On Tuesday, the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Germany revealed a completely restored iteration of Johannes Vermeer’s masterful painting Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, which previously appeared to the public with a backdrop of an unadorned wall framing the painting’s subject, a young woman. The new version, according to reports, reveals that a version of the painting made hundreds of years ago included a spectacular paiting-within-a-painting of cupid on the back wall. The restoration also revealed that Girl Reading a Letter had been painted over in the 19th century.
The researchers came to this conclusion by discovering that, between the 19th century varnish that had been applied to the painting and the underlying, separate layer of paint, a thin coating of dust existed that suggested a significant amount of time had passed between the image of Cupid being rendered and another coat of varnish being painted over it. Therefore, the researchers determined that a previous assumption, which was that Vermeer himself had painted over the Cupid image as a means of self-editing, couldn’t possibly be true.
This discovery had initially been made in 2019, but it took until now for the 19th century layer of varnish to be removed. “This is the most sensational experience of my career,” Gemäldegalerie senior conservator Uta Neidhardt said at the time. “It makes it a different painting.” This isn’t the first time in recent memory that famous paintings are found to have been significantly altered over the years. Last summer, an extensive restoration found that the face of the central Lamb of God rendered in the iconic Ghent Altarpiece had been softened significantly in past over-paintings. The Lamb’s face is actually so strangely humanoid and particular, it instantly went viral online and was mocked extensively,