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

The Art of Painting (detail)

Oil on canvas
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

This painting was long called The Artist in His Studio, and we may in effect presume that the artist seen from behind was himself. The idea that Vermeer, in his discreet manner, portrayed himself from the rear, painting the muse of history, is attractive, but it must be discarded. Even if a mirror reflected a face, it could not be correlated with a portrait of Vermeer since none has been identified. The painting was done as a celebration of the art of painting, not as a self-portrait. As early as February 1676, less than three months after Vermeer's death, the artist's widow referred to it as 'de Schilderkonst' (The Art of Painting), not as a portrait of her deceased husband. In the following year she gave it the same title.