The Art of Painting

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The Art of Painting
Jan Vermeer - The Art of Painting - Google Art Project.jpg
Artist Johannes Vermeer
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions120 cm× 100 cm(47 in× 39 in)
Location Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The Art of Painting, also known as The Allegory of Painting, or Painter in his Studio, is a 17th-century oil on canvas painting by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. It is owned by the Austrian Republic and is on display in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. [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.

Netherlands Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve separate provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba—it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.

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.


This illusionistic painting is one of Vermeer's most famous. In 1868 Thoré-Bürger, known today for his rediscovery of the work of painter Johannes Vermeer, regarded this painting as his most interesting. Svetlana Alpers describes it as unique and ambitious; [2] Walter Liedtke "as a virtuoso display of the artist's power of invention and execution, staged in an imaginary version of his studio ..." [3] According to Albert Blankert "No other painting so flawlessly integrates naturalistic technique, brightly illuminated space, and a complexly integrated composition." [4]

Théophile Thoré-Bürger French journalist and art critic

Étienne-Joseph-Théophile Thoré was a French journalist and art critic. He is best known today for his rediscovery of the work of painter Johannes Vermeer.

Svetlana Leontief Alpers is an American art historian, also a professor, writer and critic. Her specialty is Dutch Golden Age painting, a field she revolutionized with her 1984 book The Art of Describing. She has also written on Tiepolo, Rubens, Bruegel, and Velázquez, among others.

Walter Arthur Liedtke, Jr. was an American art historian, writer and Curator of Dutch and Flemish Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was known as one of the world's leading scholars of Dutch and Flemish paintings. He died in the 2015 Metro-North Valhalla train crash.

Many art historians think that it is an allegory of painting, hence the alternative title of the painting. Its composition and iconography make it the most complex Vermeer work of all. After Vermeer's Christ in the House of Martha and Mary it is his largest work.

Allegory Literary device

As a literary device, an allegory is a metaphor in which a character, place or event is used to deliver a broader message about real-world issues and occurrences. Allegory has occurred widely throughout history in all forms of art, largely because it can readily illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.

Painting Practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface

Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a solid surface. The medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush, but other implements, such as knives, sponges, and airbrushes, can be used. The final work is also called a painting.

Iconography Branch of art history

Iconography, as a branch of art history, studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images: the subjects depicted, the particular compositions and details used to do so, and other elements that are distinct from artistic style. The word iconography comes from the Greek εἰκών ("image") and γράφειν.


His signature Vermeer-ArtPainting-Signatura-1117.jpg
His signature

The painting depicts an artist painting a woman dressed in blue posing as a model in his studio. The subject is standing by a window and a large map of the Low Countries hangs on the wall behind. It is signed to the right of the girl "I [Oannes] Ver. Meer", but not dated. Most experts assume it was executed sometime between 1665/1668, but some suggest the work could have been created as late as 1670–1675. [5]

Low Countries historical coastal landscape in north western Europe

The Low Countries, the Low Lands, or historically also the Netherlands, is a coastal lowland region in northwestern Europe, forming the lower basin of the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt rivers, divided in the Middle Ages into numerous semi-independent principalities that consolidated in the countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, as well as today's French Flanders.

In 1663 Vermeer had been visited by Balthasar de Monconys, but had no painting to show, so it was possibly done "in order to have an outstanding specimen of his art in his studio." [6] Vermeer obviously liked the painting; he never sold it during his lifetime. According to Alpers "it stands as a kind of summary and assessment of what has been done." [7] [8]

Balthasar de Monconys French diplomat

Balthasar de Monconys (1611–1665) was a French traveller, diplomat, physicist and magistrate, who left a diary, which was published by his son as Journal des voyages de Monsieur de Monconys, Conseiller du Roy en ses Conseils d’Estat & Privé, & Lieutenant Criminel au Siège Presidial de Lyon, 2 vols., Lyon, 1665-1666.


Detail of Vermeer's Art of Painting showing the painter at his easel using a maulstick. Johannes Vermeer - The Art of Painting (detail) - WGA24677.jpg
Detail of Vermeer's Art of Painting showing the painter at his easel using a maulstick.

The painting has only two figures, the painter and his subject, a woman with downcast eyes. The painter was thought to be a self-portrait of the artist; Jean-Louis Vaudoyer suggested the young woman could be his daughter. [9] The painter sits in front of the painting on the easel, where you can see the sketch of the crown. He is dressed in an elegant black garment with cuts on the sleeves and on the back that offers a glimpse of the shirt underneath. He has short puffy breeches and orange stockings, an expensive and fashionable garment that is also found in other works of the time, as in a well-known self-portrait by Rubens.

Jean-Louis Vaudoyer French writer

Jean-Louis Vaudoyer was a French novelist, poet, essayist and art historian. He was also administrator general of the Comédie-Française from 1941 to 1944.

The tapestry and the chair, both repoussoirs, lead the viewer into the painting. As in The Allegory of Faith the ceiling can be seen.

