Johannes Vermeer: Signatures

The Love Letter (detail), Johannes Vermeer
The Love Letter (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1667-1670
Oil on canvas, 44 x 38.5.cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Twenty three paintings by Vermeer’s paintings bear legible signatures. The early Diana and her Companions once presented vestiges of the artist’s signature which was still reproduced in the 1859 catalogue of the Mauritshuis. It has since been removed presumably by overzealous cleaning. Only three works bear both a signature and date. Some of the most important works, like the Milkmaid and the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter are neither signed nor dated. Owing to the artist’s critical misfortunes, before the artist’s definitive resurrection in the mid-1860s signatures of Dutch painters in vogue were added to a number of Vermeer’s works to increase their monetary value. The mid-career masterpiece Art of Painting once bore the signature of Pieter de Hooch while the Allegory of Faith changed authors four times and was sold in Berlin as an Eglon van der Neer while bearing the signature “C. Netscher.”

Most of the Vermeer’s signed canvases present a characteristic monogram or variants of it employing different combinations of the letters “V, ” “M” or “I” followed by “eer” meant to complete the letters of the of the artist’s full name, Vermeer. A few bear only the monogram. Some signatures appear to be particularly well conserved (e.g. The Love Letter and The Guitar Player) while some are barely visible. It is likely that the large but faint signatures which appear in the upper left-had corned of the Girl with a Pearl Earring and the Study of a Young Girl were more originally more conspicuous. A few works, like the early Glass of Wine or the late Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, present truly tiny signatures and can be easily overlooked. In others, such as the Astronomer, the Geographer and the Lacemaker, the artist placed large signatures unmodulated fields of color making them impossible to neglect.

Signatures, especially like those of Vermeer which are painted little more than a wisp of paint, are particularly vulnerable to the vicissitudes of time and restorerd. Signatures are usually not applied wet-in-wet into lower layers of substantial paint but superimposed over them once the lower layer had become thoroughly dry. Conservators a rarely investigated artist’s signatures because the cross sections necessary to perform such analysis are removed with a hypodermic needle, which in the case of such small and delicately applied paint, could have an unwanted visible effect.

Artist's Signatures in the Netherlands

drawn from Chapter 1 of:
Rembrandt, Harmenszoon Van Rijn. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings IV: Self Portraits, edited by J. Bruyn, Ernst van de Wetering, New York: Springer, 2005.

Portrait of Giovanni(?) Arnolfini and his Wife (detail of signature and date), Jan van Eyck
Portrait of Giovanni(?) Arnolfini and his Wife
(detail of signature and date)
Jan van Eyck
1434
Oil on oak, 82.2 x 60 cm.
National Gallery, London

The incidence and significance of signatures of seventeenth-century works of art has received little attention by art historians, and there is very little contemporary literature which discusses them. Various modern art historians hold that given the close cooperative workshop relationship between a master, assistants and apprentices, signatures may have been less important that there are today, fixated as we are, with authenticity. It is not clear in many cases if a signature was meant to indicate that a work had been done entirely by the hand of the master. However, various period sources suggest that their contemporaries were keen on 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 and prevent fraud. By the second half of the sixteenth century, Northern Netherlandish painters began to sign their works in full. Although full signatures gradually became more and more common, monograms did not disappear. Many artists continued to apply monograms although painters affixed signatures that closely resembled their written signatures. Some painters, however, only rarely signed their works. Before the 1600s, Italian painters often signed their works in full followed by a “P” or “pinxit” (Latin for painted). In Southern Netherlands some 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].” Given the low artisanal level of the overwhelming majority of Dutch paintings churned out at low cost to satisfy the thirst of an ever-growing art buying public, the great part of Dutch paintings are not signed. However, most ambitious painters, who invariably belonged to the guilds, signed their works 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. Forged signatures and signatures applied to overcleaned signatures occur from the eighteenth century onwards.

The signatures of Johannes Vermeer and his wife Catharina Bolnes (see image below) on a deed of 30 November 1655—two years after their marriage—constitute one the few physical, and we might add, touching testimonies of the couple's union which bore Vermeer and his beloved wife fifteen children in all. Even if one does not agree that handwriting tells us something of the writer's character, it is difficult to ignore the striking difference between the two scripts. The measured uprightness of Vermeer's calligraphy contrasts with the sensual freedom of his wife's. Click here to access a study of 10 archival documents related to the life of Vermeer. Three historical documents conserve the artist's full signature; one is also signed by the artist's wife, Catharina Bolnes.

