First complete image of the “new” Vermeer with uncovered Cupid released by Dresden Museum
Art lovers prepare to be struck by Cupid’s arrow, as the first image of Johannes Vermeer’s completed restoration Girl reading a letter at an open window (circa 1657-1659) was published today by the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, fully revealing a hidden image of Cupid. The compositional change in one of Vermeer’s most famous paintings is so significant that the German museum calls it the “new” Vermeer in advertising media.
The painting has been in the museum’s collection for over 250 years and the Hidden Love was known from an X-ray in 1979 and an infrared reflectography in 2009. It had been speculated that the artist himself altered the composition by covering the cupid painting.
But when a major restoration project began in May 2017, restorers discovered that the painting on the wall in the background of the painting, covering the naked Cupid, had in fact been added by another person. When layers of 19th-century varnish began to be removed from the painting, restorers discovered that the “solubility properties” of the paint in the central part of the wall were different from those elsewhere in the painting.
Following further investigation, including testing in an archaeometry laboratory, it was discovered that layers of binder and a layer of dirt existed between the image of Cupid and the overpaint. The restorers concluded that several decades would have elapsed between the completion of one layer and the addition of the next and therefore concluded that Vermeer could not have painted over the Cupid itself.
When the discovery was announced to the public in 2019, chief conservator Uta Neidhardt said it was “the most sensational experience of my career”. She added: “It makes for a different painting.”
The layer of paint was meticulously removed with a scalpel under a microscope, revealing the amazingly altered composition. The painting will be displayed next month for the first time since restoration as the centerpiece of a major exhibition titled Johannes Vermeer: On Reflection (September 10-January 2, 2022) at the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. The exhibition will feature ten paintings by Vermeer in total, making it one of the largest exhibitions of the Dutch Old Master in recent years (there are only about 35 paintings by Vermeer).
Among the show’s most notable loans are The geographer (1669) from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt; View of the houses of Delft/The small street (circa 1658) from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam; and A young woman standing at the virginal (circa 1670-1672) from the National Gallery in London, which has a similar painting of Cupid in the background.
• Hear the story behind Vermeer’s Cupid revelation on The Week in Art podcast here