technique may also refer to a specific medium (e.g., oil painting, watercolor painting, fresco or tempera) and everything relevant to its technical implementation. Although in the strictest sense technique is a means rather than an end, the construction of a picture can never really be separated from its aesthetic content because the two are intimately bound. When a technique is applied it gives rise to aspects of style which in turn will often suggest modifications in technique.

Style, instead, may be said to be the sum of aesthetic peculiarities which characterize a recognizable manner. Style is often divided into the general style of a period, country or cultural group, group of artists or art movement, as well as the individual style of an artist. Style, then, can be thought to be a particular appearance brought on by technique. It is often said that technique is something that can be taught, while style is personal. The notion of style has long been the art historian's principal mode of classifying works of art, while technique has received proportionally less attention.

In the case of the great masters, we should always remember that we are dealing with a preconceived, thought-out pictorial project, in which every phase of a painting is executed according to a schedule. The rationale behind this system is that, unlike today, the problems of drawing, composition, form and color were addressed separately. Far from stifling inspiration, this step-by-step system allowed the most talented painters to program works of exceptional artistic level, sometimes of vast dimensions, and the lesser talented painters to fashion dignified, well crafted paintings, many of which appear as if they were made only yesterday. As 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. A remarkable combination of calculation and creativity is required if the final outcome is to be a success. No doubt, Vermeer was one of the most remarkable chess players of all.

Vermeer's painting technique is complex when compared to that of modern realists, but relatively simple with respect to that of the most competitive Dutch painters. From what historical and scientific investigations have yielded, Vermeer's materials and methods, including his canvas, paints, drying oils and multi-stage paint layering, are largely analogous to those of those contemporaries who worked within the same thematic area and fine painting style. Comprehending Vermeer's style is more problematic.

Click here for an outline of Vermeer's painting technique.


A method of painting in which the pigments are mixed with an emulsion of water and egg yolks or whole eggs (sometimes glue or milk). Tempera was widely used in Italian art in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, both for panel painting and fresco, then being replaced by oil paint. Tempera colors are bright and translucent, although because the paint dried very quickly there is little time to model.

None of the surviving paintings by Vermeer were executed in tempera.


A great part of European painting had drawn its subject from literary sources such as the Bible, mythology and classical texts. These subjects were considered those most adapted to achieve the highest goal of painting: that of elevating the humans spirit. In the seventeenth century, Dutch painters began to exploit the pictorial possibilities of direct observation of the natural world. And the new subject matters of landscape, still life and genre, which once had been predominantly existed only as descriptive elements in history, became separated into distinct categories.

However, the remembrance of the world of classic painting which the Dutch seemed had done away with in the span of less than 50 years, was not easily forgotten and perhaps exerted itself once again under the form of allegory in genre painting. Dutch genre painting did not represent a text but rather a situation, it was through the introductions of recognizable symbols these situations could reversed into a moral example. Emblems too were used for the same purpose.

In the past decades attempts to interpret seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting, and that of Vermeer as well, through association with contemporary texts such as emblematic literature have flourished. Although much has been learned, no general agreement has been reached on how Vermeer employed emblems in his own paintings, and critical investigation of the meanings of Vermeer's paintings has gradually turned elsewhere. For example, Mariët Westermann has written recently that "the pictorial and literary sources for Vermeer's interior paintings show the limited usefulness of hunting for textual or artistic precedents. What makes Vermeer's rare but powerful contributions to the history of interior painting interesting is the way in which they articulate thought in pictorial terms. Philosophers might say that Vermeer was a strongly eidetic painter (from the Greek eidos, mental image, visual thought) in that his way of conceiving his paintings and their mode of communication was distinctly visual rather than literary in origin."Mariët Westermann, "Vermeer and the Interior Imagination," in exh. cat. Vermeer and the Dutch Interior, ed. Alejandro Vergara (Madrid: Museo Nacional de Prado, 2003), 233.


In painting, the term "texture" may be used in relation to both the surface quality of a painting itself or the perceived surface qualities of the objects represented in it. The use of texture, along with other elements of design, can convey a variety of messages and emotions. Texture stimulates two different senses; sight and touch.

Physical texture, also known as actual texture or tactile texture, is the actual variation upon a surface of the painting. Actual texture differentiates itself from visual texture by having a physical quality that can be felt by touch. Rough surfaces can be visually active, whilst smooth surfaces can be visually restful. The use of actual texture can give a sense of character and presence that is not present in the same work had it no actual texture. It can be utilized to create emphasis, rhythm and contrast. Actual texture is associated both with the heavy build up of paint, called impasto, the fluid transparency of glazes, the rough surface of a canvas of the enamel like surface of a pane, or the addition of materials.

Visual texture, instead, is the illusion of the texture of an object represented in the painting, such as the rough bark of an old tree or the smoothness of a young lady's skin, the hardness of marble or the softness of fur.

Dutch painters were keenly aware of both kinds of texture and realized that the two could be associated in the pursuit of mimetic painting.

The tactile quality of a surface or the representation or invention of the appearance of such a surface quality. Painters like Gerrit ter Borch (1617–1681) and Gerrit Dou (1613–1675) were especially skilled at rendering the visual textures and surfaces of objects like those found in the foreground of their paintings: the roughly hewn stool, the wooden basin filled with water, the chipped ceramic crock, and the shiny metal hinges of the buckets.

The first history paintings and genre interiors of Vermeer present relatively highly textured surfaces, in accordance with pictorial conventions of the time. That is, the strongly illuminate parts of objects were worked up with heavy, clearly visible impasto while their shadowed areas were rendered with more fluid, transparent paint. This technique creates a material tactile sensation that is physically engaging for the spectator. The works of the 1660s, instead, the surface is built up with smooth layers of paint, impasto passages are minimized. The even sheen of the works lend the image represented a sense of illusive distance, a reality which can be seen but not touched. In the latest works, which present an almost enamel-like surface, paint build up is almost completely lost.


Thixotropy is the property of a material which enables it to stiffen or thicken on a relatively short time upon standing but upon agitation or manipulation to change to a very soft consistency or a high viscosity fluid; a reversible process. Thixotropic materials are gel-like at rest but fluid when agitated and have high static shear strength and low dynamic shear strength, at the same time. Thixotropy occurs in paint, such as lithopone in oil, which flows freely when stirred and reverts to a gel-like state on standing. Quicksand, a mixture of sand and water, is rendered thixotropic by the presence of certain clays.

A Woman Bathing in a Stream (Hendrickje Stoffels?), RembrandtA Woman Bathing in a Stream (Hendrickje Stoffels?) (detail)
Rembrandt van Rijn
Oil on oak, 61.8 x 47 cm.
National Gallery, London

It is believed that seventeenth-century painters, especially Rembrandt (1606–1669) and Rubens (1577–1640), deliberately produced and took advantage of the thixotropic properties of their paints to obtain certain visual effects. Rembrandt's paintings, in particular, display a vast array of surface qualities that are virtually unique which have gone largely unexplained. His paint has "a certain 'shortness' which results in the tracks of the brush which are interrupted the moment the paint breaks off… In other passages the paint remains, after it has left the brush, in rounded 'hills' which betray a paint substance with a certain 'flow.'"Ernst van de Wetering, Rembrandt: The Painter at Work (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 233. Anyone who paints and has the possibility to examine Rembrandt's canvas from life ponders how such a variety of paint behavior can be gotten with only pigment and oil. And yet, scientific evidence has show that there Rembrandt's paint contains no additives that were not know to his contemporaries.

Thixotropic paint behaves differently from normal paint; it "stands up" as it were and creates a peculiar relief. Thixotropic paint is a liquid or paste paint that behaves like solid at rest, but when undergoing shear stress, such as brushing or knifing, its viscosity lowers and it begins to flow. Thick, lush passages of paint could be as probably easily executed in just a handful of deft strokes with a stiff brush and a mayonnaise-like paint instead of laborious multi-layering technique. Thixotropic is particularly associated with lead white, the ubiquitous, backbone white pigment used from antiquity. However, even after years of intense study and much experimentation, by the part of both scientific and the practicing figurative artists communities it is not fully understood how Rembrandt was able to produce thixotropic paint.

