The painter himself probably gave this large-format interior its title. In 1663 and 1670 Vermeer was chairman of the Artists’ Guild of St. Luke, but if the painting was intended as programmatic gift to the guild as an allegorical depiction of the arts and trades represented in that organisation, it was never presented to its intended owners: The Art of Painting is mentioned in the inventory of Vermeer’s estate. It is highly likely that he used the painting to demonstrate his mastery of this art. The drawn-back curtain opens a view of a room that is bathed in light from a window on the left (not visible in the picture). On the back wall is a detailed map of the Netherlands. In the foreground a chair and the table behind it, covered with various articles, direct the viewer’s gaze to the middle distance. His back towards the viewer, the painter sits at his easel; he has begun work on a half-length portrait of the girl standing at the window. Thus painting occupies the most prominent place among the arts. The articles on the table represent sculpture (plaster cast), art printing (book) and tapestry weaving (fabrics). But what is the meaning of the model the artist is painting? The female figure is holding a trumpet and a book in her hands and is wearing a laurel wreath in her hair. Thus she is Clio, the Muse of history. Classical art theory considered history to be the primary subject of painting, but Vermeer subtly resists this doctrine, which in any case was almost irrelevant in the Dutch art market. With great painterly assertion, he raises this “inferior” interior to the ranks of highe start and lends this view of a painter’s work the qualities of an allegory. With his perfect balance of pictorial elements, poetic tranquillity and great sensuality of colour, the artist creates an atmosphere of enormous elegance and harmony. In order to accurately depict interior spaces, Vermeer used various technical aids, which probably included the forerunner of the modern camera, the cameraobscura. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010


  • Title: The Art of Painting
  • Creator: Jan Vermeer
  • Creator Lifespan: 1632/1675
  • Creator Nationality: dutch
  • Creator Gender: male
  • Creator Death Place: Delft
  • Creator Birth Place: Delft
  • Date Created: 1666/1668
  • Style: Dutch
  • Provenance: 1813 Czernin Gallery Vienna; since 1946 in the museum collection
  • Physical Dimensions: w100 x h120 cm (without frame)
  • Inventory Number: GG 9128
  • Artist Biography: Jan Vermeer was a Dutch painter who masterfully shed light on domestic interiors of middle class life. Although he was a minor celebrity during his lifetime, his work was practically forgotten until the 19th century when two men, an art historian and a critic, published a book with sixty-six photos of his work. He is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/picture-gallery
  • Medium: Oil on Canvas

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