Google Doodle celebrates once-forgotten Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer

He's considered one of the greatest artists of the Dutch Golden Age, but it took centuries for art historians to rediscover him and his delicate touch.

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Selected works by Johannes Vermeer, master of the use of light and shadow -- with slight alterations, a la Google.


Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter of the Baroque period most famous for capturing in exquisite detail the tranquil scenes of daily life in domestic interior settings. He is particularly renowned for the sharp contrasts created by his delicate use of light and shadow, as well as his perspective-correct paintings.

Although only 35 of his paintings survive, Vermeer is considered one of the greatest artists of the Dutch Golden Age. To celebrate his talent, Google dedicated a Doodle to Vermeer on Friday -- the 26th anniversary of an exhibition opening at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, that featured 21 of his works.

He is renowned today, but that wasn't always the case. Vermeer was born in Delft, Holland, in 1632, but little is known about his life, and none of his personal writings has ever been found. Despite moderate success as a painter during his lifetime, Vermeer died at age 43 and left his wife in debt. After that, Vermeer was largely forgotten by the art world for nearly two centuries before he was rediscovered in the late 19th century.

The single work he's perhaps best known for is the 1665 oil painting Girl with a Pearl Earring, which in recent years has made several literary and cinematic appearances, including a 1999 historical novel of the same name that told a fictional tale about the painting's creation.

Friday's Doodle depicts three of Vermeer's other noteworthy paintings as if on display side by side in a museum. On the left is The Art of Painting (also known as The Allegory of Painting), an oil on canvas created between 1666 and 1668 that shows an artist painting a woman posing for a portrait in his studio.

In the center is Lady Writing a Letter With her Maid, a 1670-1671 creation that shows a woman sitting at a table composing a letter while her maid stands behind her, gazing out a window as she waits for the letter to be completed.

Lastly, on the right, is Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, a painting of considerable intrigue completed between 1657 and 1659. The painting was misattributed to other artists for many years before Vermeer was identified as the artist in 1880.

Decades after Vermeer's death, the painting was altered to obscure an image of a large cupid hanging on the wall behind the girl. Cupid's overpainted image was first identified by X-ray in 1979, and while Google's version shows the altered version, the god of love resurfaced in the painting in 2021 after a three-year restoration effort. With Cupid again watching over the girl, it is suggested a romance exists with the author of the letter.

If you look closely, you will see that Google has inserted two letters from its name into each of Vermeer's paintings.

You can explore more of Vermeer's art through Google's Arts and Culture project.

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