Some believe that it is the very nature of lead white which determines a thixotropic behavior. While modern lead white and traditional lead white do not differ chemically a great deal, the size, shape and distribution of particles of traditional lead white vary greatly. Thus it may be that the particle size variance and size distribution, rather than additives other than pigment and simple drying oil, gives lead white oil paint thixotropic handling properties. However, attempts to add chalk or marble dust to modern white lead increases the texture of the paint but does not produce thixotropic properties. Others have suggested that it is possible that water played a part in the thixotropic behavior of some paints.

A video produced by Ernst van de Wetering, the Dutch art historian considered the world's foremost expert on Rembrandt and his work, shows that when piles of modern lead white and traditional lead white are placed adjacent to one another and manipulated with the tip of a palette knife, the modern lead white is stiff and buttery, while the stack process white lead begins to soften and flow while being acted upon by the knife and then suddenly freezes into position when the knife is withdrawn.

Although there are passages of great technical finesse in Vermeer's paintings, no one has ever questioned that the artist may have adopted means or materials that were not within the reach of ordinary Dutch painters of the time. All the effects of Vermeer's paints can be explained by simple paint, mediums and superlative brush handling skill.

Thread Count

Thread count is a measure of the coarseness or fineness of fabric. It is measured by counting the number of threads contained in one square inch or one square centimeter of fabric, including both the length (warp) and width (weft) threads. Thread count is used especially in regard to cotton linens such as bed sheets, and has been known to be used in the classification of towels. As applied to painting, thread count can yield valuable information as to the provenance and authenticity of works of art.

"Considering how a loom works reveals what detail can be discerned from thread count measurements. The vertical threads mounted in a loom, known as the warp, are usually well aligned with a fairly uniform spacing. The horizontal threads, known as the weft, are threaded back and forth through the warp in an interlaced fashion, with the weft compacted occasionally to strengthen the cloth. In most cases, the weft shows more variability than the warp. When the artist cuts a piece of canvas for a painting, he or she will orient the canvas on the stretcher in whatever way seems best: the warp may correspond to either the vertical or horizontal threads in the painting. Thread count spread across a painting provides a strong clue as to how the canvas was cut from the roll: one would expect the thread count having the narrower distribution to be the warp direction In addition, paintings made from the same canvas rolls may not have been made on pieces cut the same way: the warp may be horizontal in one painting and vertical in another. Thread counts along with related forensic data allow the art historian to pose strong hypotheses about how the canvas roll was used for paintings contemporary with each other."Don H. Johnson et al., "A Thread Counting Algorithm for Art Forensics," Conference: IEEE Digital Signal Processing Workshop - DSP/SPE, Workshop, Marco Island, FL, 2009.

The thread counts of Vermeer's canvases are comparable with those of his fellow Dutch painters.

For the past several years two American scientists, C. Richard Johnson Jr. and Don H. Johnson, "have developed computer algorithms that allow an analysis of canvas weaves that is more precise than traditional methods. They have digitally mapped canvases used by European artists ranging in date from the 1450s (Dieric Bouts's tüchlein paintings, in London, Los Angeles, and Pasadena) to Vincent Van Gogh's (1853 1890) pictures of 1888–90 (187 canvases from that period alone). The results so far have been variously revealing for those artists and for Diego Velázquez (1599–1660), Vermeer, Claude Monet (1840–1926), Renoir (1841 1919), Paul Gauguin (1848–1903), and Henri Matisse (1869–1954). In the case of Johannes Vermeer, twenty nine of his canvases have been digitally mapped to date, out of the thirty-six paintings by him (two of which are on wood) that are generally accepted by scholars."Walter Liedtke, C.R. Johnson, Jr. and D.H. Johnson, "Canvas matches in Vermeer: A case study in the fabric analysis of canvas supports," Metropolitan Museum Journal 47 (2012): 99.

The two scientists found that in the case of Vermeer, "three canvas weave matches were found, with three different implications: a question of authenticity; another concerning chronology; and the hypothesis that two pictures were intended by the artist as a pair." The scientists suggest that the canvas of the The Lacemaker originated from the same bolt of canvas as that of the recently reattributed Young Woman Seated at a Virginal [not to be confused with the London work of Vermeer by a similar title]. This match has significantly strengthened the case of the latter picture's reattribution since the canvases are also of the same dimensions. Another weave match found in Vermeer's oeuvre is between two genre paintings of identical size, Young Woman Standing at a Virginal and Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, both in the National Gallery, London. Some scholars believe the two paintings conceived as a pendant based principally on their common subject matter, similarities in style and near identical dimensions. The third pair is composed of two pictures which present few elements in common other than the canvas weave, the Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid, in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin and Woman with a Lute in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The two scientists team believes "weave matches in canvases used by Vermeer or by another artist or by several painters at a particular time and place (for example, Rembrandt's (1606–1669) workshop in Amsterdam) must be considered along with many other technical and historical factors."

For more information regarding the project and the Vermeer canvas matches see:

D. H. Johnson, E. Hendriks, M. Geldof, and C. R. Johnson, Jr., "Do Weave Matches Imply Canvas Roll Matches?," 38th Annual Meeting of American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Milwaukee, WI, May 2010. http://people.ece.cornell.edu/johnson/aic2010.pdf

Don H. Johnson, Lucia Sun C. Richard Johnson, Jr. Ella Hendriks, "Matching Canvas Weave Patterns from Processing X-ray Images of master Paintings," Conference: International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing - ICASSP, 958–961, 2010. http://www.ece.rice.edu/~dhj/ICASSP2010.pdf

C. Richard Johnson, Jr., Ella Hendriks, Petria Noble, and Michiel Franken, "Advances in Computer-Assisted Canvas Examination: Thread Counting Algorithms," Presented May 21, 2009, PSG Program, 2009 AIC Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA, Revised June 18, 2009 http://people.ece.cornell.edu/johnson/aic-pap.pdf

Three-Quarters Portrait

See also, portrait, portrait historié and portrait lighting.

A three-quarter portrait can mean two different things. It can mean three-quarter length portrait or three-quarter facial portrait.

Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli, BetticelliPortrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli
Sandro Botticelli
c. 1470–1480
Tempera on panel
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A three-quarter length portrait means the sitter is pictured from the top of their head to somewhere between mid-thigh and just above the knees. With respect to the standard head-only portrait, the three-quarters format gives more importance to the sitter's body, costume and allows the artist to exploit the figure's gesture to expressive ends.

A three-quarters facial view, instead, is a particular pose of the sitter's head that exposes about three-quarters of his or hers physiognomy. The model is pictured facing about a 45 degree angle to the painter/viewer so that the far ear is just out of view. The exact angle will depend upon the physical characteristics of the model's face.

While the profile portrait was de rigueur in Florence for most of the fifteenth century, artists in Flanders had been painting portraits of sitters turned in three-quarters view since the 1430s. Much admired in Florence, Flemish paintings hung in patrician palaces like that of the Medici, the city's most prominent family. In the 1470s, both Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510) and Leonardo Da Vinci (1452–1519) introduced this new type of three-quarters portrait in Florence. Botticelli's Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda and Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci represent a radical departure from prevailing conventions. Unlike the profile, which tended to conceal the sitter's individuality, the three-quarters pose reduced the barrier between sitter and viewer, bringing the two into eye contact. The new frontal gaze opened the door to portraiture that explored character as well as appearance.

