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Cupid Revealed

A cupid resurfaces in one of Vermeer’s greatest works, bringing a message of love

More than two and a half centuries after Johannes Vermeer painted the iconic Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, recent lab tests have determined that a painting of a naked cupid on the back wall was covered up by an unknown artist decades after the Dutch artist’s death in 1675, not by the artist himself, as originally believed.


The cupid on the wall signifies that the young woman reading a letter from the light pouring in from an open window is not just any letter, but a letter from a suitor, where the cupid may signify that she is lucky in love. Indeed, Vermeer often included other works of art in his paintings to provide context.


“There was even a layer of dirt above the original varnish on the cupid, showing the painting had been in its original state for decades,” says Uta Neidhardt, senior conservator at Dresden’s Gemäldegalerie.


The same cupid imagery can also be seen in Vermeer’s A Lady Standing at a Virginal (1670) in the National Gallery in London. Scholars believe it may have been a real picture in Vermeer’s possession at the time.


The restoration work requires a microscope and a scalpel, where the overpainting is carefully scraped off without removing the original varnish on Vermeer’s version of the painting. The cupid is currently about half-exposed and it is expected to take another six months before the restoration is completed.


The semi-restored painting will be on display through June 16, 2019 in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in the Semperbau in Dresden.

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