Vermeer echo

June 20th, 2009

Following even Vermeer matters little know to the general public, Pieter Groenewegen’s Mountain Landscape with Travelers has been temporarily loaned by the Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder Gallery (Amsterdam) to the Prinsenhof-Museum, Delft.

Although you may not associate Groenewegen’s rather conventional landscapes with the sublime masterpieces of Vermeer, Vermeer evidently found Groenewegen’s Mountain Landscape with Travelers sufficiently intriguing to incorporate not once, but twice in his Lady Standing at the Virginals. To be fair, the word intriguing should be reserved to Vermeer’s pictorial sleigh of hand rather than to landscape itself. Here is the story in a pill.

Some years ago, Dr Gregor J. M. Weber (Head of the Department of Fine Arts in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) noted that the landscapes which appear on the lid of the virginal and in the gilt frame on the background wall of A Lady Standing at the Virginals showed remarkable similarities. Other than the overall composition, the succession light and dark layers of rocks and trees, the roofs of the houses and the waterfalls of two landscapes were virtually identical. Weber concluded that they were both based on the same painting.

Although many Dutch landscape painters composed their works along these lines, Weber noted a much greater similarity with the work of Pieter Groenewegen from Delft and concluded that the work must have been by him. By coincidence, Weber saw a photograph of Groenewege’s Mountain Landscape with Traveler and informed the two Amsterdam art dealers, John and Willem Jan Hoogstader, of his finding who were amazed when they discovered they were the owners of the very picture in question.

Using computer montage, Weber further analyzed the two depictions in Vermeer’s painting in reference to the real Groenewegen. And although it was evident that Vermeer had used some poetic license in adapting Groenewegen’s landscape to his expressive exigencies, the coincidences were so compelling that the swept away any reasonable doubt of Weber’s original conjecture.

What remains to be understood is the scope of Vermeer’s pictorial trickery. Personally, I have a hunch that the two landscapes were meant to deliberately “echo” each other in order to create a visual analogy to the musical theme which is at the heart of Vermeer’s composition. Visual “echos,” some obvious and some more subtle, seem to be a standard tool in Vermeer’s pictorial repertoire. One example is the curling locks of the youthful Guitar Player which closely well echo the dangling foliage of the landscape behind her. Another is the snow-white cap of the maid and the billowing clouds of the landscape behind her in the Love Letter.

If you would like to dig further into the matter, the Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder has published Weber’s findings with copious diagrams and images in the Hoosteder Journal No 7, Sept, 2000. If you contact them they may send you a free copy. Some information, without images, can be found at <>.

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