Vermeer’s ‘hidden’ Cupid is the enigmatic artist’s latest thriller

Created by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

For all over a few centuries, the woman studying a letter in the dimly-lit solitude of a Johannes Vermeer portray gave no sign of what the concept contained.

Going through an open window, her determine gently curved as she scanned the notice in her fingers, her system appeared slight against the vacant wall powering her. But previous 7 days, the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Germany, the place she’s been housed for most of her long life, has last but not least unveiled an amorous secret, concealed long ago beneath levels of paint.

In advance of its approaching exhibit about the celebrated Dutch painter, the museum has introduced an impression of a substantially modified “Female Examining a Letter at an Open up Window,” which the Dutch artist painted concerning 1657 and 1659. Following a painstaking 4-year-long restoration, the empty wall now demonstrates a monumental painting of Cupid, found by X-ray in 1979, but now discovered for the initial time.

The unveiling of Cupid, the Roman god of enjoy who is typically represented as a winged boy, presents the girl’s letter new connotations of affection, longing and desire. The portray will go on see at the Gemäldegalerie from September 10 along with 9 of Vermeer’s other main operates and 50 paintings by his Dutch friends.

When the concealed Cupid was to start with uncovered more than 4 a long time back, it was considered the Delft-born artist experienced himself painted over it. X-rays of other famed artworks have typically exposed early drafts, and Vermeer was recognised to rework his compositions, believing that the harmony of his paintings reflected the harmony of God, in accordance to Stephan Koja, art historian and director of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister.

“It was prevalent sense to think that Vermeer had overpainted this portion of his composition since he experienced performed this a number of situations,” Koja mentioned in a movie job interview. “He genuinely was a perfectionist hoping to get the most calibrated and most convincing composition.”

The restoration process was painstakingly slow. Conservators meticulously removed a area of overpaint more than the program of two and a fifty percent many years. Credit: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister

But when conservators began cleaning the painting in 2017, they identified proof suggesting otherwise. Varnish on the stretch of empty wall behind the young girl was a different shade, and the consistency of the paint was distinct as well, Koja stated. When scientists investigated samples in an archaeometry laboratory, they discovered filth hiding in involving levels of paint, signaling that a person else had extra the overpaint a lot afterwards.

“We understood that the dust meant that the painting was finished it was uncovered to the mild and to the situations of a place for several many years,” Koja explained. Now, the workforce included believe it was painted over someday in the early 18th century. But as to who did it, they can only guess.

Not the only mystery

The hidden Cupid is considerably from the only thriller of the Baroque artist’s lifetime. The painter, like the enigmatic Renaissance grasp Leonardo da Vinci, had a preciously modest output, with only close to 34 canvases thought to have survived to today. He’s ideal identified for his fragile interior scenes that includes solitary figures bathed in window mild, hinting at narratives still left intentionally vague.

“(With) the one individual lost in her views, you can find a specific thriller, so we can relate to the thoughts, emotions of the folks we see,” Koja reported. “In a way, none of his contemporaries were being capable to do that.”

Art historians aren't sure where Vermeer learned to paint, who he learned from, if he had any students of his own or who his subjects were. It is thought that the work above, an alllegory of painting, is a self-portrait with his daughter.

Art historians are not absolutely sure wherever Vermeer uncovered to paint, who he learned from, if he had any learners of his possess or who his topics were. It is considered that the function over, an alllegory of portray, is a self-portrait with his daughter. Credit history: Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

The identities of Vermeer’s subjects are an enigma, far too, which include the woman in his most well-known operate, “Female with a Pearl Earring.” Artwork historians are also nevertheless debating the strategies he utilized to make his optical illusions, notably the concern of irrespective of whether he made use of a “digicam obscura” — a dim room with a pinhole that initiatives a photographic picture — to create his depth of subject. It really is not even recognised wherever Vermeer acquired to paint or who he discovered from — a lineage that is normally effectively-documented for art history’s masters.

