Bringing Vermeer’s Paintings to Life


“There are two types of celebrities: one who looks at photography as an art form and another who sees it as a way to promote their next film. Julianne understands the art part of it. I asked her to put on a bonnet, and she said, ‘Of course.’ “

Michael Thompson

About the photo shoot for Interview Magazine, circa 2001

 
 

 
 

Sint Praxedis (Saint Praxedis), attributed to Johannes Vermeer, 1655

 
 

It is generally believed to be a copy of a work by Felice Ficherelli, and depicts the early Roman martyr, Saint Praxedis or Praxedes. If the piece is indeed by Johannes Vermeer, it may be his earliest surviving work.

The painting shows the saint squeezing a martyr’s blood from a sponge into an ornate vessel. It is closely related to a work by Ficherelli from 1640–45, now in the Collection Fergmani in Ferrara, and is generally assumed to be a copy of it (though see below for an alternative interpretation). The most obvious difference between the two is that there is no crucifix in the Ferrara work.

 
 

 
 

Het Melkmeisje (The Milkmaid), Johannes Vermeer, c. 1657–1658

 
 

Sometimes called The Kitchen Maid, is an oil-on-canvas painting of a “milkmaid”, in fact a domestic kitchen maid. The exact year of the painting’s completion is unknown, with estimates varying by source.

Despite its traditional title, the picture clearly shows a kitchen or housemaid, a low-ranking indoor servant, rather than a milkmaid who actually milks the cow, in a plain room carefully pouring milk into a squat earthenware container (now commonly known as a “Dutch oven”) on a table. Also on the table are various types of bread. She is a young, sturdily built woman wearing a crisp linen cap, a blue apron and work sleeves pushed up from thick forearms. A foot warmer is on the floor behind her, near Delft wall tiles depicting Cupid (to the viewer’s left) and a figure with a pole (to the right). Intense light streams from the window on the left side of the canvas.

 
 

 
 

Het Meisje met de Parel (Girl with a Pearl Earring), Johannes Vermeer, 1655

 
 

The painting is signed “IVMeer” but not dated. It is unclear whether this work was commissioned, and, if so, by whom. In any case, it is probably not meant as a conventional portrait.

The image is a tronie, the Dutch 17th-century description of a ‘head’ that was not meant to be a portrait. After the most recent restoration of the painting in 1994, the subtle color scheme and the intimacy of the girl’s gaze toward the viewer have been greatly enhanced. During the restoration, it was discovered that the dark background, today somewhat mottled, was initially intended by the painter to be a deep enamel-like green. This effect was produced by applying a thick transparent layer of paint, called a glaze, over the present-day black background. However, the two organic pigments of the green glaze, indigo and weld, have faded.

 
 

 
 

Staande virginaalspeelster (Young woman standing at a virginal),Johannes Vermeer, circa 1670-1673

 
 

Lady Standing at a Virginal is a genre painting created by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer in about 1670-1672 and now in the National Gallery, London.

The oil painting depicts a richly dressed woman playing a virginal in a home with a tiled floor, paintings on the wall and some of the locally manufactured Delftware blue and white tiles of a type that appear in other Vermeer works.

The identities of the paintings on the wall are not certain, according to the National Gallery, but the landscape on the left may be by either Jan Wijnants or Allart van Everdingen. The second painting, showing Cupid holding a card, is attributed to Caesar van Everdingen, Allart’s brother. This motif originated in a contemporary emblem and may either represent the idea of faithfulness to a single lover or perhaps, reflecting the presence of the virginal, the traditional association of music and love.

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