Art: Cupid hidden in Vermeer masterpiece ‘Girl reading a letter by an open window’ exposed

Hidden for centuries under a coat of paint, an image of Cupid in the background of a famous Johannes Vermeer masterpiece is finally fully visible.

The representation of the angelic god was depicted hanging in the background of the composition by the Dutch painter from 1657-1659, ‘Girl reading a letter at an open window’.

This long-lost portrait-within-a-portrait – which was common in Vermeer’s interior scenes – was first revealed in X-rays of the painting in 1979.

Experts from the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden (‘Old Masters Gallery’) have determined that the overpainting was not done by Vermeer.

It was therefore decided to restore the work to its original state – a process in which the paint covering the Cupid was removed over the course of three years.

This work was painstakingly performed using a scalpel viewed under a microscope.

However, the identity and time period of the artist who skillfully concealed the god of love, and the exact reasons for doing so, remain uncertain.

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Hidden under a coat of paint for centuries, an image of Cupid in the background of a famous Johannes Vermeer masterpiece is finally fully visible (as pictured)

Hidden under a coat of paint for centuries, an image of Cupid in the background of a famous Johannes Vermeer masterpiece is finally fully visible (as pictured)

This long-lost portrait-within-a-portrait - which was common in Vermeer's interior scenes - was first revealed on X-rays of the painting in 1979. Experts at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden ('Old Masters Gallery') determined that the repainting (as pictured) was not executed by Vermeer's hand.

It was decided to restore the work to its original state - a process in which the paint covering the Cupid was removed over the course of three years (pictured, with only half of the figure visible)

It was decided to restore the work to its original state - a process in which the paint covering the Cupid was removed over the course of three years (pictured, with only half of the figure visible)

This long-lost portrait-within-a-portrait – which was common in Vermeer’s interior scenes – was first revealed in X-ray scans of the painting in 1979. Experts at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden (‘Old Masters Gallery’) determined that the repainting (as can be seen on the left) was not executed by Vermeer’s hand. Therefore, it was decided to restore the work to its original state – a process in which the paint covering the Cupid was removed over the course of three years (pictured right, with only half of the figure visible)

CUPID’S SYMBOLISM

In classical mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love and affection.

He is usually depicted as the young, son of the goddess of love, Venus and Mars, the god of war.

His slim depiction in classical art gave way to more cherubic depictions during the Hellenistic period, at which time he became strongly associated with his magical bow and arrow.

Vermeer used depictions of Cupid in four of his paintings, including “Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window” and “The Milkmaid,” which is believed the figure was meant to symbolize love.

Until the Cupid was discovered, the nature of the correspondence read by the title “Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window” was unclear.

‘With Cupid’s recovery in the background, the true intention of the Delft painter can be recognized’, says Stephan Koja, director of Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister. the Telegraph.

The inclusion of the god of love in the painting suggests, he explained, that the note read aloud was a love letter.

This interpretation is supported by readings of the open window as a sign of the woman’s desire to expand her domestic sphere beyond that of her home and the bowl of fruit as a symbol of extramarital relations.

“Outside the ostensibly amorous context, it is a fundamental statement about the nature of true love,” continued Dr. Koja.

‘Now we see it as a key image in his oeuvre.’

In fact, Cupid appears in the background of three other Vermeer pieces, including his oil-on-canvas ‘The Milkmaid’ from 1657-1658, where the god is depicted on a Delftware wall tile in the background. Similarly, Vermeer may have suggested that the maid was daydreaming about a man while she was at work.

While the exact reason Cupid was edited from “Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window” may never be known, art historians speculate that the overpainting may have been the result of “altered tastes,” or an attempt to make the work more profitable. .

By removing (the relatively obscure) Vermeer’s Cupid motif from the work, an art dealer in the past may have been better positioned to present the work as if it were by a more famous artist, such as Rembrandt.

Certainly, the painting was mistakenly identified as Rembrandt when it was sold to the Elector of Saxony in 1742. After a spell was confused with a Pieter de Hooch, the work was finally correctly linked to Vermeer in 1880.

It is considered one of only 34 Vermeer paintings that have survived to this day.

“With Cupid’s recovery in the background, the true intention of the Delft painter can be recognized,” Stephan Koja, director of Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister told the Telegraph. Pictured: The painting is subjected to X-ray fluorescence analysis

Until the Cupid was discovered, the nature of the correspondence read by the title “Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window” was unclear. Pictured: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister director Stephan Koja (right) and colleagues pose with the half-restored painting in 2019

In 1945, during the Allied bombing of Dresden, the painting was saved from destruction and hidden in a tunnel – but it was then seized by the Red Army and taken to Russia in deed that the Soviets presented as a ‘rescue’.

After Joseph Stalin’s death, the Russian authorities decided to return the hundreds of paintings they had removed from Dresden, including “Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window.”

This is despite suggestions by Soviet art historians and museum curators that Germany would donate the work—along with Giorgione’s “Sleeping Venus”—as a thank you for “rescuing and rescuing” the Dresden paintings.

Germany refused to comply with this proposal.

Upon completion of the restoration – which also replaced the aged, yellow-tinted varnish to reveal Vermeer’s original color palette – the ‘Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window’ will be re-exhibited at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister.

Cupid appears in the background of three other Vermeer pieces, including his 1657-1658 oil-on-canvas 'The Milkmaid' (pictured)

Cupid appears in the background of three other Vermeer pieces, including his 1657-1658 oil-on-canvas 'The Milkmaid' (pictured)

In Vermeer's 'The Milkmaid' Cupid is depicted on a Delft earthenware wall tile in the background (photo)

In Vermeer's 'The Milkmaid' Cupid is depicted on a Delft earthenware wall tile in the background (photo)

Cupid appears in the background of three other pieces by Vermeer, including his oil-on-canvas ‘The Milkmaid’ from 1657-1658 (left), where the god is depicted on a Delft pottery wall tile in the background (right). In a similar way to “Girl reading a letter by an open window,” Vermeer may have suggested that the maid was daydreaming about a man while she was at work.

Upon completion of the restoration - which also replaced the aged yellow-tinted varnish to reveal Vermeer's original color palette - the 'Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window' will be shown to the public again at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister

Upon completion of the restoration - which also replaced the aged yellow-tinted varnish to reveal Vermeer's original color palette - the 'Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window' will be shown to the public again at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister

Upon completion of the restoration – which also replaced the aged yellow-tinted varnish to reveal Vermeer’s original color palette – the ‘Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window’ will be shown to the public again at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister

JOHN VERMEER (1632-1675)

Pictured: Vermeer's painting 'The Procuress' is said to contain a self-portrait of the artist himself

Pictured: Vermeer's painting 'The Procuress' is said to contain a self-portrait of the artist himself

Pictured: Vermeer’s painting ‘The Procuress’ is said to contain a self-portrait of the artist himself

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque painter who specialized in interior scenes of bourgeois domestic life.

Although modestly famous during his lifetime, the Delft painter was forgotten after his death – only recently was he recognized as one of the greatest Dutch painters.

Only 34 of his paintings have survived to this day.

His most recognizable works are the ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, ‘The Art of Painting’ and ‘The Milkmaid’.

Like fellow Dutch artist Rembrandt, Vermeer never went abroad and was also an avid art collector.

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