Vermeer’s The Art of Painting

Peregrine Magazine

By Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.[1]

In one of the smaller rooms of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna there hangs a small painting by Vermeer. It shows an artist sitting with his back toward the viewer, painting a girl dressed as Clio, the muse of history. The left of the painting is dominated by a curtain, partly flung back, which gives the viewer the impression of a scene suddenly revealed. The figures have not yet noticed his presence. He holds his breath not wanting to break the spell. What is the spell? It is not the spell of the Rembrandt self-portraits in the last room, which the viewer has already spent so much time looking at—those dark mysterious eyes like wells, those furrowed brows. No eyes look at the viewer from this painting. The girl, bathed in beautiful afternoon sunlight from a source obscured by the curtain, is looking dreamily down…

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