The term "American shot" or "American cowboy shot" originated in cinema but is now also used in still photography. It is both a three-quarter angle shot where the model is turned about 45 degreesº from the camera and a three-quarters portrait shot that makes about three-quarters of the model's body visible. This allowed both the actor's face and the six-gun on his hip to be visible to the camera. It can also be used in a context without the model wearing cowboy attire or a six-gun. (Interestingly, the phrase was coined by French filmmakers as a derisive term associated with the American cowboy movies that they detested.) The same type of three-quarters view shot is also popular among automotive and train photographers.


The notion that certain works of art are so filled with genius that they rise above the specifics of time and place to occupy a transcendental, superhuman plane of existence that does not belong to history.

The concept of timelessness is frequently evoked in conjunction with Vermeer's art. By avoiding the purely incidental and anecdotal detail of daily life, where gestures become tied to specific events, Vermeer was able to convey the universal, rather than the temporal realm of the everyday life. "The emotions of longing and expectations which he so often incorporated in his work provide a thematic means for suggesting the extension of time, a quality he enhanced with purity of compositions, purposefulness of human gaze and gesture, and evocative treatment if light. Through these means Vermeer not only succeeded in transforming a momentary activity into a timelessness vision, but also created images whose moods and concerns continue to speak directly to viewers far removed from the world in which he lived."Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Vermeer and the Art of Painting (New York and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 166.


A name that identifies a book, movie, play, painting, musical composition, or other literary or artistic work.

In ancient cultures, artworks weren't generally given specific titles as they are today. Instead, descriptions might refer to the subject matter or the purpose of the piece, such as "statue of Aphrodite" or "fresco of the Last Supper." During the Middle Ages, the primary purpose of most artworks was religious. These works might be referred to based on their subject or location, for instance, "the altarpiece of St. Mark" or "the stained glass of the Nativity in the north transept."

As we transition into the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the commissioning of artworks began to include more secular themes and private patrons. While artists often created works based on well-known stories or religious topics, these might still not have specific "titles" but rather descriptions. It's in the late 18th and 19th centuries, especially with the establishment of public museums and the practice of holding regular art exhibitions, that the act of giving a work of art a specific title became more commonplace. This was particularly true for works that were being exhibited publicly, such as in the Salons in France. Titles helped the viewing public identify and understand the subject or theme of a work, especially for those that didn't depict recognizable stories or figures.

By the 20th century, the title of an artwork became a standard convention. In many instances, especially in modern and contemporary art, titles can be abstract, poetic, or even intentionally misleading, serving as an additional layer of meaning or interpretation for the viewer. Many historical artworks' "titles" might not have been given by the artist but could have been assigned by later scholars, collectors, or curators based on the work's subject or theme.

The titles that have been given to Vermeer's paintings present problems. Ivan Gaskell (Vermeer's Wager, 2000) has noted that some works by the artist are referred to as what we take as being a title in early documents (such as The Dissius auction of 1696 in which 21 paintings by Vermeer were sold) even though they may represent nothing more than convenient descriptions. "The only exception is The Art of Painting. John Montias has demonstrated that Vermeer's widow, Catharina Bolnes had gone to great lengths to keep the painting from being taken from her by her creditors. Two months after Vermeer's death, it was described in a notorial documents as "a painting done by the aforementioned late husband, wherein is depicted The Art of Painting (de Schilderconst)." All other titles of Vermeer's paintings must be considered convenient descriptions based on subject matter and color rather than titles in the modern sense of the term.

Since the rediscovery of the Girl with a Pearl Earring in 1881, the painting has been given a number of different titles in various publications according to authors' preference. Some have identified the painting with the girl's turban, or some with the girl's youth and some have considered it as a portrait and others as a study. The discrepancies, if nothing else, show that the work was evidently not always associated so strongly with the pearl earring as it is today. The pearl seems to become a part of the title only after the first half of the twentieth century. The title given by the Mauritshuis, where the painting is housed, is Meisje met de parel.

Tone/Tonal Value/Value

Due to the vagaries of the English language, the word "tone" is an often misunderstood word, especially when used by artists, yet its meaning is very straightforward. Dictionary entries sometimes use to define tone or as referring to color, but in art discussion tone use hue or chroma to refer to this quality, preferring to use tone, tonal value, or value to describe lightness or darkness. "Value" by itself tends to be used by those speaking North American English, while those speaking British English use "tone."

Tone, then, is lightness or darkness of a color, rather than the actual color, such as yellow, blue, red, green etc. Studies have indicated that the average person can visually differentiate eleven tones between white a black without undue effort. Painting, in a sense, is the art of making clear painted statements in flat toned areas. For this the painter must learn how to see nature in terms of lightness and darkness, rather than color. Tone give volume to form and a sense of depth to a painting. To accurately assess tone, one must temporarily ignore texture, shape, detail and color, which is easier said than done. In order to "remove" hue from vision painters often resort to squinting, which effectively reduces the mid-tones, leaving only the darks and lights. The Claude glass and the camera obscura can also be used to evaluate tonal intervals with greater accuracy.

A tonal interval is the space in between a change in value. The chart below has ten regular (i.e., equal) tonal intervals.

value scale

Tonal perception is dependant on context. As many optical illusions demonstrate, what may seem a bright tone in one circumstance may appear less so in another. In his seminal book, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representatin, E.H. Gombrich wrote: "According to a classic experiment by Wolfgang Kohler, you can take two gray pieces of paper-one dark, one bright-and teach the chickens to expect food on the brighter of the two. If you then remove the darker piece and replace it by one brighter than the other one, the deluded creatures will look for their dinner, not on the identical gray paper where they have always found it, but on the paper where they would expect it in terms of relationships-that is, on the brighter of the two. Their little brains are attuned to gradients rather than to individual stimuli. Things could not go well with them if nature had willed it otherwise. For would a memory of the exact stimulus have helped them to recognize the identical paper? Hardly ever! A cloud passing over the sun would change its brightness, and so might even a tilt of the head, or an approach from a different angle. If what we call "identity" were not anchored in a constant relationship with environment, it would be lost in the chaos of swirling impressions that never repeat themselves." The mimetic painter, then, has the chore to create a picture in which the tonal values are correct relative themselves within that context.

The pigments available to the artist have unsequenced tonal values. For example, the tone of natural ultramarine blue pigment (Vermeer's characteristic blue) is very dark. On a scale of grays it appears near black. On the other hand, lead-tin yellow, (Vermeer's characteristic lemon yellow) is very light, quite near pure white. In order to lighten the tone of ultramarine blue, the painter has simply to add white. To darken light toned pigment such as lead-tin yellow the painter must add a darker tint. However, if black is added for this purpose, the yellow immediately appears distinctly greenish in color and no longer conveys the idea of a darker shade of yellow but, rather, of a different color altogether. Painters often used raw umber, a deep semi-transparent brown earth pigment, to approximate the color of the shadow of a yellow tones object such as the yellow morning jackets worn by many of Vermeer's sitters.


A topos (plural, topoi, in Greek "a commonplace") is a standardized theme or method of constructing or treating an argument in literature.


When light encounters a material, or medium as it is also referred to, it can interact with it in several different ways. Translucence occurs when light is able to pass through a medium but is diffused to the point that objects on the opposite side are not clearly visible, an example being a frosted window glass, which is translucent but not transparent. In other words, a translucent medium allows the transport of light while a transparent medium not only allows the transport of light but allows for complete image formation. The opposite property of translucency is opacity. Transparent materials appear clear, with the overall appearance of one color, or any combination leading up to a brilliant spectrum of every color.

Painters must learn how not only cope with the unavoidable and varying interactions between light and their paints, but exploit them towards their advantage. Fully opaque painting is highly adapted for creating voluminous modeling and creating the sensation of plastic substance, while transparent paints, called glazes, may be advantageously used to create a luminous shine-through optical quality that cannot be imitated with any combination of opaque colors. Translucent paints, instead, are adapted for rendering translucent substances, such as the all-important flesh tones.


