Art is divine

The Sphinx of Delft

by Alessandra Cenna


until 4 juin 2023



Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1664–67, oil on canvas. Mauritshuis, The Hague. 

Bequest of Arnoldus Andries des Tombe, The Hague

The Glass of Wine, 

Johannes Vermeer, c. 1659-61, oil on canvas. 

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin –Gemäldegalerie








The incredible retrospective devoted to the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), the largest ever, takes place at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam until June 4.


The twenty-eight canvases of the artist come from all over the world. Thus, the painting “The Reader at the Window” returned to the Netherlands after 300 years of absence. Indeed, Vermeer's works only travel for exceptional circumstances and it took eight years of work to bring this audacious project to fruition.

The Milkmaid, 

Johannes Vermeer, 1658-59, oil on canvas. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. 

Purchased with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt

The Lacemaker, 

Johannes Vermeer, 1666–68,

 oil on canvas mounted on panel. 

Musée du Louvre, Paris






The painter nicknamed the "Sphinx of Delft", because of his modest and veiled life of mystery, lived in the Dutch city during the golden age of local painting, a period extending from the end of the 1620s to the French invasion of 1672, during the Dutch War. In his time, Vermeer benefited from patrons but his art was known only in his region.


It was not until the second half of the 19th century that the Impressionists and Proust put it in the spotlight. The craze for his genre scenes then raised Vermeer to the rank of Rembrandt as the golden master of the Dutch century. His production being limited, his works quickly took on immense value.









Famous for his interior, domestic and intimate scenes, Vermeer used bright light full of sensitivity and color. He liked to play with nuances and perspectives, drawing inspiration from Italian Caravaggio and mastering marvelously this chiaroscuro which gives so much relief and life to his paintings. Vermeer had learned the trade of weaver and his knowledge of fabrics is reflected in his paintings.


In his early days, he dabbled in mythological and historical scenes in large formats. He quickly turned away from these subjects to focus on the intimacy of everyday life.

Woman with a Pearl Necklace, 

Johannes Vermeer, c. 1662-64, 

oil on canvas. 

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Gemäldegalerie

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window,

 Johannes Vermeer, 1657-58, oil on canvas. 

Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden





 Music and reading are recurring elements in his works. “The Interrupted Music Lesson” or “La Femme au Lute” shows his passion for musical instruments, “La Liseuse à la Fenêtre” contemplates forever a letter whose secrets are unknown.


Vermeer paints women with respect and delight in their daily activities, idle or active, lady or milkmaid, he is fascinated by the light that emanates from their skin, their hair and their finery. “The Girl with a Pearl Earring”, a universally known work, is rightly nicknamed “The Mona Lisa of the North” as her eyes keep their secret forever. Her three-quarter position gives the viewer the impression of being the sole object of her gaze and this unique pearl reflects both the innocence and the modernity of her youthful features. This canvas perfectly shows the combination of yellow and blue, cherished colors of the painter.





 Vermeer painted only two paintings devoted to the landscape "View of Delft" and "La Alley".


To uncover its mysteries, the experts revealed using non-invasive imaging techniques the presence of objects that Vermeer dutifully concealed by painting over them as if to eliminate any superfluity that might have distracted the gaze from his central subject to which it grants all its importance and its light. The artist much prefers to clutter the foreground of his paintings so that the eye in perspective focuses on the real subject of his composition.


An exhibition to savor to the rhythm of subtle touches and hues caressed by time.




The Geographer, 

Johannes Vermeer, 1669, oil on canvas. 

Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main