Concealed Cupid uncovered in iconic Vermeer masterpiece

The artworld is in shock after the restoration of one of Vermeer’s most famous works exposed a painting of a full-length Cupid hanging on the wall where previously there was nothing. Even more shocking is that evidence now confirms Cupid was likely painted over by someone other than Vermeer.

Known as the “Master of Light” and the “Sphinx of Delft”, Johannes Vermeer is perhaps the most famous painter in Dutch history. He has painted the iconic “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (1665) which currently hangs in the Mauritshuis, and “The Milkmaid” (1657–1658) displayed in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

Vermeer’s use of colour to give the illusion of movement is astounding. He makes the viewer believe that he has captured light and, in so doing, immortalises a moment.

A painting within a painting

A painting within a painting has been uncovered by Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) in Dresden, where Vermeer’s “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” (1657-59) was housed for over 250 years in its unrestored state.

The restoration has revealed that the painting’s central female figure is not alone as was thought for centuries. Instead, she is accompanied by a detailed, chubby Cupid looking directly at the viewer.

Although the presence of a Cupid painting in “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” has been known for some time, very recent studies done on the original confirm the cover-up was not undertaken by Vermeer. 😱

The restoration project

The Cupid painting hanging behind a tapestry in “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” was initially thought to have been covered up by Vermeer himself. However, laboratory tests done in 2019 discovered the opposite to be true. In fact, the Cupid imagery was covered up by someone other than the artist decades after its completion.

The restoration and research project began in 2017, and involved X-rays and infrared reflectography recordings. These were carried out alongside microscope examinations of Vermeer’s original.

Colour samples and studies

At the Dresden University of Fine Arts, several colour samples were taken and analysed from Vermeer’s painting. Samples of layering and consistency were also studied in Dresden’s laboratory for archaeometry, as well as a detailed analysis of the picture carrier canvas and research into the restoration history.

The findings of these processes highlighted the need for a reassessment of the extensive overpainting of Cupid in Vermeer’s masterpiece, and lead art historians to believe that there was more to the covered Cupid than meets the eye.

The truth revealed

After tests spanning several years, a full-area X-ray fluorescence examination of the picture, combined with state of the art technology assistance (pun intended 😉), experts concluded that the overpainting of Cupid was not done by Vermeer. Instead, this covering was undertaken several decades after Vermeer completed the painting and well after the artist’s death.

The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam confirms the new findings of the overpainting, and images of the completed restoration were released on August 24 2021, by Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister. These images show Vermeer’s intended design: the now-exposed Cupid attests to Vermeer’s hallmark style in being dubbed a picture within a picture.

A new Vermeer exhibition

After the restoration was completed in early 2021, Vermeer’s “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” will be displayed as it was when it left the artist’s studio almost two and a half centuries ago. This painting, fully restored, will be the highlight and centrepiece of a Vermeer exhibition titled “Johannes Vermeer: On Reflection” at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister.

The rooms of the Semper Building will be set aside for this special exhibition, which will feature nine other paintings by Vermeer, including the “Woman In Blue Reading A Letter” (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum) and “The Lady Standing At A Virginal” (London, National Gallery).

These two pieces have been included for their close relation to “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window”. The collection will be on show from September 10, 2021, through January 2, 2022, wherein some 50 works of Dutch genre painting from the second half of the 17th century will be on display

What are your thoughts on this restoration and the discovery of Cupid? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: Johannes Vermeer/Public Domain & ©Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Photo: Wolfgang Kreische

Kathryn van den Berg
Kathryn van den Berg
As a Dutchie born in South Africa, Kathryn enjoys writing about the Netherlands from the perspective of having grown up in an entirely different world. Regardless of where she is, Kathryn’s love for dogs remains constant. When not striving to play with or narrate a dog’s every move in public, Kathryn is trying new chocolates to fuel her addiction. Besides critiquing pop culture, art and literature, Kathryn fancies painting Disney side-kicks in watercolour.
  1. fascinating video!
    please tell me if and why the painting has now been shortened (top and bottom) so that the rod and bottom of the curtain now touch the edge of the canvas. did the collector who covered the Cupid want the painting to appear visibly as a trompe-l’oeil? Many, many thanks.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related posts

Latest posts

Pass the inburgering (integration) speaking exam easily with this simple method

Ah, the long-feared Dutch inburgering speaking exam: what a test! Many internationals have stepped nervously into DUO's exam halls, ready to speak their best Dutch...

Pride 2024 in the Netherlands: here’s what’s happening where

Between music, dancing, and a whole host of other lively activities, these Pride celebrations are some of the best in the Netherlands! 🌈✨ Whilst the...

23-year-old man dies after fatal assault on the Plein in The Hague

At 00:45 AM on Sunday morning, police received reports of a heavily injured man lying in The Hague's Plein. The man was rushed to...

It's happening

Upcoming events

The latest Dutch news.
In your inbox.