Experts attribute symbols to various aspects of the painting. A number of the items, a plaster mask, perhaps representing the debate on paragone, [10] the presence of a piece of cloth, a folio, and some leather on the table have been linked to the symbols of Liberal Arts. The representation of the marble tiled floor and the splendid golden chandelier are examples of Vermeer's craftsmanship and show his knowledge of perspective. Each object reflects or absorbs light differently, getting the most accurate rendering of material effects.

Leo Belgicus by Visscher (1611) Leo belgicus.png
Leo Belgicus by Visscher (1611)

The map, remarkable is the representation of light on it, shows the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands, flanked by 20 views of prominent Dutch cities. [12] It was published by Claes Janszoon Visscher in 1636. This map, but without the city views on the left and right can be seen on paintings by Jacob Ochtervelt and Nicolaes Maes. Similar maps were found in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris [13] and in the Swedish Skokloster. [14] In the top left of the map two women can be seen; one bearing a cross-staff and compasses, while the other has a palette, brush, and a city view in the hand. [15]

Symbolism and allegory

The Painter's Studio by Michiel van Musscher Michiel van Musscher - The Painter's Studio - WGA16407.jpg
The Painter's Studio by Michiel van Musscher

Vermeer had a theoretical interest for painting. The subject is presumed to be Fama, [16] Pictura, [17] or Clio, [18] the Muse of History, [19] evidenced by her wearing a laurel wreath, holding a trumpet, possibly carrying a book by Herodotus or Thucydides, which matches the description in Cesare Ripa's 16th century book on emblems and personifications entitled Iconologia . [20] [21] However, according to Ripa History should look back [22] and not down as in this painting. Following Vermeer's contemporary Gerard de Lairesse, interested in French Classicism and Ripa, there is another explanation; he mentions history and poetry as the main resources of a painter. [23] [24] The woman in blue could be representing poetry, [25] [26] pointing to Plutarch who observed that "Simonides calls painting silent poetry and poetry painting that speaks", [27] later paraphrased by the Latin poet Horace as ut pictura poesis. If so, the map is representing history.

Is that a double eagle on top of the chandelier? Johannes Vermeer - The Art of Painting (detail) - WGA24678.jpg
Is that a double eagle on top of the chandelier?

The double-headed eagle, symbol of the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire, which possibly adorns the central golden chandelier, may represent the former rulers of the Low Countries. The large map on the back wall has a prominent crease that divides the Seventeen Provinces into the north and south. (West is at the top of the map.) The crease may symbolize the division between the Dutch Republic to the north and southern provinces under Habsburg rule. The map shows the earlier political division between the Union of Utrecht to the north, and the loyal provinces to the south. [29] This interpretation might have appealed to Hitler who owned the painting during the war. [30] According to Liedtke a political interpretation of the map and the Habsburg eagle is unconvincing; they overlook other motives. [31] The map could suggest though that painting has brought fame to the Netherlands; [32] ships sailing over the folds suggest that.


External video
The Art of Painting.jpg
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Johannes Vermeer's The Art of Painting, (4:55), Smarthistory

The painting is considered a work with significance for Vermeer because he did not part with it or sell it, even when he was in debt. On 24 February 1676, his widow Catharina bequeathed it to her mother, Maria Thins, in an attempt to avoid the sale of the painting to satisfy creditors. [33] The executor of Vermeer's estate, the famous Delft microscopist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, determined that the transferral of the work to the late painter's mother-in-law was illegal and, according to John Michael Montias, at least a curious transaction. [34] On 15 March 1677 most of his paintings were sold in an auction at the Guild in Delft. [35] It is not known who bought the Art of Painting; perhaps it was Jacob Dissius. [36] It can not be determined with certainty whether the painting is quoted in the auction Dissius of 1696 as "Portrait of Vermeer in a room with various accessories." The painting was owned by Gerard van Swieten, and passed into the hands of Gottfried van Swieten. [37] In 1813, it was purchased for 50 florins by the Bohemian-Austrian Count Rudolf Czernin. It was placed on public display in the Czernin Museum in Vienna.

Until 1860, the painting was considered to have been painted by Vermeer's contemporary, Pieter de Hooch; Vermeer was little-known until the late 19th century. Hooch's signature was even forged on the painting. It was at the intervention of the German art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen that it was recognised as a Vermeer original. [38] [39]

Nazi interest

A tunnel in the Altaussee salt mine StollenSalzbergwerkAltaussee.jpg
A tunnel in the Altaussee salt mine

In 1935, Count Jaromir Czernin had tried to sell the painting to Andrew W. Mellon, but the Austrian government prohibited the export of the painting. [40] After the annexation of Austria, Philipp Reemtsma with the help of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring attempted to acquire the painting. The transaction to a private person was refused being cultural heritage. [41] It was finally acquired by Adolf Hitler for the collection of the Linzer Museum at a price of 1.82 million Reichsmark through his agent, Hans Posse on November 20, 1940. [42] The painting was rescued from a salt mine near Altaussee at the end of World War II in 1945, where it was preserved from Allied bombing raids, with other works of art. The painting was escorted to Vienna from Munich by Andrew Ritchie, chief of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFA&A) for Austria, who transported it by locking himself and the painting in a train compartment. [43]