Who painted above Cupid in “Girl Looking through a Letter at the Open up Window,” or why they did, could hardly ever be solved. The portray came from a French collection in the early 18th century, when Vermeer was not very well regarded — he experienced died in deep credit card debt in 1675. Koja advised that the portray may possibly have been modified to much more closely resemble the get the job done of Rembrandt, maybe by the collection’s Flemish steward, who was also an artist.

"Woman in Blue Reading a Letter" illustrates many of the same themes: a solitary figure reading a letter in a familiar domestic space, lit by the light of a window to the left.

“Woman in Blue Reading through a Letter” illustrates a lot of of the exact same themes: a solitary figure studying a letter in a familiar domestic area, lit by the gentle of a window to the still left. Credit: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister

Altering another person else’s portray “was pretty usual at the time,” Koja claimed. “Paintings have been modified in accordance to taste… At present, we think it is really wholly inconceivable how you could contact a Vermeer but many others (in) hundreds of years in advance of us had been not that hesitant.”

Quite a few other Vermeer paintings had been inexplicably altered, as properly, Koja defined, from an total blue sky painted into his early perform “Diana and her Companions” to a modified photograph frame in “Woman Holding a Stability.” (Both equally paintings have because been restored to their unique compositions.)

A common face

To get well the Cupid, conservators at Dresden Condition Artwork Collections resolved not to eliminate the authentic 17th-century varnish, but as an alternative meticulously chipped away at layers of paint with a health-related scalpel under a microscope with 120x magnification, according to Koja. The system took two and a 50 % years, with only a several square millimeters lined just about every day.

The Cupid they uncovered was a familiar one particular. Standing upright, his left arm raised and his correct arm holding a bow, the blond, chubby cherub has appeared in other Vermeer works. The god of appreciate performs a supporting job in “Lady Interrupted at Her Tunes,” housed by the Frick Collection in New York, as perfectly as in “Youthful Lady Standing at a Virginal,” which the Dresden museum has borrowed from the Countrywide Gallery in London for its new demonstrate.

The same cupid has appeared in other works. According to art historian Stephan Koja, Vermeer may have owned the painting it was based on.

The similar cupid has appeared in other performs. In accordance to art historian Stephan Koja, Vermeer may well have owned the painting it was based mostly on. Credit history: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister

Koja stated it is suspected that the freshly discovered Cupid was primarily based on a true painting in the artist’s possession. An inventory of his widow’s possessions from 1676 references “a Cupid,” in accordance to The Art Newspaper.

His overall look alters the indicating of just one of Vermeer’s most pivotal works — one particular that represented a big shift in the artist’s vocation. Vermeer’s earliest paintings have been not established in contemporary middle-class households, but were being grand functions depicting religious and mythological subjects, from Jesus Christ to the goddess Diana. By the late 1650s, even so, he experienced started turning his eye to present day topics — what grew to become regarded as “style paintings” of day to day life that are the hallmark of the Dutch Golden Age.

“‘Girl Looking at a Letter By the Window’ is definitely the essential piece of his transformation from a background painter to the painter of modern-day daily life — to the Vermeer we know nowadays,” Koja said.

Before long right after finishing the portray, the artist embarked on his most famous subjects and motifs: young females (and the occasional male) missing in thought in the quietude of rooms cast with mid-working day light. The viewer’s presence can be sensed, much too, as we peer in on figures enjoying songs, examining mysterious letters or considering objects hefty with philosophical this means. Vermeer’s subjects are sometimes interrupted by our presence, turning to gaze at our intrusion.

“What is so fantastic about Vermeer is that he leaves issues open up, and leaves them to our creativity,” Koja explained. “And it truly is (like) just about every type of art — be it songs, theater or movie. I consider you like most of the kinds that have a specified mystery to them… like film directors who give you clues and then enable you end the concept. This is some thing which Vermeer mastered.”

Movement caption: The restoration of “Lady Examining a Letter at an Open up Window.” Photos courtesy of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister.

Mary E. Alvarez

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