Signatures of Johannes Vermeer and Catharina Bolnes

notes on the table below:

  1. Each visible signature is represented by a black and white facsimile and when available, a high-resolution digital image.
  2. In 1866, Thoré-Bürger, who can rightly be considered the rediscoverer of Vermeer, published a catalogue of the works he had been able to find after years of travel and patient investigative work. Thoré correctly identified 22 authentic works by Vermeer (some of which he had not seen) and about 40 other works which are no longer attributed to the artist, mostly landscapes. In the far-right column are reported the number of Thoré's catalogue. Thoré did not order his catalogue by chronology—the paintings are grouped by subject matter—but noted artist's signature when present. He noted signatures on the Milkmaid and on the Woman Holding a Balance, neither of which are visible today. Moreover, while he reports a signature on the cupboard of the Geographer still visible today, he makes no mention of the conspicuous second signature and date in Roman numerals on the wall above the framed map.
  3. Recent laboratory analysis reveals a the vestiges of date inscribed in Roman numerals along side the signature in Vermeer's Art of Painting which has been made out to be 1667.
Title
Facsimile
Photographic image
Description
Thoré-Bürger's cat. no., facsimiles & notes
Diana and her Companions
c. 1653 - 1656
Oil on canvas, 98.5 x 105 cm.
Mauritshuis, The Hague
Vermeer signature This painting's signature is no longer visible after overzealous restorations although it was still reproduced in the 1859 catalogue of the Mauritshuis.
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
c. 1654 - 1655
Oil on canvas, 160 x 142 cm.
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
Christ in the House of martha and Mary, Vermeer's signature signature of Johannes Vermeer's Christ in the House of Martha and Mary Inscribed lower left, on bench: IVMeer (IVM in ligature)
The Procuress
1656
Oil on canvas, 143 x 130 cm.
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden
The Procuress, Johannes Vermeer signature The Procuress, Johannes Vermeer signature Signed and dated lower right: IVMeer. (IVM in ligature) 1656. no.1

Vermeer signature
A Maid Asleep
c. 1657
Oil on canvas, 87.6 x 76.5 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Vermeer signature signature of Johannes Vermeer's A Maid Asleep Signed at left, above the figure's head: I.VMeer.: (VM in monogram)
A Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window
c. 1657 - 1659
Oil on canvas, 83 x 64.5 cm.
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden
signature on Johannes Vermeer's Girlw reading a Letter by an Open Window Signature of Johannes Vermeer's Girl reading at an Open Window Signed lower right (to the right of the woman's skirt): J Meer [fragmentary] no.31
The Little Street
c. 1657 - 1661
Oil on canvas, 54.3 x 44 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
signature of Johannes Vermeer's Little Street Vermeer signature, The Little Street Inscribed below window at left: i VMeer (VM in ligature) no.49

Vermeer signature
Officer and Laughing Girl
c. 1655-1660
Oil on canvas, 50.5 x 46 cm.
Frick Collection, New York
no.7
The Milkmaid
c. 1658-1661
Oil on canvas, 45.5 x 41 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
no.25

"La signature est à peu près:"

Vermeer's signature on the Milkmaid (Thore)
The Glass of Wine
c. 1658-1660
Oil on canvas, 65 x 77 cm.
Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz,
Gemäldegalerie
, Berlin
signature of  Glass of Wine by Johannes Vermeer   Signed left on window: IVMeer (IVM in ligature) no.20
The Girl with a Glass of Wine
c. 1659-1660
Oil on canvas, 78 x 67 cm.
Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick

Facsimile of the signature of Johannes Vermeer's The Girl with a Glass of Wine Vermeer signature The Glass of Wine Inscribed lower right window pane: IVMeer (IVM in ligature) no.6

Vermeer signature
Girl Interrupted in her Music
c. 1658-1661
Oil on canvas, 39.3 x 44.4 cm.
Frick Collection, New York
no.9
View of Delft
c. 1660-1661
Oil on canvas, 98.5 x 117.5 cm.
Mauritshuis, The Hague
signature of View of Delft by Johannes Vermeer Vermeer signature, The View of Delft Signed lower left on the boat: IVM (in monogram) no.48

The Music Lesson
c. 1662-1664
Oil on canvas, 73.3 x 64.5 cm.
The Royal Collection, The Windsor Castle
signature of View of Delft by Johannes Vermeer Vermeer signature, The Music Lesson Signed lower picture frame at right above the white jug: IVMeer (IVM in ligature)
Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
c. 1662 - 1665
Oil on canvas, 46.5 x 39 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
no.32
Woman Holding a Balance
c. 1622-1665
Oil on canvas, 42.5 x 38 cm.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
no.27

"...est signé en toutes lettres, dans la forme habituelle à Vermeer."
Young Woman with a Water Pitcher
c. 1662 - 1665
Oil on canvas, 45.7 x 40.6 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Woman with a Lute
c. 1662-1664
Oil on canvas, 51.4 x 45.7 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
No signature or date appears on this work. Goldschieder reported a signature "on the wall, beneath the table cloth." (1958)

Although Albert Blankert believes the painting is not by Vermeer, he wrote it is "vaguely signed on the wall below the table cloth." (1978)
Woman with a Pearl Necklace
c. 1662 - 1665
Oil on canvas, 55 x 45 cm.
Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
Vermeer signature Vermeer signature Woman with a pearl necklace Inscribed on the fioreward side of the tabletop: IVMeer (IVM in ligature) ` no.33

