Jan Vermeer - The art of painting

by Alexandra Tuschka


The painter, whom we recognize from behind sitting on a chair, is about to portray a young girl. However, he is not wearing contemporary clothing, but a costume from the 15th century. In this way Vermeer, who we are not sure is seen here from behind, refers to a long tradition of "golden" painters such as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. The girl, on the other hand, is a personification. She has been identified as Klio, the muse of historiography. She holds the laurel wreath and a book, her attributes. The nine muses gave divine inspiration to artists and scientists. Vermeer thus also positions himself here in the discussion of painting as a liberal art by emphasizing it as such. The instrument in Klio's hands is the "trumpet of glory" that an artist can win. Below it is a table on which all sorts of objects can be seen. The edge of the table marks the center of the picture and refers to the vanishing point . This is located at the left knob of the map covering.

Recurring motifs in Vermeer's work are the checkerboard floor and the chair in the foreground. The heavy curtain is pushed far back and offers a glimpse of the action. It, too, is a typical Vermeer stylistic device and conveys between reality and the background of the picture. The reduction of the action to the interaction of only two people is also a typical pictorial theme of the Dutchman Thus, the dynamics and intimacy between the sitters is also intensified. The clear horizontal dark wood beams at the top frame the painting. The chandelier does not carry candles. It is decorated with the double eagle of the Habsburgs.


Here in the background is a map dividing the southern and northern provinces of the Netherlands. This representation is flanked by city views of the 17 provinces. The easel is positioned so that the upper wooden beams frame the province of Holland.

Thus, it is not a classical genre painting, but an allegory of the art of painting. Perhaps Vermeer wanted to exaggerate the art of painting and express that fame can be achieved not only with the classically recognized pictorial motifs, but equally with genre painting.


Jan Vermeer - The art of painting

Oil on canvas, 1664/68 or 1673, 120 x 100 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

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