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Vermeer and the Dutch Interior

Madrid 2/19/2003 - 5/18/2003

Most of the paintings by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) depict domestic interiors, a genre that reached its highest point in the Netherlands in the years 1650-1675. Along with Vermeer, the artists who most contributed to the development of this type of painting were Gerard ter Borch, Gerard Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Nicolaes Maes, Gabriël Metsu and Jan Steen, all of whom are represented in this exhibition.

Enlarge These painters lived in a small country which made for an easy interchange of artistic ideas and they produced paintings with many common characteristics: they are generally small works of vertical format which include few figures. This formula allowed artists to focus on the representation interior spaces, the geometry of the composition and the depiction of light and of the textures of the different materials.

Even though these images are realistic in appearance, they are actually composed with great artifice and care.

Enlarge Their content is frequently symbolic in nature, and deals with issues that reflect the ideals and aspirations of the artists and of the society that created them.Paintings of domestic interiors most often deal with the virtues of domestic life, seduction and love. The protagonists of most of these works are women, who are given a prominence that hitherto they had only received as religious or mythological figures, or as personifications of allegorical concepts.

Enlarge Even though paintings of domestic interiors share many characteristics, they also vary according to the personalities of the artists, from the playful humour of Jan Steen to the painstaking attention to detail of Gerard Dou, from the fascination with spatial depth of De Hooch to the transformation of pictorial space into a space of harmony and intimacy which we find in the work of Vermeer.

EnlargeThe manner in which painters treat similar themes and formal problems also bear witness to the relationships that existed between them. In the case of Vermeer, the paintings included in this exhibition demonstrate that his art would not have existed as we know it without the example of his contemporaries. And yet Vermeer is a painter of exceptional virtuosity and pictorial intelligence.

The calm introspection which his works exude, their paradoxical combination of compositional clarity and enigmatic content, and their capacity to transcend the everyday, are some of the unique characteristics of this remarkable painter.

Alejandro Vergara Sharp


Room 16b, 19-22

Opening time

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays(The exhibition's ticket office will close at 5.45pm). Only through the Upper Goya Entrance.
Monday opening hours: exhibition open only to visitors with pre-booked, timed tickets Opening hours: 12 - 7pm
Only through the Murillo Entrance.

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The painters and their works

The painters and their works

Gerard Ter Borch (1617-1681)

In addition to being a great portrait painter, Ter Borch specialised in genre paintings which represented bourgeois figures engaged in various domestic tasks or elegantly dressed figures in meditative mood set within luxurious interiors. Ter Borch's work inspired such artists as Pieter de Hooch, Gabriël Metsu and Caspar Netscher (1639-1684), his leading pupil.

Gerard Dou (1613-1675)

A pupil of Rembrandt, Dou developed a style of genre painting characterised by its small format and an exquisite, almost miniaturist, representation of detail and texture - a style which would prove to have a great influence on later artists.

Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684)

De Hooch specialised in carefully arranged genre scenes featuring a few, generally full-length figures. His work is characterised by his particular treatment of light, the geometry of his compositions and his use of interiors which include views into different rooms. As with Vermeer, De Hooch's depiction of an interior or a courtyard becomes as important as the human figures in the setting.

Nicolaes Maes (1634-1694)

Maes is a key figure in the history of interior paintings. He was Rembrandt's pupil in Amsterdam, from whom he inherited his taste for trompe l'oeil effects. His representation of space was later on adopted by Vermeer and De Hooch. This exhibition reflects the most interesting period of his career, during the years ranging from 1655 to 1658, when he painted about 40 interior scenes. These scenes play a key role in the history of interior painting and contribute to the interest of cubic and illusionist space; which Vermeer and De Hooch subsequently put into practice.

Gabriël Metsu (1629-1667)

Metsu was trained as a painter in his native Leiden but spent the last part of his career in Amsterdam. Most of his output consists of genre paintings which reproduce in a direct and simple way the life of the Dutch middle classes in the 17th century. The unique charm of Metsu's work lies not just in his manner of treating his subjects but also in his harmonious colouring and his sensitivity towards the tactile qualities of the paint.

Frans van Mieris (1635-1681)

Mieris was the leading pupil of Gerard Dou and his work serves as a link between Dou's miniaturist style and the elegant and exquisite genre scenes of Vermeer and Ter Borch.

Caspar Netscher (1639-1684)

Jan Steen (1626-1679)

Steen was a highly prolific artist with a strong personality whose works are easily distinguishable from those of his contemporaries, both by his approach to the subjects and his unusually free sketchy handling. Most of Steen's works are genre scenes filled with humorous details, generally illustrating proverbs and containing a moralising message.

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)

Vermeer is the most famous Dutch genre painter, second in renown only to Rembrandt. His work is admired above all for its illusionist representation of reality, for the serene and enigmatic atmosphere with which all his paintings are imbued, and for the geometrical purity of his compositions. Most depict one or two figures engaged in domestic tasks or some recreational pursuit in a room illuminated from the spectator's left. Only 35 works by Vermeer are known as it is almost certain that he earned a living by other means.

Emmanuel de Witte (ca. 1617-1691/2)

De Witte is known primarily for his paintings of church interiors which are dominated by the strong contrasts between areas of light and shade. De Witte produced only one domestic scene, Interior with a Woman at the Virginals c.1665-1670, which is, however, one of the most characteristic examples of this genre.

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