Diana and her Nymphs


Diana and her NymphsMauritshuis

Vermeer is best known as a painter of tranquil interiors. However, early in his career, he painted several larger Biblical and mythological scenes, including Diana and her Nymphs. This is one of the earliest known works by Vermeer. Diana was the goddess of the moon and the hunt, as well as being the paragon of chastity. She plays a role in various mythological tales, which were the subject of numerous narrative depictions by Dutch Golden Age painters. Vermeer chose not to paint a scene from a specific tale about Diana, instead opting to depict her together with her nymphs in natural surroundings, where they are resting after the hunt.

The goddess Diana
The chaste Diana, the goddess of the moon and the hunt, plays the lead role in the painting. She can be identified by the crescent-shaped diadem in her hair...

...and the small hound at her side.

Female companions
Diana is accompanied by four young women, her virginal nymphs. One of them is kneeling in front of Diana, washing her feet.

Diana and her Nymphs Diana and her Nymphs (c. 1653 - 1654) by Johanes VermeerMauritshuis

The nymphs are largely in shadow, but the copper plate in the foreground gleams in the light.

Diana and her NymphsMauritshuis

Love herb
A thistle grows in front of the stone upon which Diana is seated. Thistles were traditionally considered to be a ‘love herb’ that could arouse desire. The plant may symbolise the temptations of the flesh that the chaste Diana and her nymphs have to withstand.

The nymph Callisto
The nymph Callisto broke this commitment, falling pregnant from Jupiter. Diana punished her by transforming her into a bear. It is possible that Callisto is shown in the background.

Diana and her Nymphs Diana and her Nymphs (c. 1653 - 1654) by Johanes VermeerMauritshuis

Her clenched fists, covering her stomach, could suggest her pregnancy, but there are not enough indications to state this with certainty.

Diana and her NymphsMauritshuis

A false signature
When Diana and her Nymphs was acquired for the Mauritshuis in 1876, it was accredited to Nicolaes Maes, a student of Rembrandt. In 1885, it was discovered that the monogram of Nicolaes Maes, ‘N.M.’, had been forged. The original signature ‘J VMeer’ was concealed underneath. The painting was subsequently attributed to Johannes Vermeer, who was still relatively unknown at the time.

A dark sky
For many years, a blue sky was visible in the top right-hand corner of the canvas. During restoration work, the paint used for the sky was found to contain pigments that were not yet available during Vermeer’s lifetime. Underneath the layer of blue, the original, darker paint was revealed, but this could not be restored. The restorers decided to cover the blue sky with a thin layer of dark brown paint, bringing the painting back into line with Vermeer’s intentions.

Original size
The painting used to be larger than it is now. Technical examination has revealed that a strip of approximately 12 cm is missing from the right-hand side of the canvas. The strip was cut off at some point.

A sense of tranquility
Diana and her Nymphs contrasts with Vermeer’s famous interior scenes with regards to the subject, the large figures, the wide brushstrokes and the warm colours. However, the restrained, tranquil atmosphere of the painting also plays a significant role in his later work.

Credits: Story

This exhibition is part of the Google Vermeer Project.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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