A rare painter's rare painting

THE world knows little about the great Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. The 17th-century artist left behind no personal writings, and only about 35 of his paintings exist today. But American art lovers can now view one of his masterpieces.

"The Art of Painting" (at left) was still in Vermeer's possession at the end of his life. His widow was reluctant to sell it, even though she and her children were in dire financial straits.

The unusually large painting (47-1/4 by 39-3/8 in.), like all of Vermeer's work, uses light and perspective to convey significance and meaning. This picture is an allegory that explores the interplay of history, art, and the artist's role in society.

The model poses as Clio, the Greek muse of history. Her laurel wreath signifies honor, her book stands for history, and the trumpet for glory. The large wall map of the Netherlands stresses the bond between history and art.

"The Art of Painting" was not included in the remarkable Vermeer exhibition seen at the National Gallery of Art in 1995-96 because it was undergoing restoration. It will be at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., until Feb. 6, 2000.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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