The earliest dated picture by the 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer (1632-75), one of only two works by the artist left in private hands, will be a highlight of Christie’s Old Masters auction in London next month.
Saint Praxedis, a 3ft 4in x 2ft 8½in (1m x 82cm) oil on
canvas, which is signed and dated 'Meer 1655', was painted when the
artist was around 22 or 23. Together with Vermeer's Christ in
the House of Mary and Martha (in the National Galleries
of Scotland) and Diana and her Companions (in the
Mauritshaus, The Hague), it forms a trio of paintings that
characterise the early phase of the artist's career before he
developed the modern style for which he is now known.
The work was acquired by Barbara Piasecka Johnson in 1987. It
will be offered from her collection (with proceeds to benefit the
Barbara Piasecka Johnson Foundation) in the auctioneers' evening
sale of Old Masters and British paintings on July 8, with hopes of
Composition and Attribution
The subject of the painting is an obscure early Christian saint
from the second century, revered for having cared for the bodies of
Christians who died under religious persecution. The composition is
borrowed from a Saint Praxedis by the Florentine
artist Felice Ficherelli (1607-60). First attributed to Vermeer in
1969, it has been the subject of scholarly discussion ever since,
and was fully attributed to the artist in 1986.
The work featured in a monographic exhibition on Vermeer that
was held at the National Gallery in Washington and The Mauritshaus
from 1995-6 and more recently in the 2012-13 Vermeer exhibition at
the Scuderie del Quirnale in Rome where it hung alongside the
Recent technical analysis conducted by the Rijksmuseum with the
Free University, Amsterdam, has endorsed Vermeer's authorship,
establishing that the lead white used in the painting is not only
consistent with Dutch paintings rather than Italian but is also a
precise match with that used for Diana and Her Companions,
an established work by Vermeer.
Indeed, it is thought that the same batch of paint may have been
used for both paintings.
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