The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is one of the world's greatest museums, housing unparalleled collections of paintings, decorative arts, sculpture, armor, and Greek and Egyptian antiquities. These objects reflect the taste and magnificence of the Habsburg imperial family, as they were acquired through the extensive collecting activities of Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612) and Archduke Leopold Wilhelm (1614-1662), governor of the Spanish Netherlands from 1647-1656. At the museum's core lies a magnificent collection of Renaissance and baroque paintings, masterpieces by Raphael, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Titian, Caravaggio, Anthony van Dyck, and, above all, Peter Paul Rubens. Their sumptuous works fill the huge central galleries of this imposing late-nineteenth-century building with images that impress the visitor with their enormous scale, their powerful religious and mythological narratives, and their forceful presentations of the physical, sensual, and spiritual aspects of human life. No less memorable for the viewer is the impression left by a masterpiece of very different character, Johannes Vermeer's quiet and reflective The Art of Painting. Indeed, for many art lovers, the pilgrimage that takes them to Vienna is largely motivated by a desire to view this awe-inspiring image.
The opportunity to exhibit The Art of Painting at the National Gallery of Art is primarily due to the generosity of Wilfried Seipel, director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Karl Schütz, director of the Gemäldegalerie, Kunsthistorisches Museum, also worked closely with the National Gallery, helping to ensure the success of the loan. Wolfgang Prohaska, curator of baroque painting, Kunsthistorisches Museum, offered invaluable insights about the painting's history. Herbert Haupt, the museum's archivist, and Helga Musner, from the museum's conservation department, kindly provided the information about the painting's recent conservation treatment and provenance, which form the basis for the related discussions in this booklet.
The exhibition and this booklet have been made possible through the support of Juliet and Lee Folger/The Folger Fund, generous patrons of the Gallery who have done so much to enhance the programs and collections of this great institution.
The exhibition of The Art of Painting at the National Gallery of Art (24 November 1999-6 February 2000) is the result of a long-standing friendship between the two institutions. It is also the fulfillment of shared efforts to see this magnificent painting, which so fully reflects Vermeer's ideals and aspirations, within the broader framework of his artistic achievement. While The Art of Painting could not be included in the Gallery's 1995 exhibition Johannes Vermeer because of its fragile paint structure, after nearly four years of extensive conservation the painting has at last been able to make the journey. Its presence here in Washington, where it will be exhibited with the National Gallery's Vermeer paintings, both enriches and expands our understanding of the mysterious power of this unique artist's rare images.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
Curator of Northern Baroque Paintings
This brochure was written by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. with the assistance of Mari Griffith
|Preface||Art and History||The Painting's Afterlife|
|Vermeer of Delft||Painting and Illusionism||Bibliography|
|The Art of Painting||Technique and Conservation||Related Resources|