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Vermeer's 'Girl with a Flute' was likely painted by an associate of the Dutch master

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The collection of paintings by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer draws viewers from all over the world to the National Gallery of Art.

ALEXANDRA LIBBY: We have people whose mission it is to see every Vermeer, and that will take them from Tokyo to Washington.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Alexandra Libby is an associate curator at the museum in Washington, D.C.

LIBBY: Even in his day, he was special. We forget, in our age of mass visual culture, that it wasn't quite like that 350 years ago.

MARTINEZ: Vermeer's life and creative process is full of mysteries, but researchers rarely have had the chance to really examine the paintings.

LIBBY: When you take one off the wall for five hours, you get comments.

FADEL: When the pandemic hit and museums closed, a team of researchers finally had time to really study the Vermeers with high-tech imaging devices.

LIBBY: One of which was invented for the Mars rover that we can now use on a painting and say, well, what are the elemental particles that are part of this?

MARTINEZ: These particles of paint confirmed their suspicions. The painting "Girl With A Flute" is now believed to be the work of an associate of Vermeer, possibly an assistant or student.

LIBBY: It was poorly prepared from the very beginning, and that's just not something that Vermeer does.

FADEL: Libby is excited about this new information. She says the best cultural discoveries are the ones that don't shut the door on history.

LIBBY: They're the ones that crack it open and say, come on, everybody. Like, let's think about this some more.

MARTINEZ: "Girl With A Flute" is part of a new exhibition at the National Gallery called "Vermeer's Secrets." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.