Still Life with Peaches and Water JarStill Life with Peaches and Water Jar (Fourth Style wall painting from Herculaneum)
c. 62–-69 C.E.
Fresco, 14 x 13 1/2 inches
Archaeological Museum, Naples

When light encounters a material, it can interact with it in several different ways. These interactions depend on the wavelength of the light and the nature of the material. In the field of optics, transparency (also called pellucidity or diaphaneity) is the physical property of allowing light to pass through the material without being scattered. Transparent materials appear clear, with the overall appearance of one color, or any combination leading up to a brilliant spectrum of every color.

In the art of painting, the representation of transparent objects, such a glass containers or jewelry, has always been a challenge of the artist's ability. Roman frescoes feature transparent glass objects. The glass jar shows the artist's ability to register two types of transparency at once: the clear glass vessel and the clear liquid that it contains.

There can be little doubt that the seventeenth-century Dutch still life painters painted glass more frequently and more realistically than any other school of any other period in history.

When painting a glass object one is mostly painting what is behind, or immediately beside the glass, with some lighter highlights and darker accents. Like all representations of fully transparent objects, such as a drinking glass or a bottle, this technical feat can only be achieved by describing the "outside" objects that appear "inside" the glass as essentially flat shapes, each one independent of the glass itself, as if one were creating a jigsaw puzzle. Squinting helps to flatten the exasperating mix of distorted reflections, highlights and shadows which, to make matters worse, appear to be located on different planes of depth.

If the glass is colored the objects seen through it will take on some of the color of the glass. The thicker or more opaque the glass the stronger the change in colors will be. The ethereal highlights, usually complicated in shape, must be treated with the same psychological detachment, and it is usually best practice to paint them wet-over-dry during the finals stages of the work. The difference in brilliance (tonal value) of the different parts of the highlights must not be gotten by adding color to darken the very light mixture—often pure unadulterated white is used for the most intense lights—but by painting them more thinly by decreasing the pressure of the brush on the canvas. This technique will give rise to the turbid medium effect which create automatically a slightly bluish cast characteristic of the weaker highlights. In short, painting glass objects successfully demands that the painter place all his trust in eyes and ignore what is brain knows (i.e., that the glass is a solid object), something that no few painters find extremely taxing and thus avoid painting glass objects altogether.

Transparent vs. Opaque Paint

Today's artists are sometimes surprised to see how variable in opacity pigments can be. Some pigments produce a glass-like effect which barely hides the underdrawing while other seemingly opaque ones do not fully cover it. Other pigments mask all that was underneath. These differences are experienced by painters of the past and present because each pigment, depending on its chemical properties and methods of production, has its own character and behavior which must be reckoned with.

"An opaque paint is one that transmits no light and can readily be made to cover or hide what is under it. A semi-opaque paint transmits very little light, but is incapable of concealing dark colors and strong markings under it unless an unusually heavy coat is applied. A transparent material transmits light freely; when a transparent glaze of oil color, for example, is placed over another color, it produces a clean mixture of the two hues without much loss of clarity. A semi-transparent paint transmits much light, but is not clear; a semi-transparent glaze, when placed over another color, will produce a pale or cloudy effect because of the reflection of light from the surface. Semi-transparency and semi-opacity are also known as translucency. Pigments are generally classed as opaque, semi-opaque, and transparent.

In painting techniques, opaque and transparent pigments produce color effects in two different ways: Watercolor employs transparent color, relying on the brilliant white paper to create white and pale colors; casein, gouache and pastel are completely opaque, using white pigment to obtain whites and pale colors; tempera is semi-opaque, combining the effects of both systems; and oil painting is capable of utilizing opaque, translucent and transparent effects, sometimes all in the same painting."Ralph Mayer, The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques (Oxford: Viking, 1972), 132.

The hiding strength of paint is largely influenced by the relative refractive indices of the pigment and the medium, as well as the particle size and distribution of the pigment, the proportion of pigment in the vehicle and the thickness of the applied film.

Transparency depends largely on the physical characteristics of the pigment itself rather than how it is bound to the vehicle. Good red madder will always be transparent, no matter how it is bound or applied except, of course, if it is mixed with white which provides an excellent pink hue. And on the other hand, vermilion will always be one of the most opaque pigments and it is precisely in its opacity that the Great Masters found it most useful. These paints must be used according to their intrinsic qualities.

Many inexperienced painters would prefer to have paints of all the same opacity. This is a mistake. The breadth and depth of the Masters' works is as much consequence of the strong variations in opacity of their pigments as the way they are applied to the canvas.


Painters and writers have often reflected on the transient nature of human life. Human mortality is often contrasted with the everlasting nature of the truths of religion. Pictorially, artists express this notion of transience by using symbolic objects such as skulls, hour-glasses, extinguished candles and soap bubbles.


Trompe-l'œil (French for "deceive the eye," pronounced [tʁɔ̃p lœj]), which can also be spelled without the hyphen in English as "trompe l'oeil," is an art technique involving realistic imagery in order to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions. Forced perspective is a comparable illusion in architecture. All figurative art contains an element of trompe l'oeil, while the essence of the "true" trompe-l'œil is that it sets out to deceive us into believing that the objects we are seeing are not the result of artifice but real. While perspective generally creates the illusion of space behind the picture plane, trompe l'œil creates the illusion of space in front of the picture plane.

One of the first records of trompe l'oeil hails back to the fifth century B.C. The artist Zeuxis, so the story goes, painted grapes so life-like that birds flew down to peck at them. But even such an artist as Zeuxis was fooled by his rival Parrhasius. When Zeuxis tried to push aside the cloth covering one of Parrhasius's paintings the trompe-l'œil fabric turned out to be the painting itself. One of the best known examples from Classical Antiquity comes from Roman art and was unearthed as part of a number of archeological discoveries at Pompeii. Scientists uncovered Roman villas decorated with a mass of mural painting designed to look like wall alcoves, intricate ceiling plasterwork, double-doors and even windows overlooking lush gardens.

With the superior understanding of perspective drawing achieved in the Renaissance, Italian painters of the late Quattrocento such as Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506) and Melozzo da Forlì (1438–1494), began painting illusionistic ceiling paintings, generally in fresco, that employed perspective and techniques such as foreshortening in order to give the impression of greater space to the viewer below. This type of trompe l'œil illusionism as specifically applied to ceiling paintings is known as "di sotto in sù," meaning "from below, upward" in Italian. The elements above the viewer are rendered as if viewed from true vanishing point perspective.

A fanciful form of architectural trompe-l'œil is known as "quodlibet" which features realistically rendered paintings of such items as paper-knives, playing-cards, ribbons and scissors, apparently accidentally left lying around, painted on walls.

Perhaps the most straightforward example of trompe-l'œil in Vermeer's oeuvre is the green satin curtain that hangs on the right-hand side of the Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. On close inspection, the curtain does not in fact seem to hang in the same implied three-dimensional space of the painting but rather in front of the painting itself. This kind of curtain, which Vermeer intended to imitate, was widely employed to protect the more precious works of from dust. This trompe-l'œil device was a favorite among Dutch genre painters of the Delft School.


See also, portrait and physiognomy.

"The now defunct term (tronie) refers to heads, "faces," or "expressions" (compare the French trogne, or "mug") and to a type of picture familiar from many examples by Rembrandt (1606–1669) and his followers. The majority of Dutch tronien appear to have been based upon living models, including the artists in question or a colleague, but the works were not intended as portraits. Rather, they were meant as studies of expression, type, physiognomy, or any kind of interesting character (an old man, a young woman, a 'Turk,' 'a dashing soldier' and so on). Garments that looked foreign, 'antique,' costly, or simply curious were of interest for their own sake and frequently offered opportunities to show off painterly techniques. "Walter Liedtke, ed., exh. cat. Vermeer and the Delft School (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001). Tronien, were in effect, paintings usually made and sold for the open market. The artist was entirely free to choose the sitter, dress and technique and faced none of the restrictions of formal portraiture. The tronie would normally be sold on the art market without identification of the sitter, and would not have been commissioned and retained by the sitter as portraits normally were.

