Dresden (dpa) – A good two years after the sensational discovery of a naked Cupid (Amor) in the painting “Girl reading a letter at the open window” Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), the subsequent painting has been completely removed.
At the beginning of September, the world-famous work of art by the painter from Delft will have its world premiere at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden – in its original form and in great company. The State Art Collections (SKD) celebrate their “new” Vermeer with an exhibition “Johannes Vermeer. On break ”(September 10 to January 2, 2022).
It brings together a total of 58 paintings by Dutch genre painters “of the highest quality”, explains museum director Stephan Koja. With ten works of which almost a third of the whole work of Vermeer, one of the most important Dutch painters of the 17th century alongside Rembrandt and Frans Hals. “There are only about 35 photos.” Two of them are in the Dresden gallery: “Chez l’entremetteuse” (1656) and the reader (c. 1657-1659). There are also eight loans, including “Letter Reader in Blue”, “Maid with Milk Jug” and “The Little Street” from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, “Virginalspielerin” from the National Gallery in London and “Woman with Scales” from the National Gallery. of the Arts in Washington.
A Cupid can also be seen in three of these four works. “Vermeer has used the figure four times as a ‘picture in a picture’,” says the museum’s chief curator, Uta Neidhardt. Cutting-edge research and laboratory tests have unequivocally confirmed that the god of love painted in shades of brown and ocher in the Dresden artwork was erased decades later by someone’s hand else – and with it the declaration of loving image.
Vermeer’s letter reader was acquired in Paris in 1742 for the Elector of Saxony Friedrich August II from the collection of a French prince. The photo arrived in Dresden without a Cupid. Its existence is known from an x-ray in 1979, the find was published in 1982. Since then, science has speculated that Vermeer painted the back wall of the room himself. According to Koja, there are indications that the collection manager, a painter and restorer, wanted to recommend himself with the images.
The letter reader was a “little extra”, said Rembrandt. “Vermeer was completely forgotten at the time,” says Koja. And it remained that way until the end of the 18th century, when it was not rediscovered until the middle of the 19th century. As there was no mention of a Cupid in the correspondence regarding the purchase of Dresden, despite its striking size, “we know for sure that the picture was already painted at the time of the sale in 1742”.
The thin layer of paint of less than a millimeter was carefully removed with a tiny scalpel under the microscope, the standing god of love with bows, arrows and two masks appeared only very slowly. He is about half the size of the girl with the letter in his hand. He stands for “not desire, but loyalty and truthfulness as the essence of true love,” Koja says.
According to him, the painting is at the beginning of a series of paintings “in which individuals, mainly women, stop, calm down and reflect on an activity”. Vermeer has “found his own style”, he addresses the fundamental questions of human existence. Until Cupid’s recovery in the background, only a rudiment could have been visualized, Koja explains. “Now we understand him as a key image in his work.”
Overpainting was not uncommon in the 18th century, according to Neidhardt, as was the affixing of the signatures of the supposed creators of these works. “Some of Vermeer’s images have also been partially repainted.” After almost 270 years, the letter reader from Dresden is no longer alone, as Vermeer wanted. Behind the scenes, the 83cm by 64.5cm painting features a noble ebony frame based on a historical model – for a grand appearance in an illustrious group.
“It has regained its rich colors, it can be seen in a whole new way,” says Koja. This is why works are collected that relate precisely to his subject: engravings, a book of emblems or a sculpture of a Cupid. A historic rug, a Spanish chair, a Chinese plate and the top of a woman’s dress illustrate the objects “that Vermeer lets the light touch in his inimitable way.”
With a Weborello, a digital tour of the show, visitors can “learn to see” a bit of Vermeer, explains Neidhardt. With him we often have the feeling of being able to grasp objects. It creates “a perfect illusion of reality”, as in the work preserved in Dresden and now completely different. “There’s just a lot going on in the photo.”