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Vermeer, Jan [Dutch, 1632-1675] 











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Vermeer, Jan [Dutch, 1632-1675]

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Descriptive Text

Jan Vermeer: A Woman Asleep, 1657 [New York] - asleep.jpg
Jan Vermeer: Diana and her Companions, 1655 - diana.jpg
Jan Vermeer: The Concert, 1665 [stolen] - concert.jpg
Jan Vermeer: The Allegory of Painting, 1666 [Vienna] - artpaint.jpg
Jan Vermeer: The Girl with the Wineglass, 1659 - girlglas.jpg
Jan Vermeer: The Music Lesson, 1662 - lesson.jpg

The Concert
1665-66 (Stolen)
69 x 63
Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

A group of three play music together, voice, lute and harpsichord, and
apparently all is innocent. There are two pastoral scenes, one painted
on the lid of the harpsichord, one on wall; the latter includes a dead
tree, a hint that all is not as perfect as we might assume. While the
scene is serene and still, there is movement from the upraised hand of
the singer beating time. The painting seems quite similar to The Music
Lesson, even to the black and white floor tiles and the rich red carpet
draped over a table to provide a foreground.

But the painting at the upper right is not another pastoral scene, it is
Dirck van Baburen's The Procuress.  Are we to think that Vermeer, who
controls every square millimeter of his canvases, did not realize the
message? Or are we to think that the lute-player is selling the sexual
services of singer or harsichordist?  Vermeer painted his own Procuress,
and used the Baburen picture in his Lady Seated at the Virginals. It is
presumed that the Baburen picture hung in Vermeer's house, for it is
mentioned in the inventory of his mother-in-law's house from 1641: A
painting wherein a procuress points to the hand. It is now in the Museum
of Fine Arts in Boston.

Vermeer's The Concert was one of eleven paintings stolen from the Isabella
Stuart Gardner Museum, Boston, on March 18, 1990, and is not yet recovered.

Brought to you by Roy Williams Clickery.

The Allegory of Painting
120 x 100
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

This painting is not a tranquil interior, charged with mood. This painting
is a host of symbols and icons.  A curtain covers much of the canvas,
indicating that this is a stage-set, and the diagonal pattern of floor
tiles draws the eye into the scene. There is a chair at lower left, ready
for the viewer to sit down and watch the show. The combination of the
horizontal roof beams and strong horizontals from the map lend stability
to the composition.

The woman has a blue dress and a yellow skirt, she has a crown of laurel,
a trombone, and a book; she is interpreted as Clio, the muse of History,
as described by Cesare Ripa's Iconologia, an Italian study of symbols
that was translated into Dutch in 1644. The book she holds is the works
of Thucydides, the Classical Greek historian. The name for this painting
is therefore wrong: it is not about painting, but about history.

The chandelier hanging from the ceiling has a double-headed eagle motif
at the top, symbolic of the Habsburg empire, who had recently been
ejected from the newly-democratic United Netherlands. There are no
candles in the chandelier, showing Vermeer's opinion of the power of
the Habsburgs.

A large part of the canvas is taken up by a map of the Netherlands,
produced by Nicolaes Visscher, from 1592, when the Habsburgs still
occupied the Netherlands. The map is, however, divided by a prominent
vertical crease into the newly liberated United Netherlands (right),
and the remaining occupied Spanish part: Catholic Flanders, that will
eventually become Belgium. The margins of the map have scenes of cities,
and The Muse of History stands directly in front of the view of The
Hague, the seat of the Dutch Court and residence of the House of Orange.

The painter, dressed in fanciful, not contemporary, clothing, works with
an almost empty canvas, symbolic of the new republic of the United
Netherlands. Furthermore, the easel on which he paints is directly in
front of the new country.

On the table at the left, silk flows towards us, echoing the flow of
light from behind the curtain. Also there is an object that looks like
an oversize death-mask, which may be the face of Willem I, from the tomb
of the House of Orange in the Prinsenhof in Delft.

This picture was sold to the Nazi art advisor, Hans Posse, in 1940, who
was buying on behalf of Hitler. It was stored in a salt mine near Vienna
for five years, and in spite of the efforts of the liberating Americans
to acquire it, was eventually transferred to the Kunsthistorisches Museum
in Vienna in 1946.

Brought to you by Roy Williams Clickery.

Diana and her Companions
98 x 105
The Hague, Mauritshuis

A melancholy, shadowed picture, the only one of Vermeer showing classical
mythology, with this theme from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Diana, with the
crescent moon on her head, is considered the embodiment of chastity, and
the bathing goddess scene is thought to show this virgin purity and
morality. Two companions wash Diana's feet while another looks on, and a
fourth has her back to us, looking into the distance.

In the mythology, after the moment depicted here, a prince out hunting,
Actaeon, stumbles upon the naked Diana. He is turned into a stag and
devoured by dogs; the thistle and dog at lower left represent the
impending arrival and devouring.

Washing of feet provides a link with the washing of Christ's feet; another
link may be with the washing of Bathsheba's feet (Samuel 2:11), painted
contemporaneously by Rembrandt. Titian painted this scene a century
earlier, with everyone naked and the crime of Actaeon rather more
believable than Vermeer's prudish version. The figures are not painted
with the fluid skill of Vermeer's mature period, and there are residual
attribution questions about this painting.

Brought to you by Roy Williams Clickery.

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