Nonetheless, the term tronie is still subject to debate. "Some critics use the word 'tronie' as the name of a genre comparable to that of landscape or portrait but this a recent development, not justified by the way in which seventeenth-century sources apply the word."Groningens Lyckle de Vries, review of "Tronie und Porträt in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts," by Dagmar Hirschfelder, (Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 2008), in: H-ArtHist, accessed [date], http://arthist.net/reviews/887. According to the art historian Dagmaire HirschfelderDagmar Hirschfelder," Tronie und Porträt in der niederländischen Malerei des 17." Jahrhunderts (Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 2008). "the 'tronie' originated in Leiden and Haarlem in the third decade of the seventeenth century, where Jan Lievens (1607–1674), Rembrandt (1606–1669) and Frans Hals (c. 1582–1666) were its inventors. This choice implies a definition: a painting is a 'tronie' when it has the characteristics these three artists gave to their tronien. The author's criteria are mostly negative; a tronie is a head or a half-figure without significant attributes or actions, not identified as a figure from history, literature, mythology or the Bible. The face is not stereotyped as the representative of one of the social or psychological groups we know from genre painting, such as the quick-tempered 'Capitano', the miser or the glutton."Groningens Lyckle de Vries, review of "Tronie und Porträt in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts," by Dagmar Hirschfelder, (Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 2008), in: H-ArtHist, http://arthist.net/reviews/887.

In the seventeenth century, there was an avid market for tronien, which were considered a separate genre (although for an artist such as Rembrandt, they also served as a storehouse of facial types and expressions for figures in history paintings).

Historical evidence refers to three tronien painted by Vermeer. John Larson was a Hague/London sculptor who in an inventory drawn up in August 1664 had a painting described as "a tronie by Vermeer." It was valued at 10 guilders. In the Dissius auction of 1696 in which 21 works by Vermeer were sold, two of the paintings were described as tronien, The relative part of the catalogue is reproduced below.

38. a tronie in antique dress, uncommonly artful, by the same (Vermeer) — 36 guilders.

39. another ditto (tronie) by Vermeer — 17 guilders.

40. a pendant by the same — 17 guilders.

The first tronie fetched 36 guilders while the other two only 17 guilders each. Some scholars have conjectured that item numbers 39 and 40 are perhaps the Girl with a Red Hat and Girl with a Flute which are among Vermeer's smallest pictures. The prices of the three paintings were low in respects to many of the other 18 Vermeer's sold in the same auction, a fact which has lead some scholars to believe that the Girl with a Pearl Earring was not among the tronien listed. The beauty of the painting, they argue, must have surely been evident to buyers present at the auction and it would not have been bought for a fraction of the price reached by The Milkmaid (item no.1 at 155 guilders), or Woman with a Balance (item no. 2 at 175 guilders.) However, Dutch buyers may have had a somewhat different perception of a tronie such as the Girl with a Pearl Earring and before spending their hard earned money, they may have considered more than just the work's aesthetic value alone.

In any case, if we are to accept the authenticity of the Washington Girl with a Flute it would seem that four tronien by Vermeer have survived: The Girl with a Pearl Earring, A Study of a Young Woman, The Girl with a Red Hat and the Girl with a Flute.

Turbid Medium Effect

Goethe's studies of color began with subjective experiments which examined the effects of turbid media on the perception of light and dark. He observed that lights seen through a turbid medium would appear yellowish, and darkness seen through a turbid medium that had been lightened would appear blue.

The turbid medium effect in nature can be readily observed when the thin layers of fat that lay over raw reddish meat take on an unappealing blue cast. Another example of the turbid medium effect is when white smoke passes in front of a dark backdrop creating a bluish haze. Painters may replicate this effect dynamically by superimposing a thin (translucent) light layer of paint over a darker one: the layer above appears much cooler than it would have appeared had it been painted over a lighter layer of paint.That is, 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. Light blues skies are particularly airy if the painters superimposes a light blue mixture of paint over tan or light brown ground. The turbid medium effect is greatly amplified if the dark tone underneath is a warm brown.

Rembrandt (1606–1669) and Rubens (1577–1640), both of whom possessed an enviable understanding of their materials and extraordinary manual dexterity, used this technique extensively to create the cool half tones of human flesh automatically. This was done by first modeling the darker shadows in dark browns, most umbers. The lighter flesh tone (usually mixture of lead white and small amounts of vermilion and/or yellow ochre) was applied adjacent to the shadows and then drawn over with a light brush with great finesse tapering off gradually over the darker shadow to indicate the turning of the underlying form. This technique, extraordinarily difficult to master, creates a subtle pearlescent tone. The fresher the paint application, the more pronounced and natural is the result. Repeated stirring and mixing of the paint destroys the effect almost immediately. Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), was known to have used ultramarine in the half-tones of the flesh.

The turbid medium effect can also be produced by mixing cool blue pigments, such as natural ultramarine, directly into the paint reserved for the half-tones (only when representing flesh) but the result is hardly as attractive the effect produced by the technique described before.

Turkish Carpet

See Carpet/Turkish carpet.


Turpentine (also called spirit of turpentine, oil of turpentine, wood turpentine and colloquially turps) is a fluid obtained by the distillation of resin obtained from live trees, mainly pines. It is mainly used as a solvent and as a source of materials for organic synthesis. Turpentine is for the painter the most important and by far the best of all the essential oils. It is prepared from the balsam (pitch) of various pine trees through distillation by means of steam without pressure. The residuum is Burgundy pitch, and further fused colophony. Oil of turpentine was already known to the ancients. The trade' distinguishes different varieties. Good oil of turpentine should make a rapidly evaporating spot on paper and should leave no residuum behind. When shaken in a bottle, the air bubbles which form should disappear quickly without iridescence. The odor of good oil of turpentine is pleasantly aromatic, not penetrating or like benzene as is the case when adulterated. Oil of turpentine must be kept in a cool place in tightly covered bottles; otherwise it will evaporate also becomes resinous, in which process the poorer sorts turn very brown. Resinous old turpentine has a drying effect like siccative, and frequently causes color to remain sticky for a long time.

There are many historical forms of turpentine, all made from the resin of trees. Perhaps the oldest, dating from the fourteenth century, was made from the terebinth tree, a member of the cashew family. Later, various turpentines were made from pine and fir trees, including Canada balsam, made from the balsam fir, and Venice turpentine, made from the western larch tree. Artists valued these forms of turpentine for their resinous sap, not for their use as a solvent. Today, what we call "turpentine" is made from distillation of the sap of pine trees, and as such it is sometimes added to cleaning products, or used as a substitute for gasoline. Turpentine solvent, sometimes called "spirits," has the opposite effect in painting from the earlier turpentines used by historical painters, thinning the paint rather than adding clarity and brilliance.

Turpentine is used only sparingly in paint as it weakens the paint film so that it will not stick to the ground very well and when used excessively it makes the paint look dry, less colorful and opaque when it dries..

Ultramarine Sickness

A degradation phenomenon of natural ultramarine pigment that can cause a paint layer that contains ultramarine to turn lighter or greyish in color, develop a wrinkled appearance and/or lose details.

Vibrant blue ultramarine may have been an expensive pigment, but it was not without problems. Over time, the paint surface can acquire a blanched appearance, so that these areas are now lighter in color. Natural ultramarine pigment, obtained from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli, has been one of the most valued pigments by European painters since the late thirteenth century. Before nineteenth century, the only known source of lapis lazuli was in the quarries of Badakhshan (northeastern Afghanistan), a site visited and described by Marco Polo. He wrote: "There is a mountain in that region where the finest azure [lapis lazuli] in the world is found. It appears in veins like silver streaks." Lapis lazuli provided not only a vibrant blue color unmatched by any other pigment available at the time, but it bestowed a divine nature to the artwork in which it was used. Since it was valued more highly than gold, its use typically conveyed the high status of a work's commissioner. Ultramarine was the pigment often reserved to paint the mantel of the Virgin Mary.

