Although the paintings of Vermeer are often regarded as the culmination of realism in Dutch art, the exhibition reveals how earlier artistic developments in Delft paved the way for the achievements of Vermeer and his celebrated colleagues—Pieter de Hooch, Carel Fabritius, Emanuel de Witte, and others. The exhibition focuses on the key decades of the 1650s and 1660s, although approximately one-third of the paintings on view date from the preceding fifty years.
Organized thematically, with familiar and lesser-known artists exhibited together, the presentation illustrates common interests in style or subject matter during different decades in the century. Thus Vermeer's choice of themes, and especially his approach to space, preoccupation with light, and use of certain compositional schemes are seen as reflecting not only his own extraordinary powers of observation, but also his sophisticated understanding of current artistic conventions and contemporary trends in taste.
The Vermeer works featured in the exhibition are: Diana and Her Companions (Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, The Hague); Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (The National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh); The Procuress (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister); A Maid Asleep; The Little Street (Het Straatje) (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam); The Glass of Wine (Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin); Young Woman with a Water Pitcher; Woman with a Lute; Woman with a Balance (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.); Girl with a Red Hat (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.); Study of a Young Woman; The Art of Painting
(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna); Allegory of the Catholic Faith; Woman Standing at a Virginal (The National Gallery, London); Young Woman Seated at a Virginal (The National Gallery, London).
Although they are similarly titled and were likely painted in the same year, De Hooch's Portrait of a Family in a Courtyard in Delft (ca. 1658; Gemaldegalerie, Vienna) and the more intimate and informal scene depicted in The Courtyard of a House in Delft (1658; National Gallery, London) differ greatly in both subject and style, revealing the artist's range in appealing to his patrons' wishes. Two self-portraits by Fabritius as well as his much-loved Goldfinch (1654; Mauritshuis, The Hague) are also on view.
The drawings and watercolors featured in the exhibition vary from preparatory sketches to finished drawings depicting views in Delft that are still recognizable today. A selection of delicate flower, shell, and other nature studies are among the highlights of works on paper. Among the tapestries on view is an extremely rare horse caparison—a full set of weaving to adorn a horse for parades and other celebratory pageants. On loan from the Royal Armory in Stockholm, the caparison was only used once and thus remains spectacularly vivid and well preserved. Other examples of decorative arts include cabinet bronzes and several pieces of silvergilt illustrating the high level of artistry attained by Delft silversmiths.