DCRB visit to the Vermeer exhibition 2023

Gathering 28 of his 37 known works, the Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has brought together more of his paintings than ever before. Despite being one of the most highly anticipated and in-demand exhibitions in recent years, some of the team at DCRB were lucky enough to get a closer look at the 17th century masterpieces.

With a keen eye for all-things maps, we’re spotlighting some of the fascinating cartographic objects and instruments which Vermeer has so delicately rendered in the background of his paintings.

We now know where Daniel has taken his interior design inspiration from, and glad to see Soane following suit…

A young woman glances out of the window while tuning her lute. In the background we see a map of Europe, identified as Europe published by Joan Blaeu in 1659. In Vermeer’s day, it was not uncommon for Dutch middle-class families to have wall maps as decoration for their homes, reflecting national pride for the United Provinces, world trade dominance, and history of navigation.

Still wearing her blue night jacket in the morning light, a young woman is quietly absorbed in reading a letter. Behind her hangs Balthasar Florisz van Berkenrode’s 1620 map of Holland and West Friesland, published by Willem Jansz Blaeu a few years later.

Such maps were usually glued onto heavy cloth and hung over bare walls. Long wooden rods pulled the map taught, with balls to distance the delicate paper from the damp walls. Yet, due to their exposure to smoke and everyday wear and tear, very few examples of early wall maps survive. Thus, it is through paintings like Vermeer’s that we can experience their original beauty.

Today found in Hoorn, Westfries Museum, the same map appears in the Officer and Laughing Girl (ca. 1657), also within the exhibition and borrowed by the Rijksmuseum from the Frick Collection, NYC.

A young woman opens a window with her right hand and clutches a water jug with her left. She wears a white linen cap, known as a ‘hooftdoek’, worn in cold weather or during a morning wash to protect a hairstyle.

Behind her hangs the wall map, The Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands, published by the Dutch Cartographer Huyck Allart. The map was originally published by Jodocus Hondius in 1630, but the copper plates were then taken up by Allart and the map was reissued. Although Allart’s version contains no geographical revisions, the ornamentation surrounding the map was changed. For example, the cartouche in the top right-hand corner was updated to a more baroque naturalistic and nationalistic design, with putti trumpets, angels and flower garlands. The decorative changes therefore suggest the map’s main use was for ornamentation. There would have been numerous versions of this print in circulation at the time, but the only known surviving example is held by the University of Leiden, dated later in 1671.

Dressed in a Japanese-style robe popular with scholars at the time, the Geographer of Vermeer’s painting appears deep in thought, surrounded by various maps, charts, globes and books. The composition captures the spirit of the Dutch Golden Age, and the Dutch Republic’s focus on exploration, navigation, trade, science, and art.

Upon the cabinet behind the figure we see Jodocus Hondius’ Terrestrial Globe dated 1600, turned to reveal the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean route was taken by the Dutch traders to reach China and Japan, and thus is perhaps a gesture of national pride. The same terrestrial globe appears in Vermeer’s later Allegory of Faith.

On the wall to the right of the globe hangs Willem Jansz Blaeu’s Sea Chart of Europe, of which the individual is undated (c.1600), but examples can be found in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.

Painted at a time when public celebrations of Mass were forbidden in the Dutch Republic, Vermeer, who converted to Catholicism before marriage, uses the scene to celebrate the power of Catholic faith. Depicting a private ceremony of Mass within the “hidden churches” of the home, the woman is perhaps a personification of the Church or the figure of Mary Magdalene, with one foot atop Hondius’ Terrestrial Globe. Vermeer seems to have followed Cesare Ripa’s description of Faith as “having the world under her feet”. (Nb at Daniel Crouch we prefer not to use our feet when handling globes).

Back to TEFAF 2023

Filled up on bragging tokens, the team are back hard at work at TEFAF Maastricht 2023. Daniel will be sitting pretty amongst our wonderful maps to give you the real-life Vermeer experience, and has agreed to do a lute serenade for every purchase.

We hope to see you there!

TEFAF Maastricht
11 – 19 March 2023