The deterioration process of this pigment is not well understood, though, as with lead pigments there is some indication that ultramarine may interact in some way with an oil binder influencing the changes in its chemistry on ageing.

There are various examples of ultramarine sickness in the paintings of Vermeer. It is particularly evident in the A Lady Seated at a Virginal, where the initial dark blue drawings on the wall tiles has become a light blue. Tthe blue upholstery of the foreground chair of A Lady Standing at a Virginal shows evidence that the ultramarine blue paint layer is severely deteriorated and blanched.

A Lady Seated at a Virginal by Johannes VermeerA Lady Seated at a Virginal (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1670–1675
Oil on canvas, 51.5 x 45.5 cm.
National Gallery, London

Utrecht School

Principally a group of three Dutch painters—Dirck van Baburen (c. 1590–1624), Gerrit Van Honthorst (1592–1656), and Hendrik Terbrugghen (1588–1629)—who went to Rome and fell under the pervasive influence of Caravaggio (1571–1610) before returning to Utrecht. Although none of them ever actually met Caravaggio, each had access to his paintings, knew his former patrons, and was influenced by the work of his follower Bartolomeo Manfredi (1580–-1620/21), especially his half-length figural groups, which were boldly derived from Caravaggio and occasionally passed off as the deceased master's works.

Back in the Netherlands the "Caravaggisti" were eager to demonstrate what they had learned. Their subjects are frequently religious ones, but brothel scenes and pictures in sets, such as five works devoted to the senses, were popular with them also. The numerous candles, lanterns and other sources of artificial light are characteristic and further underscore the indebtedness to Caravaggio.

Although Van Honthorst enjoyed the widest reputation at the time, painting at both the Dutch and English courts, Ter Brugghen is generally regarded as the most talented and versatile of the group.

Vermeer must have been familiar with the Utrecht School, not only because it was very influential but also through his father's art dealings and through his mother-in-law, Maria Thins. It is documented that Thins possessed a discreet collection of paintings, one of which, The Procuress, was the work of the Utrecht master, Dirck van Baburen. This work appears on the background wall of two paintings by Vermeer, in The Concert and A Lady Seated at a Virginal. In an inventory of movable goods taken after the death of the painter it was described as "a painting wherein a procuress points to the hand."

The Procuress, Dircj van BaburenThe Procuress
Oil on canvas, 101.6 x 107.6 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Another painting in the possession of Thins was described as "one who sucks the breast," probably a Roman Charity or The Story of Cimon and Pero which appears, although difficult to make out, on the wall of: Vermeer's Music Lesson."

Other pictures that belonged to the Thins included a portrait of Dirck Cornelisz. van Hensbeeck, Thins' great-great grandfather who had the stained-glass window to St. Jan's in Gouda in 1561, A Trumpet Player, A Flute Player, A Homo Bulla, possibly a man blowing bubbles, symbolizing the evanescence of life, A Man Being Flayed, perhaps Marsyas Flayed by Apollo, and One Who Decries the World, perhaps a picture of Heraclitus, the weeping philosopher of mediaeval legend. As John Michael Montias pointed out, with the exception of the portrait, all the paintings mentioned were typical Utrecht School subjects.


In its simplest terms, an underpainting is a monochrome version of the final painting intended to initially fix the composition, give volume and substance to the forms, and distribute darks and lights in order to create the effect of illumination. The lack of color probably explains the word "dead" in the term "dead painting." In the seventeenth century, underpainting, or dead-coloring as it was called, appears in various forms, sometimes as loose monochrome brushwork and sometimes as an assembly of evenly blocked-out "puzzle pieces" of different colors. The final color and detail was then applied over the underpainting only when it was thoroughly dry. Underpaintings were usually executed in warm earth tones or with flat areas of thin color which approximated the final color over neutral gray grounds. Raw umber at times mixed with black were frequently used for this purpose. Cool gray underpaintngs were also employed.

Underpainting is rarely practiced today. For the last century, artists have simply begun their painting directly on commercially pre-prepared white canvases with full color surpassing anything but a abbreviated sketch.

Without a thorough knowledge and mastery of the underpainting technique, the extraordinary pictorial coherence which characterizes Vermeer's most mature pictures may not have been easily achieved. The underpainting technique greatly facilitates the realization of finely balanced compositions, accurate depictions of light and chromatic subtleties.

It now seems certain that underpainting was a fundamental step in Vermeer's relatively methodical creative process. In the underpainting stage, the artist may have made many major and minor alterations in the type, placement and dimensions of objects found in his compositions. Chairs, maps, framed paintings, musical instruments, baskets, a standing cavalier and even a dog can no longer be seen where they were originally represented. Vermeer may have painted them out in the underpainting stage having seen that they did not create the desired aesthetic effect or that they were distracting to the painting's theme.

Underpainting was also used by Vermeer to create particular optical effects which cannot be produced by direct mixture of paints. The most cited example is certainly that of the blue drapery which adorns the Girl with a Red Hat. When observed with care, it can be seen that Vermeer had applied a layer of cool natural ultramarine over a warm brown ground. The warm ground which appears through the brushmarks of blue sets creates a unique luminosity since blue is nearly complimentary color of brown. Had the two pigments been physically mixed, the would have resulted in a nondescript drab greenish-blue tone.


Like contrast, unity is an element that describes a relationship between two or more elements or objects within a composition. Unlike contrast, however, which tends to focus on isolated relationships within the composition, unity usually describes such relationships within the context of the composition as a whole. Unity can be said to define how any one element or group of elements is related to the rest of the composition. Thus, contrast itself would be an aspect of unity, as is color, value, etc. The most common quality of unity that art classes and critics focus on is visual flow or connectivity. This can be described as the way in which compositional elements "lead the viewer's eye" from one area of the image to another.


See tone.

Also referred to as "tonal value." The lightness or darkness of tones or colors. White is the lightest value; black is the darkest. The value halfway between these extremes is called middle gray. Because a painted image is physically two-dimensional, a painter must have some tool to create a false, but convincing illusion of three-dimensionality. Value is that tool. The effects of value are most easily seen in a black and white drawing. In such a drawing, one can find a range of tones from pure black, across a spectrum of gray, ending in pure white. By using such a scale of tones, a painter is able to recreate in two dimensions the effects of light and shadow on a three-dimensional object. In a painting, such tones are usually found in spectrums of color instead of gray, but the effect is the same. Value is extremely important to a painter because without its proper use it would be impossible for a painter to create convincingly realistic imagery. It's also a useful tool for adding further definition to forms, of which line alone is incapable of doing. Value also works in conjunction with contrast.

Vanishing Point

In perspective, the point on the horizon at which sets of lines representing parallel lines will converge. These diverging lines are called orthogonals.

Although it has been stated that Vermeer placed the vanishing point of his perspectival constructions to emphasize the one or another compositional element in the painting, perhaps only in one work, the Woman Holding a Balance, does it occur at a truly significant point: very near the hand holding the balance which surprisingly, is also very near the geometrical center of the painting. By drawing the spectator's eye towards this crucial point where the balance slowly comes to rest, the artist enhances the underlying theme of equilibrium and deliberateness of one's actions.

In all the other paintings by Vermeer, the vanishing point seems to occur randomly or in correspondence to the central figure of the composition although this could be easily explained by the fact that a painter naturally seats directly in front of the part of the composition which interests him most. However, it is notable that in all of his interiors, the vanishing point is established within the rectangle of the picture plane while in many works of his colleagues, it lies outside.

