One of the most remarkable works of art by Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) can unfortunately not be admired in a museum, and it’s not because it’s in the hands of a private collector.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about The Concert, a typical Vermeer painting that has multiple intriguing stories to tell.
1. It was presumably painted in the year 1664
The Concert is one of Vermeer’s most intriguing paintings for a wide variety of reasons. It depicts 3 people who are performing music, and like most of the artist’s works, the scene is shown in a domesticated setting.
The painting isn’t dated so it’s unclear when exactly it was completed but it’s assumed it was created in the year 1664. This means that it most probably predates a very similar painting by Vermeer known as “The Music Lesson.“
All these assumptions are based on stylistic improvements that the artist made with the second painting such as applying thicker paint to enhance the three-dimensional effect.
2. It’s definitely not Vermeer’s smallest painting
Vermeer isn’t known for his monumental paintings but rather for his delicate little works that depict ordinary scenes in a domesticated setting.
Some of his best-known works, such as “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and “The Milkmaid” are relatively small paintings, the first one being just 44 x 39 centimeters (17.32 x 15.35 inches).
The Concert has dimensions 72.5 × 64.7 centimeters (28.5 × 25.5 inches) which makes it one of his larger works. This is about the same size as “The Music Lesson” as well.
Some of his largest works are “View of Delft,” one of the few works outdoors that depict his hometown, and “The Art of Painting,” his largest work with dimensions of 120 × 100 centimeters (47 × 39 inches).
3. The main figures are depicted fully focusing on the music
The 3 main figures are depicted as they are performing music and are fully focused on their particular job:
- The young woman on the left is sitting at a harpsichord, a musical instrument with a keyboard.
- The man in the middle faces the viewer with his back but we can see that he is playing the flute.
- The woman on the right is singing.
It’s generally assumed that there is no connotation between the figures and the subject of seduction and love.
Many musical paintings of the 17th century had this underlying theme intertwined, but Vermeer seems to have refrained from doing so.
4. A painting in the background was owned by Vermeer’s mother-in-law
One of the reasons why we can be assured that there is no sexual connection between the depicted figures is the right painting hanging on the wall.
This painting is known as “The Procuress” and was painted by another artist from the Dutch Golden Age named “Dirck van Baburen” (1595-1624) in the year 1621.
This painting was actually owned by Johannes Vermeer’s mother-in-law “Maria Thins.” It can also be seen appearing in another of his works called “Lady Seated at a Virginal” which he painted at least 6 years later in the early 1670s.
Art historians agree that this provocative painting was included to serve as a contrast between the moral and domesticated scene. Music is used for righteous means instead of the one depicted in the brothel scene by “van Baburen.”
The Procuress is now located in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
5. The painting was stolen in 1990 and has been lost ever since
One of the most remarkable facts about The Concert by Johannes Vermeer is that its whereabouts remain unknown ever since it was stolen in 1990.
The painting was first documented in the year 1780 and ended up being sold to Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), an American philanthropist, and art collector, for $5,000 in 1892 in a Paris art gallery.
This is how it eventually ended up in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. On the night of March 18, 1990, thieves dressed as policemen stole 13 paintings from this museum, including The Concert.
Equally astounding is that the painting has been valued at about USD 250 million, which makes it the most expensive missing object in the world today!
More interesting facts about The Concert by Johannes Vermeer
6. The musical instrument seen lying on the floor is a “viola da gamba.” Unlike a violin or viola which are held against the chine, they are held between the legs, hence their name “viola da gamba” which means “viol for the legs.”
7. The clothing of the musicians emphasizes the fact that they are members of the upper class of Dutch society in the 17th century, also referred to as the “bourgeoisie.” The man not only wears a shoulder belt but also a sword.
Another element that points in this direction is the black and white marble floor. Even though it appears to be quite plain, this was actually quite expensive and wouldn’t have been found in houses of the common people.
8. Apart from the depicted contrast between the provocative painting on the right side of the wall and the actual scene, the painting on the left also serves this purpose.
This unknown painting depicts a wild pastoral landscape. The image depicted in the upturned lid of the harpsichord depicts an Arcadian landscape, a region in Greece which is used as a reference to a simple and idyllic place.
9. Did the “Master of Suspense” Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock actually predict the theft of the painting in 1964?
The Concert was one of the artworks in an art heist in an episode of “Ten Minutes from Now,” a television series that ran from 1955 to 1965. About 25 years later the painting was actually stolen.
10. Alfred Hitchcock’s episode was the only form of media in which the painting played a role before it was stolen, but there have been multiple appearances following the heist in 1990.
It played a part in two novels called “An Object of Beauty” by Steve Martin (2010) and “The Medusa Plot” by Gordon Korman (2011). It has also been featured in multiple films and television series.
The Concert was painted around the same time in Tracy Chevalier’s novel “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (1999) as the main painting. The same applies to the film adaptation of 2003.