The artworld is in shock after the restoration of one of Vermeer’s most famous works exposed a painting of a full-length Cupid hanging on the wall where previously there was nothing. Even more shocking is that evidence now confirms Cupid was likely painted over by someone other than Vermeer.

Known as the “Master of Light” and the “Sphinx of Delft”, Johannes Vermeer is perhaps the most famous painter in Dutch history. He has painted the iconic “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (1665) which currently hangs in the Mauritshuis, and “The Milkmaid” (1657–1658) displayed in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

Vermeer’s use of colour to give the illusion of movement is astounding. He makes the viewer believe that he has captured light and, in so doing, immortalises a moment.

A painting within a painting

A painting within a painting has been uncovered by Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) in Dresden, where Vermeer’s “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” (1657-59) was housed for over 250 years in its unrestored state.

The restoration has revealed that the painting’s central female figure is not alone as was thought for centuries. Instead, she is accompanied by a detailed, chubby Cupid looking directly at the viewer.

Although the presence of a Cupid painting in “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” has been known for some time, very recent studies done on the original confirm the cover-up was not undertaken by Vermeer. 😱

The restoration project

The Cupid painting hanging behind a tapestry in “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” was initially thought to have been covered up by Vermeer himself. However, laboratory tests done in 2019 discovered the opposite to be true. In fact, the Cupid imagery was covered up by someone other than the artist decades after its completion.

The restoration and research project began in 2017, and involved X-rays and infrared reflectography recordings. These were carried out alongside microscope examinations of Vermeer’s original.

Colour samples and studies

At the Dresden University of Fine Arts, several colour samples were taken and analysed from Vermeer’s painting. Samples of layering and consistency were also studied in Dresden’s laboratory for archaeometry, as well as a detailed analysis of the picture carrier canvas and research into the restoration history.

The findings of these processes highlighted the need for a reassessment of the extensive overpainting of Cupid in Vermeer’s masterpiece, and lead art historians to believe that there was more to the covered Cupid than meets the eye.

The truth revealed

After tests spanning several years, a full-area X-ray fluorescence examination of the picture, combined with state of the art technology assistance (pun intended 😉), experts concluded that the overpainting of Cupid was not done by Vermeer. Instead, this covering was undertaken several decades after Vermeer completed the painting and well after the artist’s death.

The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam confirms the new findings of the overpainting, and images of the completed restoration were released on August 24 2021, by Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister. These images show Vermeer’s intended design: the now-exposed Cupid attests to Vermeer’s hallmark style in being dubbed a picture within a picture.

A new Vermeer exhibition

After the restoration was completed in early 2021, Vermeer’s “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” will be displayed as it was when it left the artist’s studio almost two and a half centuries ago. This painting, fully restored, will be the highlight and centrepiece of a Vermeer exhibition titled “Johannes Vermeer: On Reflection” at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister.

The rooms of the Semper Building will be set aside for this special exhibition, which will feature nine other paintings by Vermeer, including the “Woman In Blue Reading A Letter” (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum) and “The Lady Standing At A Virginal” (London, National Gallery).

These two pieces have been included for their close relation to “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window”. The collection will be on show from September 10, 2021, through January 2, 2022, wherein some 50 works of Dutch genre painting from the second half of the 17th century will be on display