In Vermeer's times an artisinal method of working out the perspective drawing existed. Jørgen Wadum has noted that paintings by Vermeer, including Woman Holding a Balance, "contains evidence of Vermeer's system, by which he inserted a pin, with a string attached to it, into the grounded canvas at the vanishing point. With this string he could reach any area of his canvas to correct orthogonal, the straight lines that meet in the central vanishing point." This system was widely used among painters of the time. In Wadum's opinion, Vermeer had most likely had fully assimilated the laws of perspective perhaps using various extant guides and did not use the camera obscura for working out perspective problems as the London architect Philip Steadman has argued.


Vanitas is the Latin for "vanity," in the sense of emptiness or a worthless action. "Vanity of Vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity'" (Ecclesiastes 12: 8). The implication of these words from the Old Testament is that all human action is transient in contrast to the everlasting nature of faith.

A vanitas painting (or element in painting) is one that acts as a reminder of the inevitability of death, and the pointlessness of earthly ambitions and achievements. Common vanitas-symbols include skulls, candles, hour-glasses and clocks, overturned vessels and even flowers (which will soon fade). The vanitas theme became popular during the Baroque, with the vanitas still life flourishing in Dutch art.

The vanity of all earthly things was one of the most popular themes of Dutch still life painter. They often included objects which suggested the transience of life: skulls, bones, hourglass, flowers or a snuffed-out candle. There were countless other symbols; the sea-shell, a collector's item, represented wealth; musical instruments symbolized the pleasure of the senses. The vanitas tradition was particularly strong in Leiden, possibly because the university there made the town the center of theological study. It has been suggested that the vanitas painting played a role in Dutch painting parallel to that of the crucifixes and religious paintings in Catholic countries.


Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective finish or film that is primarily used in wood finishing but also for other materials, and fine art painting. A good varnish has little or no color, is transparent, and has no added pigment, as opposed to paints or wood stains, which contain pigment and generally range from opaque to translucent. Early varnishes were developed by mixing resin-pine sap. Traditional varnishes include Dammar, Copal, Amber and Mastic. Dammar (also, Dammar) and Mastic varnishes are referred to as soft varnishes, they dissolve in solvents such as turpentine and mineral spirits, which allows them to be removed from an oil painting surface without greatly affecting the paint layers below.

All oil paintings should be varnished in order to give them an even gloss, and permanently restore the original luster of the colors, which often dry to very different states of gloss. It also acts as the painting's protective layer. An oil painting should be dry for three to six months, depending on the thickness of the paint, before its final varnish is applied. Dammar varnish, which is the oldest liquid varnish and gives a very high gloss, is the best for oil paintings. In order to varnish a painting the painting. A painting is completely should be completely dry before varnishing. In a dust free area the varnish must be applied with a flat wide, soft, tightly packed varnishing brush used it only for varnishing.The work must be laid flat on a table or work surface and the varnish applied in two or three thin coats rather than one thick coat.


See also, art museum, art exhibition and blockbuster.

When we view paintings in an art museum our eyes usually move across the surface of the canvas, skimming over the objects, colors, shapes and figures in the picture. Our attention is drawn to particular parts of the image—to certain figures or actions—which propel the narrative or provide aesthetic stimulus to the viewer. We come away, hopefully enlightened, aware of what the painter had to say. Today, however, it is broadly held that not only does the viewer collaborate with the artist in transforming a two-dimensional likenesses on a canvas into a three-dimensional depiction of the visual word, he interprets what he or she sees on the canvas in personal terms, thereby adding meaning to the picture. This phenomenon was termed the "beholder's share" by Eric Gombrich. According to others, the viewer's response to art stems from an irrepressible urge to re-create his our own brain the creative process. In any case, the viewer is no longer considered a passive receptacle of the painter's intentions, but an essential part in completing the work of art. But how do viewers actually experience art?

Different parts of our vision have various different functions. When we look at a painting, were typically using what is called "foveal vision." This is the optical function we use to see fine details. At the very center of our gaze, our visual acuity is amazingly sharp. However, the center of the gaze focuses on a relatively small point and at the periphery, our visual acuity drops dramatically. The eye does not slide over the picture, it moves in a series of quick jerks and pauses moving from one so-called "point of fixation" to another, somewhat like a water strider on the surface of a pond. During the movements, called saccades, our vision is not completely lost but significantly reduced. When looking at pictures the duration of the fixations varies a great deal. One thirtieth of a second is very brief, 8 to 10 thirtieth of a second being very common and pauses more than 20 thirtieth of a second occurring in only one out of 20 fixations. The eyes are particularly drawn to areas of high contrast and fine detail, and especially to human and expressionistic areas, such as eyes and lips. In mimetic art, our vision darts from one point to the next, visually constructing a story in our mind. Our interpretation may feel instantaneous, but is actually composed of smaller units that make up a whole, like a series of storyboards, as if experiencing a scene in a movie or graphic novel. Essentially, we're editing the painting in our minds to construct a narrative.

Painters and untrained viewers see picture differently. The artistically untrained participant showed a preference for viewing human heads and faces, and to a somewhat lesser extent with the human body. This preference seems to override all other features, such as color and brightness contrast or the amount of detail. Oddly, it would appear that color in itself has no special significance in respects to the objects being represented and has little or no effect on the character of the eye movements.

In mimetic art, our vision darts from one point to the next, visually constructing a story in our mind. Our interpretation may feel instantaneous, but is actually composed of smaller units that make up a whole, like a series of storyboards, as if experiencing a scene in a movie or graphic novel. Essentially, we're editing the painting in our mind.

While a symphony may require up 40 minutes of one's time, a film two hours, a play perhaps three or four hours, most viewers spend comparatively much less time in front of a single painting. In a study conducted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art it was discovered that the average time spent looking at an artwork 17 seconds. One survey discovered that an average viewer goes up to a painting, looks at it for less than two seconds, reads the wall text for another 10 seconds, glances at the painting and moves on. The Louvre museum unveiled that the average viewing time for the most famous painting in the world, Mona Lisa, is a mere 15 seconds. There are viewers who spend much more time, but they are generally a tiny proportion.

In Vermeer's day there was a fast-growing but distinct interest in art and artists, with an elite public that was designated as Liefhebbers van de Schilderkonst ("Lovers of the Art of Painting"). Ernst van der Wetering wrote that "the art lover's, in the present case, the viewer's, main purpose was to understand paintings so as to be able to discuss them with other devotees and, preferably, with painters as well. Both the artist and the art lover were inspired by the special relationship between Alexander the Great and his court painter, Apelles (as recounted by Pliny the Elder), and the almost equal footing that Titian (c. 1488/1490–1576) enjoyed with Emperor Charles V. They admired and identified with these great role models of the past in terms of both the mutual relationship enjoyed by artist and patron and the importance each attached to the pursuit of the art of painting and to the deeper knowledge of that art—a mixture of art history, art theory, and technical understanding. Studio visits became popular. Texts written by artists for art lovers, and some by the latter themselves, give the impression that the insights gained from studio visits to a great extent concerned the "miracle" of creating an illusion of reality on a flat surface, the pictorial and technical means employed in creating that illusion, and the many aspects of the reality that was to be rendered—such as the natural grouping of the figures in a painting, the proportions of the figures and the expressiveness of their poses and gestures, the play of light and its reflections, the natural rendering of draped fabrics, and the use of color.


Portrait of Rita de Acosta Lydig, Giovanni BoldiniPortrait of Rita de Acosta Lydig
Giovanni Boldini
Oil on canvas, 180.3 × 110.5 cm.
Private collection (M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans?)

A virtuoso (from Italian, virtuoso) is an individual who possesses outstanding technical ability in a particular art or field such as painting, music or singing. Virtuoso also refers to a person who has cultivated appreciation of artistic excellence, either as a connoisseur or collector. According to Music in the Western Civilization by Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin: "...a virtuoso was, originally, a highly accomplished musician, but by the nineteenth century the term had become restricted to performers, both vocal and instrumental, whose technical accomplishments were so pronounced as to dazzle the public."

