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A New Old Vermeer

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2019

The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden is restoring a painting by Johannes Vermeer after it was “conclusively determined” that part of it was painted over after Vermeer died.

For more than 250 years now, the famous painting by Johannes Vermeer featuring a profile depiction of a girl intently reading a letter in front of a light-coloured empty wall has held a firm place among the masterpieces in the Dresden Gemäldegalerie. This picture, which dates to around 1657/59, is regarded as one of the earliest interior paintings by Vermeer with a solitary figure. Previous x-ray examinations indicated that a picture of a naked Cupid in the painting had been overpainted. Today, new laboratory tests have conclusively determined that the overpainting was not by Vermeer’s hand. On this basis, the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister decided in the course of the current restoration of the work to remove the overpaint.

The restoration of Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window is not totally complete, here’s what it looks like now:

Vermeer Cupid

And what it looked like before the restoration started:

Vermeer Cupid

The partially restored painting will be on display at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden until June 16, after which they will take another year to complete the painstaking restoration.