Vermeer's patron was, in fact, a woman


According to curators of the retrospective which is opening at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam this week, Vermeer's main patron was probably a woman. Her name was Maria de Knuijt. She was the wife of Pieter van Ruijven. For decades it has been assumed that Van Ruijven, a wealthy Delft citizen, was the patron. New research reveals that De Knuijt had much closer and longer links to Vermeer than her husband.

De Knuijt began to buy his work in around 1657, the time when Vermeer was switching from painting conventional religious and mythological subjects to creating his intriguing scenes centred around young women in interiors. This suggests that De Knuijt (along with her husband) may well have encouraged the artist to develop his art-creating the Vermeer that we know and love today. The identity of Vermeer's patron is of vital importance, since they purchased half of the artist's entire oeuvre, at least 20 paintings.

The Rijksmuseum exhibition Vermeer (10 February-4 June) includes no fewer than 14 paintings once owned by De Knuijt. Among these are celebrated works such as The Milkmaid (1658-59, Rijksmuseum) and Girl with a Pearl Earring (1664-67, Mauritshuis, The Hague), the latter will be on display in Amsterdam until 30 March (when it returns to the Mauritshuis). The 14 paintings represent half of the 28 in the Amsterdam show. Vermeer's total oeuvre, according to the Rijksmuseum, is 37 works.

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