The defining element of virtuosity is the performance ability of the artist in question, who is capable of displaying feats of skill well above the average performer. Both critics and artists have mixed opinions on virtuosity. While the skill implied is clearly positive, artists focused on virtuosity have been criticized for overlooking substance and emotion in favor of manual facility technical prowess. Examples of acceptable virtuosities are considered those of Frans Hals (c. 1582–1666), Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) or Rembrandt (1606–1669), but less so that of John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) and questionable that of Giovanni Boldini (1842–1931). In today's art world the term "virtuosity" is employed with suspect because the great craft tradition of the past appears obsolete or, worse yet, eli test.


Viscosity is a measure of a fluid's resistance to deformation by stress and corresponds to a liquid's thickness. In general, the more pigment in a paint there is relative to binder, the thicker the paint and the more viscous it will be.

In earlier practices, sometimes the drying oils themselves were thickened. A viscous paint with specific characteristics could then be produced using these thickened oils.

Visual Arts

Today, the visual arts are art forms such as painting, sculpture, architecture, drawing, printmaking, design, crafts, photography, video and filmmaking. Current usage of the term includes fine art as well as the applied, decorative arts and crafts, but this was not always the case. Before the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain at the turn of the twentieth century, the term "artist" was often restricted to a person working in the fine arts (such as painting, sculpture, or printmaking) and not the handicraft, craft, or applied art media, such as ceramics. Art schools made a distinction between the fine arts and the crafts, maintaining that a craftsperson could not be considered a practitioner of the arts. Also included within the visual arts are the applied arts, such as industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, interior design and decorative art.


Space enclosed or filled by a three-dimensional object or figure or the implied space filled by a painted or drawn object or figure. In order to give volume and create a convincing sense of three dimensionality, painters usually employ tone, or rather, various shades of light and dark to convey a sense of volume or mass. Volume is also attained by painting an object's light side with thick paint and its mass shadow with transparent or translucent paint. Color does not produce the sensation of volume.

Warm Colors

Colors whose relative visual temperature makes them seem warm. Warm colors or hues include red-violet, red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, and yellow.


Application of paint to a surface which has already been painted and is still wet. Wet-in-wet technique permits fine blending of two adjacent areas of different tones Painting wet-in-wet is favored in modern forms of realism, beginning with Impressionism.

Vermeer seems to have employed the wet -in-wet methods in various paintings. The Girl with a Pearl Earring shows that the painter applied paint wet-into-wet. The lighter and darker parts of the young girl's blue turban were mixed wet-in-wet with rounded brushstrokes of ultramarine and white mixtures. Once dry, the area it received a transparent glazed with natural ultramarine.

Wine Jug

A Young Woman and a Cavalier, Cornelis Bisschop A Young Woman and a Cavalier
Cornelis Bisschop
Early 1660s
Oil on canvas, 97.8 x 88.3 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The all-white tin-glazed containers with a silver or pewter lid that appears in Vermeer's and countless other Dutch painters' interior scenes were originally produced in Faenza, Italy, from which the word "faïence" "or "faience" is derived. The design of these wine jugs was derived by the Italians from the popular earthenware jugs from the German Rhineland. In the 1550s, they were exported to all over Europe and by the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century had become very fashionable. They appear in numerous genre interior paintings between 1650 and 1670.

Vermeer must have been very fond of this type of wine jug since it appears in strategically important areas in four works: A Maid Asleep, The Glass of Wine, The Girl with a Wine Glass and The Music Lesson. Although it is very difficult to distinguish between the original Italian pieces and Dutch imitations through painted images, historian of the Dutch decorative arts Alexandra Gaba van Dongen believes that the ones in Vermeer's paintings are Italian. Many of the potters and tile makers of Delft were descendants of sixteenth-century Italians from Faenza who had migrated north to Antwerp in the sixteenth century looking for work, and continued farther north to escape the Spanish military efforts to suppress Dutch independence..

Working Up

Working-up in Dutch was called "opmaken" which means to finish. During the working-up the main concern was to give everything its correct coloring, to render materials appropriately, and to fix the final contours of the forms. Each distinctive area of the painting was generally executed as a separate entity and finished in one or two sessions. Whenever it was necessary to achieve strong, bright colors, (for red, yellow and blue robes and the like), the passage concerned was clearly executed within carefully delineated contours in accordance with fixed recipe, involving a specific layering or fixed type of underpainting.

For further information on working-up, click here.

Recent technical study of Vermeer's paintings indicates that he most likely used the standard working-up method employed by Northern European artists. In his mature work, many passages are completed with only one or two pigments different than those of the adjacent ones. Furthermore, there is sound reason to believe that in the working-up stage, sittings occurred a long time from one another. Rather than a being a slow painter, Vermeer may have been a more meditative painter who concentrated fully on one area at a time with long intervals between painting sessions. (see interview with Jørgen Wadum, former chief conservator of the Mauritshuis)

It remains very difficult to understand the sequence in which Vermeer worked up each separate passage. Ernst van der Wetering has hypothesized that Rembrandt (1606–1669) worked from "the back to the front" of his pictures by analyzing the system of overlapping areas of pigment.Ernst van de Wetering, Rembrandt: The Painter at Work (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 233. No such study has been conducted in regards to Vermeer's painting. However, one might reason that the background white-washed walls, which play such an important role in the artist's pictorial conception, may have been among the first areas to be completed in the working-up phase. More than any other pictorial element, the walls' color and tone determine the amount and quality of light which will be represented in a given painting. Analogously, landscape painters often depict the sky first in order to properly gauge the correct colors of the rest of the painting. For it is obviously the sky which influences the tone of the landscape itself and not vice versa. After having defined the various tones of the wall, perhaps Vermeer then worked-up the larger areas of color such as the various costumes worn by the models which usually play a decisive role in the chromatic harmony of the painting.

Workshop (Italian: botegga)

A workshop was where a painter in the Middle Ages and Renaissance carried out his work, at a time when painting was considered to be a craft. There he would have apprentices and assistants, the chief of whom might carry out a painting without the master's participation. Such a painting is referred to as a "workshop"' piece.


View of Delft, Johannes VermeerAn X-ray image of Vermeer's View of Delft which reveals how the original refection of the buildings in the water of the Schie was much sharper, created by the complete lack of wind.

Although X-radiography is a well-known diagnostic tool in the medical field, it is used extensively by conservators to determine how artists applied different layers of paint to create an image. X-rays penetrate through paint layers and record on film the atomic weight or density of the various materials present. This technology reveals changes, such as figure pose and placement, costume details, or background composition, the artist made during the process of painting. An X-ray can also easily spot repaired tears on the canvas, holes in the panel support, losses in the ground layers, and cut down edges and transfers.

Information collected by X-ray examination is extremely valuable to conservators as it helps to determine the conservation issues of the object and subsequent correct conservation approach. The information revealed by this type of examination can also assist art historians in the interpretation of the art work and more specific dating.

X-ray examination is able to detect the presence of paints such as lead white, lead-tin yellow, or vermilion that contain heavy metal elements because they absorb the x-rays and prevent them from blackening the film. Materials that do not absorb x-rays, such as carbon black, will allow x-rays to pass through the object and blacken the film. Fortunately, X-ray opaque pigments include most of the whites and yellows, meaning that light areas in a painting are mostly light on the radiograph. Those pigments with weaker absorption power are zinc white, cadmium yellow and emerald green. Very weak absorbers include umber, cobalt blue, red/yellow ochre and Prussian blue. The worst absorbers are the organic pigments based on carbon such as carbon black and carmine lake.


(see Marine Painting)


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If you discover a or anything else that isn't working as it should be, I'd love to hear it! Please write me at: jonathanjanson@essentialvermeer.com