Bets are that you don’t know Caesar van Everdingen. Vermeer did.
Art historians believe that Vermeer used a now-lost, large-scale Cupid by Caesar Van Everdingen a good 4 times as a backdrop for his own compositions. The most explicit rendition, impossible to ignore, glares out from the late Lady Standing at a Virginal (see detail left). The other three are more discreet.
In the Maid Asleep, Cupid’s foot dangles in the upper left-hand where we can see the corner of a picture with an ebony frame. If you know he is there, you can see him standing erect in Girl Interrupted in her Music although pretty much obliterated by time and restorations. And had it not been for x-ray photography, we would have never known he hung in all his glory, dominating the background wall of Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.
Chances are Vermeer’s Cupid is the one mentioned in the inventory of his widow’s possessions in 1676.
Knowing how exacting Vermeer was in aesthetic matters, the modern viewer might wonder just what Vermeer had in mind. To our tastes Van Everdingen’s Cupid is simply too big, too confrontational, too rhetorical and too nude to have anything to do the values we prize in Vermeer’s art. Historians usually have no problem skimming over aesthetic valuations of the painting that no longer exists. Far more comfortable is to take Cupid as a symbol which 300 years ago meant, and still means, love to anyone.
In common with so many forgotten or underestimated artists, Van Everdingen occupied an important place in the art of his own time. The century-long refusal of critics and connoisseurs to look at his type of art shows signs of coming to an end.
It could not have escaped a young, ambitious painter like Vermeer that Van Everdingen was a superb technician, not only with detail and brushwork, but with his ability to paint portraits, mythological and allegorical pictures in a broad, yet crisp and polished style. His outstanding strength was his ability to simplify complicated forms and convey the sense of volume and surface with great pictorial economy. His treatment of light evokes the fullness of nature; even his shadows are colorful and pleasant to look at.
In his later years, when Vermeer pursued a more classicist agenda, Van Everdingen’s painting became more relevant than just being a convenient prop.
Luckily there are some excellent high resolution images of van Everdingen’s work on the net.
My preferences goes to:
Cupid with a Glass Ball
Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf
Bacchus with Nymphs and Cupid
(this images is a bit laborious to access but very worth the while)
1. click on the “Bekijk alle naakten” link to the lower-right
2. scroll the multiple images to reach the far left-hand border
3. click on the farthest left-hand painting in the second row from the top
4. click on the medium size image of the paintings that appears which brings up an extraordinarily detailed image and use your mouse to explore the painting.