Caesar van who?

June 8th, 2009

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

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Bacchus with Nymphs and Cupid
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

(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.

4 Responses to “Caesar van who?”

  1. ARech

    The bet could get lost. I am almost sure that everyone, who only slightly digs deeper into Vermeer’s unsurpassed art and study his paintings with a minimum of basic research will sooner or later come across the name of Caesar van Everdingen, and if it is only via the three visible Cupids (set the quality aside here) and the well-known fact (since Annaliese Meyer-Meintschel’s enlightening article from 1978/79) of the overpainted one in the Dresden Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, all are executed in the classicist manner of Van Everdingen. Moreover, scholars have earlier supposed that the “schilderij cupido”, listed in the inventory of Vermeer’s estate from 1676 might have been a work by Van Everdingen. Meyer-Meintschel also points to the remarkable resemblance of the Cupid in the Dresden painting ‘Bacchus with Nymphs and Cupid’ (see above or here:

    and Vermeer’s Cupid in his Lady Standing at a Virginal which once dominated in a quite similar manner the background wall of the Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.

    Vermeer might have known Van Everdingen perhaps from the latter’s work for the ‘Oranjezaal’ (Orange Hall) in the Huis ten Bosch in The Hague, the most splendid of the palaces commissioned by Stadhouder Frederik Hendrik and after his death extended and decorated for his honour and memory according to the plans by his widow Anna van Solms for whom Constantijn Huygens served as artistic advisor. Van Everdingen was selected together with seven of the best Dutch classicist painters from the Northern Provinces, to execute the decorations of the entire hall from the bottom up to the ceiling. His work became the most attractive and original one among those of his renowned painter colleagues and brought him further success in his career.

    A vivid example of his outstanding skills for monumental classicist composition, refined sensitivity to the effects of light and shadow, trained in the school of the Utrecht Caravaggists, as well as enormous accurateness in the execution of the finest and most intricate details is to be found in his monumental Four Muses and Pegasus on Parnassus in the Oranjezaal,

    with an extraordinary still-life of no less than eleven lifelike musical instruments in an artful composition, unique in Dutch painting of the time.

    Although Van Everdingen mainly worked in Haarlem and Alkmaar (his home town) it is likely that Vermeer had access to his paintings either from his art trade or from copies he came across here or there. And no doubt the Delft master had considerable appreciation for the outstanding qualities of the Northern master, no matter of the difference in the artistic fields they excelled.


  2. Houston

    This is interesting. Vermeer has always been a favorite of mine and I have attempted to learn as much as I can about him but this is something I didn’t know.

    By the way thanks for maintaining such an informative site on Vermeer. It has saved me a lot of time, in my quest to learn about him, from scouring the internet for information.

  3. Girl Interrupted at her Music « Maiderdeusto's Blog

    […] Continuing with this idea of temptation, if we look at the wall, we will see a painting where Cupid appears. Probably, it is a large scale of Caesar Van Everdingen’s Cupid. The latter is also […]

  4. Girl Interrupted at her Music (2) « Johannes Vermeer’s influence and inspiration

    […] with this idea of temptation, if we look at the wall, we will see a painting where Cupid appears. Probably, it is a large scale of Caesar Van Everdingen’s Cupid. The latter is also […]

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