THE ARTIST IN HIS STUDIO is one of the world's most beautiful paintings. Its format, 51" X 39" (130 X 100 cm), is one of the largest used by Vermeer. Its subject has no subject. The painting represents an interior scene, much like those Vermeer painted throughout his career, with a number of people, two in this case. The ties of silence unite these two people. An interplay of space and light both separates and unites them. Slowly, the emotional relationship which is so typical of the master's work is created.

After having analyzed this work, let's try to listen to it. Two subjects, two colors. The artist's presence, his model's apparition. Dialogue between the black and white doublet and the airy blue supplied by the material. By these modulations of shadow and light, the artist's doublet is the most erudite demonstration of Vermeer's genius. The yellow-blue match of the book and the young woman's dress influences the chromatic range of the surrounding objects. The young woman, the crowning glory of this painting, along with her phrasing, closely resembles the WOMAN IN BLUE READING A LETTER. Vermeer shows us to what extent a lesson learned is one step in his representation of the absolute.

The painter

Since the 19th century, most critics have tried to see Vermeer himself as the painter. The painter has done everything to create the most complete ambiguity. There is nothing which allows his identity to be certified. The artist is presented from the back. His palette and his colors cannot be seen. This setting symbolizes the painter's image.
Why not Jan Vermeer? Could this be his only self-portrait? How frustrating! Think of Rembrandt who, throughout his life, never ceased representing himself.
Several critics have pointed out an oddity. The painter's clothes are not really what was being worn in Holland in 1660 - 1665. These are very old clothes, known as a Burgundian suit, very fashionable in 1530. If this character is Vermeer, why would he set his character 150 years earlier? Strange anachronism.

The woman

Is this Vermeer's wife Catharina, or his eldest daughter, Bertha? The model's age allows it to be dated. She is very young. If the painter's wife was the model, this would situate it in approximately 1640.
In 1640,it would have been improbable for Vermeer to have acquired this mastery of space and light which characterizes his mature works.
We know Bertha's features, and they are not those of this young woman...


The clothes are strange. Some leaves on her head, a large blue cloth summarily draped over a white apron, the theatrical manner in which she carries a book and trumpet. Who does she represent?
Looking through a book on iconology, we discover that the person holding the book in which history is written, generally Herodotus, as well as the trumpet of Fame is Clio, the Muse of History.
The young woman is looking neither at her book, nor the painter, nor the spectator but at the still life of objects in front of them.
A large, open leather-bound book, a plaster mask with its eyes turned toward the light. It is likely that the book is a musical score, the symbol of Euterpe, Music. The mask could be the representation of Thalia, Comedy.
The subject's meaning becomes clearer. The painting might represent Vermeer painting Clio, the Muse of history, surrounded by Euterpe's and Thalia's attributes.

Political significance

On the wall, a geographical map by Nicholas Piscator, a great Dutch geographer and chronicler of the 1620s, representing the Netherlands.
The typically Dutch, very beautiful brass or bronze candelabra does not contain a single candle.
The scene opens up. The curtain is drawn. This is a tapestry from the beginning of the 16th century, crafted in Spain.
According to some historians, this strange painting may have some political significance. The painter's clothes, dating from the 1530s, when Holland was under Spanish rule and the sumptuous and colorful tapestry could represent nostalgia for the culture, the taste for the arts and Spanish patronage, led by the Duke of Alba. He was a dreadful politician, but a man who upheld the arts with all his strength and fervor. The famous Thirty Year's War allowed the Dutch to rid themselves of Spanish rule.
The society of Great Merchants then came to power. This was a rich and prosperous society, but exquisitely uncultivated and unconcerned with the arts.
The candelabra without a candle may be a way of showing this society's lack of glamor. This explanation would help us in understanding artists' uneasiness during this period. In Rembrandt's, Franz Hals' or Fabritius' biographies, we can find Dutch society's obtuse and opaque incomprehension of the audacity of this new style of painting. In the preceding period, the most avant-garde painters elicited the interest of the Spanish patrons.
This bitter climate might have been discreetly symbolized by Vermeer in the ARTIST IN HIS STUDIO.


The painting's history. After Vermeer's death, the painting belonged to his widow, who gave it to her mother as the guarantee of a debt contracted six months earlier. Both died soon after Jan Vermeer.
In 1696, THE ARTIST IN HIS STUDIO was sold at auction at Amsterdam's greatest merchant of the period. On that morning, 134 Dutch paintings were sold, including the 21 Vermeers. THE ARTIST IN HIS STUDIO bore number 3. It was sold for 45 florins. THE MAIDSERVANT POURING MILK sold for 175 florins. The painting had not been understood.
In the 18th century, it was part of Baron Fr. Witten's collections; he was the Austrian ambassador in Brussels, then in Paris and Berlin. This ambassador was peculiar in that he never left his paintings behind. The work followed him. In 1813, it was sold by his descendants to Count Czernine in Vienna for 50 Austrian guilders.
Keeping a painting like this at home was dangerous. Czernine's descendants deposited it in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Adolf Hitler eyed the museum greedily. In 1942, the painting disappeared. It was thought that it was part of Goebbels' private collections. Fortunately, it was returned to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in 1946, where we can admire it today. A leading painting of Western art, it is curious to note that it has never been vandalized, stolen or taken for ransom.
Does Vermeer's peace guarantee the painting's?