The Landscape on the Wall in Vermeer

Vermeer is the most enigmatic of the painters. It is difficult to be altogether certain about his iconographic intentions, although it is evident that he had intellectually demanding programs. Little interpretative help is provided by his contemporaries. The few 17th century references to his pictures are cursory and iconographically unenlightening.

The concern here is the landscapes depicted on the walls of his paintings. In the case of The Concert, the painting we are going to concentrate on, though Goodman offers analysis on four more, it insets pictures that are integral elements of the tableaux themselves. Recent art-historical scholarship has demonstrated that the enframed figural paintings and maps placed in the paintings relate iconographically to the scenes transpiring in front of them. The landscapes hung on the walls, however, have scaped discussion, presumably because they have been seen as decorative fillers, paintings merely imitative of the style of contemporaneous pictorial landscapes, rather than as iconographically charged emblems that contribute to and expand on the meaning of the pictures. If other paintings on the wall have meaning, then why should not the landscapes?


Their symbolism becames apparent when one examines their analogues in literary landscapes, specifically some of the kind appearing in period love lyrics that were set to musical accompaniment. I believe that the meaning of the enframed lanscapes lies in what I take to be the artist`s major and “poetic” theme, the celebration of love and beauty.

Vermeer provided subtle clues to the meaning of his inset pictures by the fashionable performers with their musical instruments he placed in several of his paintings. Vermeerś landscapes are “poetic” and even “melodic”, in a very direct sense, paralleling and perhaps imitating, as they do, the natural landscapes in many contemporaneous lyrics and songs that dealt with wooing, courtship and beauty.

This fragment is taken from The Cambridge Companion to Vermeer by Elise Goodman