Vermeer signature
A Lady Writing
c. 1665-1666
Oil on canvas, 45 x 39.9 cm.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Vermeer signature Siganture of Johannes Vermeer's A Lady Writing Inscribed center left on frame of picture on back wall: IVMeer (IVM in ligature) no.40
Girl with a Red Hat
c. 1665-1667
Oil on panel, 23.2 x 18.1 cm.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Facsimile of signature of Johannes vermeer's Girl with a red Hat Signature of Johannes vermeer's Girl with a Red Hat Inscribed upper-left center; (IVM in Ligature) no.47
Girl with a Flute
c. 1665-1670
Oil on panel, 20 x 17.8 cm.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Girl with a Pearl Earring
c. 1665- 1667
Oil on canvas, 46.5 x 40 cm.
Mauritshuis, The Hague
Vermeer signature Vermeer signature Girl with a pearl Earring Inscribed top left corner: IVMeer (IVM in ligature)
The Concert
c. 1663-1666
Oil on canvas, 72.5 x 64.7 cm.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
no.23
The Art of Painting
c. 1662 - 1668
Oil on canvas, 120 X 100 cm.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Vermeer signature Vermeer's signature: The Art of Painting Signed on the map, behind Clio's collar: IVer-Meer no.5

Vermeer signature
Study of a Young Woman
c. 1665–1667
Oil on canvas, 44.5 x 40 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Vermeer signature Vermeer signature Study of a Young Woman Signed upper left: IVMeer [IVM in monogram] no.2

Vermeer signature
Mistress and Maid
c. 1666-1667
Oil on canvas, 90.2 x 78.7 cm.
Frick Collection, New York
no.8
The Astronomer
1668
Oil on canvas, 50 x 45 cm.
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Facsimilae of the signature of Johannes Vermeer's Astronomer Signature of Johannes vermeer's Astronomer Signed on cabinet: IVMeer / MDCLXVIII [IVM in monogram] no.36
The Geographer
c. 1668-1669
Oil on canvas, 53 x 46.6 cm.
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Vermeer signature

Vermeer signature

Signature of Johannes Vermeer's Geographer

Vermeer signature, The Geographer

There are two signatures on the Geographer. Scholars once believed that the conspicuous signature on the background wall (with the date in Roman numerals) was not original even though the date, MDCLXVIIII (1669) was compatible with the date most Vermeer experts have ascribed to the painting. Recent restoration have demonstrated that both are original. no.34

Thoré noted a signature on the cupboard but makes no mention of the signature and date in Roman numerals on the wall above the framed map.

Vermeer signature
The Lacemaker
c. 1669-1671
Oil on canvas on panel, 24.5 x 21 cm.
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Vermeer signature Vermeer signature The Lacemaker Inscribed upper-left on the gray wall: IVMeer (IVM in ligature) no.37

Vermeer signature
The Love Letter
c. 1667-1670
Oil on canvas, 44 x 38.5.cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Vermeer signature Vermeer signature The Love Letter Inscribed above the basket IVMeer (IVM in ligature)
The Guitar Player
c. 1670-1672
Oil on canvas, 53 x 46.3 cm.
Iveagh Bequest, London
Vermeer signature the signature of Vermeer's Guitar Player Signed right on the lower side of the curtain: IVM (IVM in ligature)
Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid
c. 1670-1671
Oil on canvas, 71.1 x 58.4 cm.
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
Vermeer signature Vermeer signature lLady Writing a Letter with her Maid Signed on the table ( on a sheet of paper), under the hand of the writing lady: (IVMeer, IVM in ligature)
Allegory of Faith
c. 1670- 1674
Oil on canvas, 114.3 x 88.9 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

no.41
A Lady Standing at a Virginal
J ohannes Vermeer
c. 1670-1673
Oil on canvas, 51.7 x 45.2 cm.
National Gallery, London
Vermeer signature Vermeer signature A Lady Standing at a Virginal Inscribed at left below the upper edge of the virginal: IVMeer (IVM in ligature) no.29

Vermeer signature
A Lady Seated at a Virginal
c. 1670-1675
Oil on canvas, 51.5 x 45.5 cm.
National Gallery, London
Vermeer signature Signature of Johannes Vermeer's A Lady Seated at a Virginal Inscribed at left below the upper edge of the virginal: IVMeer (IVM in ligature) no.30

Vermeer signature
A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals
(attributed to Johannes Vermeer)
c. 1670
Oil on canvas, 25.2 x 20 cm.
Private collection, New York
Saint Praxedis
(attributed to Johannes Vermeer)
1655
Oil on canvas, 101.6 x 82.6 cm. (40 x 32 1/2 in.)
Barbara Piasecka The Johnson Collection Foundation, (whereabouts unknown)
Signature of Saint Praxedis (Johannes Vermeer ?) According to Arthur Wheelock, the painting is signed and dated 1655 in the lower left, and it also carries an additional inscription in the lower right corner: Meer N ... R ... o... o, which he interprets as Meer N[aar] R[ip]o[s]o (Vermeer after Riposo), the latter being Ficherelli's nickname.

Jørgen Wadum holds that the readable signature "Meer 1655" is "apocryphal" and the inscription to the lower right is "so rudimentary that any interpretation would be factitious."