VERMEER, Johannes
(b. 1632, Delft, d. 1675, Delft)

The Art of Painting

Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Signature: Signed on map, to the right of the girl.

Provenance: Mentioned in 1676 in an act signed by Vermeer's widow, conveying the painting to her mother. Acceptance by the mother in 1677. This is certainly not no: 3 in the sale of 1696 in Amsterdam. The description does not agree. Purchased by Johann Rudolf Count Czernin in 1813 from the estate of Gottfried van Swieten, via a saddlemaker. Count Czernin paid 50 Austrian guilders for it. The painting was then attributed to Pieter de Hooch. In 1860, the painting was recognized as a Vermeer by Waagen. In the possession of Adolf Hitler after 1938, and hung at his residence in Berchtesgaden. Acquired by the museum in 1946.

This painting was long called The Artist in His Studio, and we may in effect presume that the artist seen from behind was himself. However, the intention of representing an allegory is stronger here than in all other Vermeer's works. The heavy curtain on the left, which lets the viewer partake of the scene, has decidedly theatrical connotations. So does the young girl whom the artist portrays, and whose crown of laurel easily identifies her as Fame. A connection with Clio, the muse of history, also exists. She holds a trumpet and a book of Thucydides.

The whole composition is a panegyric to the art of painting. Set in an elegant room, with a chandelier, chairs, the lush curtain, and a large map on the back wall, which shows the northern and southern Netherlands and indicates the area over which the reputation of the artist could spread, its overall meaning emphasizes the attainment of fame to the benefit of the man in the pursuit of his artistic endeavours as well as 'qua' citizen of his hometown.

The uncommonly large painting, considered from the pictorial viewpoint only, is rather decorative but lacks depth. Only its meaning makes it of particular interest. Repeated restorations may have contributed to the narrative rather than painterly excellence of the work. Such as it presents itself now, one cannot be astonished that it was formerly attributed to Pieter de Hooch.