Saint Praxedis (painting)

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Saint Praxedis
Vermeer saint praxedis.jpg
Artist Attributed to Johannes Vermeer
Year circa 1655
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 102 cm× 83 cm(40 in× 33 in)
Location On loan to the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

Saint Praxedis is an oil painting attributed to Johannes Vermeer. This attribution has often been questioned. [1] [2] [3] However, in 2014 the auction house Christie's announced the results of new investigations which in their opinion demonstrate conclusively that it is a Vermeer. [4] The painting is a copy of a work by Felice Ficherelli, and depicts the early Roman martyr, Saint Praxedis or Praxedes. It may be Vermeer's earliest surviving work, dating from 1655. [1]

Oil painting process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil

Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments with a medium of drying oil as the binder. Commonly used drying oils include linseed oil, poppy seed oil, walnut oil, and safflower oil. The choice of oil imparts a range of properties to the oil paint, such as the amount of yellowing or drying time. Certain differences, depending on the oil, are also visible in the sheen of the paints. An artist might use several different oils in the same painting depending on specific pigments and effects desired. The paints themselves also develop a particular consistency depending on the medium. The oil may be boiled with a resin, such as pine resin or frankincense, to create a varnish prized for its body and gloss.

Johannes Vermeer 17th-century Dutch painter

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.

Christies British auction house

Christie's is a British auction house. It was founded in 1766 by James Christie. Its main premises are on King Street, St James's, in London and in the Rockefeller Center in New York City. The company is owned by Groupe Artémis, the holding company of François-Henri Pinault. Sales in 2015 totalled £4.8 billion. In 2017 the Salvator Mundi was sold for $450.3 million at Christie's, and which at that time was the highest price ever paid for a single painting at an auction.


Description and date

The painting shows the saint squeezing a martyr's blood from a sponge into an ornate vessel. It is closely related to a work by Ficherelli from 1640–45, now in the Collection Fergnani in Ferrara, and is generally assumed to be a copy of it (though see below for an alternative interpretation). The most obvious difference between the two is that there is no crucifix in the Ferrara work. [1] It is Vermeer's only known close copy of another work. [1] [3]

Ferrara Comune in Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Ferrara is a city and comune in Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy, capital of the Province of Ferrara. As of 2016 it had 132,009 inhabitants. It is situated 44 kilometres northeast of Bologna, on the Po di Volano, a branch channel of the main stream of the Po River, located 5 km north. The town has broad streets and numerous palaces dating from the Renaissance, when it hosted the court of the House of Este. For its beauty and cultural importance, it has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

This is one of only four dated Vermeer paintings, the others being The Procuress (1656), The Astronomer (1668) and The Geographer (1669). Vermeer's two early history paintings, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary and Diana and Her Companions , are dated by almost all art historians to 1654-6, although opinions differ as to which is earlier. [5]

<i>The Procuress</i> (Vermeer) painting by Johannes Vermeer

The Procuress is a 1656 oil-on-canvas painting by the 24-year-old Johannes Vermeer. It can be seen in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden. It is his first genre painting and shows a scene of contemporary life, an image of mercenary love perhaps in a brothel. It differs from his earlier biblical and mythological scenes. It is one of only three paintings Vermeer signed and dated.

<i>The Astronomer</i> (Vermeer) painting by Johannes Vermeer

The Astronomer is a painting finished in about 1668 by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. It is oil on canvas, 51 cm × 45 cm, and is on display at the Louvre, in Paris, France.

<i>The Geographer</i> painting by Johannes Vermeer

The Geographer is a painting created by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer in 1668–1669, and is now in the collection of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut museum in Frankfurt, Germany. It is closely related to Vermeer's The Astronomer, for instance using the same model in the same dress, and has sometimes been considered a pendant painting to it. A 2017 study indicated that the canvas for the two works came from the same bolt of material.

Provenance and 2014 sale

The painting's provenance before the mid-twentieth century is unknown. The collector Jacob Reder bought it at a minor auction house in New York in 1943. [3] It first received significant attention as a possible Vermeer when being shown as a part of an exhibition of Florentine Baroque art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1969. The exhibition catalogue drew attention to the signature "Meer 1655" and Michael Kitson, reviewing the exhibition, suggested it could be a genuine Vermeer on the basis of stylistic similarities to Diana and Her Companions . [6] [7] Following Reder's death (also in 1969) it was bought by the art dealer Spencer A. Samuels, who also believed it to be a Vermeer. The Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection Foundation bought it from Spencer in 1987. [3] [8] The leading Vermeer scholar Arthur Wheelock subsequently argued the case for the attribution to Vermeer in an article devoted to it in 1986. [2] [3]

Provenance Chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object

Provenance is the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object. The term was originally mostly used in relation to works of art but is now used in similar senses in a wide range of fields, including archaeology, paleontology, archives, manuscripts, printed books and science and computing. The primary purpose of tracing the provenance of an object or entity is normally to provide contextual and circumstantial evidence for its original production or discovery, by establishing, as far as practicable, its later history, especially the sequences of its formal ownership, custody and places of storage. The practice has a particular value in helping authenticate objects. Comparative techniques, expert opinions and the results of scientific tests may also be used to these ends, but establishing provenance is essentially a matter of documentation. The term dates to the 1780s in English. Provenance is conceptually comparable to the legal term chain of custody.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Art museum in New York City, New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City, colloquially "the Met", is the largest art museum in the United States. With 7.06 million visitors to its three locations in 2016, it was the third most visited art museum in the world, and the fifth most visited museum of any kind. Its permanent collection contains over two million works, divided among seventeen curatorial departments. The main building, on the eastern edge of Central Park along Museum Mile in Manhattan 's Upper East Side is by area one of the world's largest art galleries. A much smaller second location, The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan, contains an extensive collection of art, architecture, and artifacts from Medieval Europe. On March 18, 2016, the museum opened the Met Breuer museum at Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side; it extends the museum's modern and contemporary art program.

