(b. 1622, Middenbeemster, d. 1654, Delft)

The Goldfinch

Oil on panel, 34 x 23 cm
Mauritshuis, The Hague

In the early 1640s Fabritius had been the pupil of Rembrandt, and it must have been the master's chiaroscuro, employed as a subtle method of defining form through the inflection of light which impressed him most deeply. But while most other pupils of Rembrandt slavishly applied chiaroscuro, making it pretty and charming like Dou, Fabritius went in another direction altogether. Rembrandt's chiaroscuro was basically tonal, using intensities of light on a scale varying from very dark to very bright. The paintings of Fabritius, of which The Goldfinch is a brilliant example, maintain an overall brightness, a golden glow; yet within the strong light, light is still more inflected - not by toning it down or intensifying it but by tingeing it with subtle hues of colour. It was this method that Vermeer learned from Fabritius.

It has been suggested that this painting, rather than fitting in a cabinet or interior window, may have served as a house sign for a family in The Hague whose name, De Putter, is Dutch for goldfinch. If it were placed in a plastered wall, the effect would have been strikingly illusionistic.