Art of Composition – Vermeer’s Cupid

What a fascinating development in a famous painting: Smithsonian magazine had a great article today featuring a mid-restoration Vermeer painting called Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. This is the painting prior to restoration:

Vermeer GRALAAOW - prior to restoration

It turns out that an artist other than Vermeer painted over a Cupid in the upper right corner of the painting — previously it was thought that Vermeer himself had covered it up.

Now, ongoing restoration work has added yet another wrinkle to the story of the 1657 masterpiece: As Germany’s Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden announced earlier this week, a recent bout of laboratory testing confirmed that a long-hidden Cupid found in the top right-hand corner of the canvas was painted over not by the Dutch Golden Age artist, but an unknown party who acted decades after Vermeer’s death. Although art historians have known of the little god of love’s existence since 1979, they previously believed Vermeer covered up the figure himself and, as a result, decided against restoring the painting to its original form. [Link]

This change in understanding led to a decision to reveal the Cupid, and the restored painting invites us all to reassess the composition of the painting (I’m an amateur, but it’s still fun).

Here is the painting about half-way through its current restoration:

Vermeer GRALAAOW - mid-restoration

It is fascinating to see the obvious geometry inherent in the composition as Vermeer’s original work is revealed, and indeed it makes more sense (not that anyone would have criticized the composition before? I’ll have to look into it).

I added the following lines to see how things line up:

Vermeer GRALAAOW alignment with Cupid

Clearly the two faces are connected in such a way that their intersection points towards the open window, and in the screen shot showing more of the light, one can see how balanced it will be after the Cupid is fully revealed:

Vermeer GRALAAOW - 4

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