The Americans presented the painting to the Austrian Government in 1946, since the Czernin family were deemed to have sold it voluntarily, without undue force from Hitler. During the early to mid-1950s, Czernin continued in his attempts to claim restitution, each time being rejected. In 1958, Vermeer's The Art of Painting was finally moved from temporary status into the permanent collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. [44]

2009 request by heirs for restitution

In August of 2009, a request was submitted by the heirs of the Czernin family to Austria's culture ministry for the return of the painting. A previous request was submitted in 1960s; however, it was "rejected on the grounds that the sale had been voluntary and the price had been adequate." A 1998 restitution law, which pertains to public institutions, has bolstered the family's legal position. [45] [46]

See also

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  1. The painting on the museum website
  2. Svetlana Alpers (1983) The Art of Description. Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century, p. 119.
  3. Liedtke, Walter (2007). Dutch paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 893. ISBN   0-300-12028-1.
  4. A. Blankert (1978) Vermeer of Delft, pp. 47–49. Oxford: Phaidon.
  5. Stokstad, Marilyn (1995). Art History. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers. p. 797. ISBN   0810927764.
  6. Vermeer and the Delft School, p. 396
  7. S. Alpers, p. 122.
  8. KHM on the "Art of Painting"
  9. Vermeer's Family Secrets: Genius, Discovery, and the Unknown Apprentice by Benjamin Binstock, p. 172.
  10. Essential Vermeer.
  11. Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica Vol. VI
  12. Brussel, Luxemburg, Gent, Bergen (Henegouwen), Amsterdam, Namen, Leeuwarden, Utrecht, Zutphen, en het Hof van Holland in Den Haag; to the right Limburg, Nijmegen, Arras, Dordrecht, Middelburg, Antwerpen, Mechelen, Deventer, Groningen en het Hof van Brabant in Brussel.
  13. S. Alpers, p. 120.
  14. Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica I (1986)
  15. S. Alpers, p. 126.
  16. Neurdenburg, E. (1942) Johannes Vermeer. Eenige opmerkingen naar aanleiding van de nieuwste studies over den Delftschen Vermeer. In: Oud-Holland 54, pp. 70–71.
  17. Vermeer's Family Secrets: Genius, Discovery, and the Unknown Apprentice by Benjamin Binstock, p. 172.
  18. K.G. Hulten (1949) 'Zu Vermeers Atelierbild', In: Konsthistorisk Tidskrift, 18, p. 92.
  19. Iconologia, or, Moral emblems
  20. Iconologia di Cesare Ripa ...: divisa in tre libri, ne i quali si esprimono ... by Cesare Ripa
  21. Clio
  22. Iconologia di Cesare Ripa, p. 269
  23. Groot-Schilderboek (1712), pp. 4, 6, 115, 121, 293
  24. Weber, Gregor J.M. (1991) Der Lobtopos des 'lebenden' Bildes: Jan Vos und sein "Zeege der Schilderkunst" von 1654, p. 61. ISBN   3-487-09604-8.
  25. Iconologia di Cesare Ripa ...: divisa in tre libri, ne i quali si esprimono ... by Cesare Ripa
  26. Vermeer's Family Secrets: Genius, Discovery, and the Unknown Apprentice by Benjamin Binstock, p. 175.
  27. Plutarch, De gloria Atheniensium 3.346f, cited by D. Campbell, Greek Lyric III, Loeb Classical Library (1991), page 363
  28. Kroonluchter Archived 2016-03-05 at the Wayback Machine
  29. Vermeer: The Art of Painting, Exhibitions – NGA
  30. Vermeer's Family Secrets: Genius, Discovery, and the Unknown Apprentice by Benjamin Binstock, p. 182.
  31. Vermeer and the Delft School, p. 396
  32. Vermeer and the Delft School, p. 396
  33. Montias, J.M. (1989) Vermeer and his Milieu. A Web of Social History, pp. 338–339.
  34. Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History by John M. Montias, pp. 219, 229.
  35. Essential Vermeer
  37. U.S. National Gallery
  38. Waagen, G.F. "Handbuch der Deutschen und Niederländischen Malerschulen". Stuttgart 1862, Bd II, p. 110.
  40. Hitler and the European Art
  42. Vermeer: The Art of Painting, The Painting's Afterlife – NGA
  43. Spirydowicz, K. (2010). "Rescuing Europe's Cultural Heritage: The Role of the Allied Monuments Officers in World War II". Archaeology, Cultural Property, and the Military. L. Rush. Woodbridge, The Boydell Press: 15–27
  44. NGA
  45. Heirs’ Claim for Hitler’s Vermeer Rejected by Austrian Panel
  46. KHM
  47. "About this Work: Vermeer, Portrait of the Artist in his Studio, Malcolm Morley". The Broad. The Broad. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  48. Hobbs, Robert (2005). Malcolm Morley: The Art of Oil Painting [Catalog for Exhibit, 5 May - 25 June 2005] (PDF). New York: Sperone Westwater Gallery. Retrieved 16 July 2019.