Vermeer and some of his near-equals in 17th-century Dutch art are set to shine at Rome's Scuderie del Quirinale in one of the most keenly anticipated events of the art year in Italy.
Alongside the eight acknowledged masterworks of the genius from Delft, shown for the first time together in Italy, 50 paintings by the foremost Dutch artists of the time will adorn the Scuderie, now one of Italy's pre-eminent exhibition spaces.
In addition to such celebrated and enchanting Vermeer masterpieces as The Little Street, currently in Amsterdam, the exhibition will also host work by Carel Fabritius, Vermeer's acknowledged master who died in the gunpowder store explosion of 1654 which destroyed a large part of the city of Delft. Other major artists featured are Pieter de Hooch and Emmanuel de Witte, and painters renowned in their own day but perhaps less well-known today, including Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Nicolaes Maes, Gabriel Metsu, Frans van Mieris, Jacob Ochtervelt, Jan Steen and numerous other 'sophisticated and remarkable painters', organisers said.
Vermeer is represented by supreme works such as A Young Woman Seated At A Virginal, Allegory of Faith, Girl With A Red Hat, and Street In Delft.
As a mark of the expectancy among Italian art buffs, the exhibition has already got 65,000 advance bookings.
The visitor 'will be able not only to explore the genius of this artist, whose life continues to be shrouded in mystery (even his date of birth is still unknown), but also to understand how the Delft master's work dovetails with that of the other artists active in his native city and in nearby centres of cultural ferment such as Amsterdam, Haarlem and Leyden,' organisers said. Curated by Sandrina Bandera, the art superintendent of Milan, Walter Liedtke of the Metropolitan Museum in New York and Arthur K. Wheelock of the National Gallery in Washington, the show has attained such prestige in the art world that it has been able to attract loans from major world museums, usually very jealous of their Vermeers.
The curators have been at pains to showcase the small works in the roomy spaces of the Scuderie.
The unique temperament of the art of Vermeer and his contemporaries encapsulates bourgeois culture in 17th-century Holland. The homely themes and strong sense of realism that are such dominant features of their style charmed the private collectors of the day, who tended to be merchants, bakers and brewers who hung the pictures in their homes and demanded a constant renewal of their subject matter. In 17th-century Italy, on the other hand, major institutional patrons such as the Church or the princely courts commissioned large paintings and public art, a different matter altogether from the intimate and richly nuanced work of Vermeer.
The master from Delft focused on private themes like the family, the gestures and moments of daily life, reading and writing (especially private correspondence), courting, music and the study of science, along with views of the city - glimpses of a silent and industrious world seen through a lens of ironic and rapt tenderness.
Carel Fabritius and Nicolaes Maes, in particular, were pioneers of the experimental and naturalistic use of space and light that Vermeer exploited to the full in the unmatchable realism of his paintings. Gerard ter Borch, on the other hand, was a painter who showed extraordinary empathy - almost as heightened as Vermeer's - in the observation of young women, while Gerrit Dou was a master of chiaroscuro, predominantly in night scenes.
The exhibition, entitled Vermeer, The Golden Age of Dutch Art, runs from September 27 to January 20 at the Scuderie, the former riding stables opposite Italy's presidential palace.