Examples of Glazing in Vermeer's Art

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The glowing golden frame, which has a life of its own, is one of the most beautiful details in Vermeer's oeuvre. Only glazing can achieve this effect. First the underpainting was executed in warm ochre monochrome tones. At this point the artist could concentrate solely on the drawing and shading of the frame's intricacies.

After, a glaze of yellow lake, perhaps weld, was applied over the perfectly dry underpainting  taking care to not go over the boundaries of the frame. If the result did not exactly match  the artist's expectations,  the glaze could be wiped off without damaging in any way the underpainting and re-glaze again.


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Woman Standing at  a Spinet

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The wonderful plumed hat was first modeled in vermilion using the most delicate sable brushes that the artist probably fabricated by himself. Very little bone black was added in the shaded area. While vermilion was the strongest red available to the seventeenth-century artist, it tends to have a strong orange tone that was overcome by glazing.

Over the underpainting, two thin uniform glazes of madder lake were applied. This particular glaze was a very common practice among painters since the beginning of oil painting and was still used in Vermeer's times.


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Girl in a Red Hat


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The lavish satin dress was first underpainted in vermilion and flake white in the brighter areas. Very little bone black was added in the shaded areas. The dress was painted in full final detail at this stage. Corrections after the glaze were avoided as much as possible.

When completely dry, the artist then applied one or two very thin glazes of madder lake. Two or more lighter glazes are easier to control than one thick one.


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The Girl with a Wine Glass


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The borders of the robe were first modeled in vermilion and flake white. Flake white is the traditional name for lead white. The Dutch were particularly renowned for their high quality flake white.

Afterwards it was glazed with a yellow lake. This was the best way to produce a bright orange tone. The bright cadmium reds and oranges painters use today were invented two hundred years after Vermeer's time.

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The Geographer


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The underpainting was given its definitive form using a warm monochrome rendering. Vermeer probably added a littler bit of yellow ochre in the lighter parts. Yellow ochre is a dull yellow earth pigment used often by painter because it has great covering power.

He then glazed twice, or maybe even three times, since yellow lakes usually did not have a great tinctorial strength. Glazing tends to attract dust due to its high oil content. Care had to be taken to let the painting dry away from it. It is said that Frans van Mieries, a Dutch painter known for his incredibly detailed paintings, had his studio on a boat to avoid this problem.

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The Love Letter



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Vermeer seems to have used this particular glaze quite often to create more luminous greens than could be obtained by directly mixing yellow and blue. The sleeve was modeled with ultramarine blue and flake white and then allowed to dry.

A glaze of a yellow lake was applied with care. This technique is particularly evident in the zoomed image of the same painting in the Rijksmuseum web site.


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The Milkmaid



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