Michael William Lely Kitson was an art historian who became an international authority on the work of the painter Claude Lorrain.

The painting was not included in the exhibition "The Young Vermeer" held in The Hague, Dresden and Edinburgh in 2010-11. [9] However it was included in an exhibition of Vermeer's work held in Rome in 2012–13, curated by Wheelock, Liedtke and Sandrina Bandera. [10]

It was sold at Christie's in London on 8 July 2014 on behalf of the Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection Foundation. [4] It sold to an unknown buyer for £6,242,500 (US$10,687,160), at the lower end of the estimated price range of £6-£8 million. [11] Some art market commentators speculated that doubt about the attribution to Vermeer may have contributed to the relatively low price. [12] [13] From March 2015 it has been on display in the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, labelled as "attributed to Johannes Vermeer". This appears to be a long-term loan to the museum from a private collector. [14]

Pound sterling official currency of the United Kingdom and other territories

The pound sterling, commonly known as the pound and less commonly referred to as sterling, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory, and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence. A number of nations that do not use sterling also have currencies called the pound.

United States dollar Currency of the United States of America

The United States dollar is the official currency of the United States and its territories per the United States Constitution since 1792. In practice, the dollar is divided into 100 smaller cent (¢) units, but is occasionally divided into 1000 mills (₥) for accounting. The circulating paper money consists of Federal Reserve Notes that are denominated in United States dollars.

National Museum of Western Art art museum in Tokyo, Japan

The National Museum of Western Art is the premier public art gallery in Japan specializing in art from the Western tradition.

Debates over attribution

Ficherelli's original Santa Prassede - Ficherelli.jpg
Ficherelli's original

The painting may have two signatures. The more obvious of the two reads "Meer 1655", while the second appears as "Meer N R o o". It is possible that this second signature originally read "Meer naar Riposo", or "Vermeer after Riposo": Riposo was Ficherelli's nickname. The Doerner Institute's examination of the signatures concluded that both signatures were original and composed of pigments typical of the painting. [15] Wheelock's examination also led him to conclude that both signatures were original, and recent technical examination has demonstrated that the clearer signature is likely to have been added at, or close to, the date the painting was created. [5] However these new investigations agreed with the earlier opinion of the conservator Jørgen Wadum that the possible second signature is too indistinct to be deciphered. [2]

Analysis of the lead white, performed by the Rijksmuseum, in association with the Free University, Amsterdam used in the painting demonstrates a Dutch or Flemish origin, with a strong possibility that the pigment came from the same batch used for Vermeer's Diana and Her Companions. [5] The use of a chalk ground is also typically Dutch, and there is an unusually extensive use of ultramarine, typical of Vermeer's later work, though not of Diana and Her Companions or Christ in the House of Martha and Mary. [5] Wheelock identifies stylistic similarities with two history paintings which are universally attributed to Vermeer. He also notes similarities between the depiction of the saint's face and the figure in Vermeer's A Girl Asleep and argues that the painter's conversion to Catholicism would have given him an interest in the subject matter. [3] Although it is thought unlikely that the Ferrara painting ever left Italy, or that Vermeer visited Italy, Wheelock points out that he had a reputation as an authority on Italian art. [1] [3] It is possible that another version or copy of the Ferrara painting was the model for Vermeer's work. [5]

In 1998, Wadum argued that the painting was not a copy of the work in Ferrara, or indeed of any other work, because the background elements were painted before the foreground, as is typical of an original work rather than a copy. In 2014 Christie's put forward the argument that this could be explained as experimentation by Vermeer, the young artist trying to recreate and adapt the technique used to create the original. [5]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Jonathan Janson, Essential Vermeer: St Praxedis accessed 12 December 2010
  2. 1 2 3 Wadum, Jørgen (1998). "Contours of Vermeer". In Gaskel, I.; Jonker, M. Studies in the History of Art, 55. Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Symposium Papers XXXIII. pp. 201–223.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Wheelock, Arthur K. Jr. (1986). "'St Praxedis': New Light on the Early Career of Vermeer". Artibus et Historiae. 7 (14): 71–89. doi:10.2307/1483225.
  4. 1 2 Christie's, Saint Praxedis by Johannes Vermeer (press release, Monday 9 June 2014) accessed 10 June 2014
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Christie's, Saint Praxedis by Johannes Vermeer: Saint Praxedis (catalogue entry), accessed 10 June 2014
  6. Kitson, Michael (June 1969). "Florentine Baroque Art in New York". Burlington Magazine.
  7. Gaskell, Ivan (2000). Vermeer's Wager: Speculations on Art History, Theory and Art Museums. reaktion. ISBN   978-1-8618-9743-5.
  8. Oliver, Myrna (February 9, 1999). "Obituaries: Spencer A. Samuels; Noted Art Dealer". Los Angeles Times.
  9. Buijsen, Edwin (2010). The Young Vermeer. Waanders. ISBN   978-90-400-7680-0.
  10. "Il viaggio in Italia di Vermeer". Corriere della Sera. 2012-06-13. Retrieved 2011-08-05.
  11. "Vermeer portrait sells in London for 6.2 mln pounds". Reuters. 2014-07-08. Retrieved 2014-07-09.
  12. "Did authenticity questions bridle Vermeer sale?". artnet. 2014-07-09. Retrieved 2014-07-09.
  13. "Mercato selettivo per la pittura classica a Londra". Il Sole 2014-07-09. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  14. National Museum of Western Art, Announcement of Debut Display of Works accessed 27 April 2015
  15. Spencer Samuels catalogue, date unknown

Further reading

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