I was lucky enough recently to happen upon Vermeer’s Art of Painting, quite literally turning a corner in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna to see it hanging before me.
As any art lover will attest to, standing before a Vermeer is akin to a religious experience, or perhaps, more correctly, a human experience.
I have read various theories about the symbolic meaning (or not) behind what appeared to be one of Vermeer’s favourite paintings since it still remained with him at the time of his death, but, I have my own theory. When I look at the model’s face I see a certain playfulness about her expression as if she is having fun acting the part of muse. To me, beyond the fact that his technical skill is astounding, Vermeer is showing us that the subject of a painting can be anything the painter chooses. As we look past the heavy curtain on the left we are drawn in to his world of make-believe, because that is what it is after all. The painter is in his own world. He is completely and utterly free, which is perhaps why we don’t see his face because he represents not simply himself but all painters, and furthermore, this painter has undoubtedly reached perfection in the art of painting.