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Restored Vermeer painting reveals a cupid hanging on the wall

Two months ago, we wrote about how researchers in the Netherlands used AI to restore Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night’s Watch, enabling millions of visitors at Amsterdam’s Rijkmuseum to enjoy the painting as the author originally intended it.

In a more recent development in the world of art, researchers in Germany have managed to restore Johannes Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, one of the most famous works from the ‘golden age’ of Dutch painting. But in addition to restoring the vibrancy of the painting’s colors, the restoration also revealed a more evocative and important detail that was hidden long ago beneath layers of paint — a painting (within the painting) of a full-length cupid hanging on the wall.

Following painstaking restoration efforts which started back in 2017, the empty wall now shows a stunning painting of cupid — the Roman god of love — discovered by an X-ray taken in 1979, but now revealed for the first time.

It was previously thought that it was Vermeer himself who covered the painting of cupid. However, a recent analysis of the layering and consistency of color samples taken from the artist’s painting revealed that the overpainting did not come from the Dutch painter.

Instead, the evidence suggests that the overpainting happened at least several decades after the painting was made and well after the artist’s death. These findings were supported by a full-area X-ray fluorescence examination of the artwork, which were carried out in 2017 with the support of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Following the restoration — completed in early 2021 — the painting has fundamentally changed its appearance, with its background now exposing a standing god of love with a bow, arrows, and two masks.

The Girl Reading a Letter at the Open Window will be the centerpiece and highlight of an exhibition called Johannes Vermeer: On Reflection, which will be presented at the Dresden Old Masters Picture Gallery.

Image source: Smithsonian Magazine

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