Saturday, 30 April 2016

Z = Zittende virginaalspeelster

I saved the most beautiful one for last: The Lady seated at a virginal.

Johannes Vermeer - Lady seated at the virginal


Female keyboard players were a popular subject in 17th-century Dutch art. Music making was often associated with love and at times with amorous seduction. For example, in verses by Jacob Westerbaen we read: "learn to play the lute, the clavichord. The strings have the power to caress the heart." The virginals, however, had highly civilized connotations since it was habitually played by a woman in the context of family or musical gatherings, thus, being used most often by artists as a symbol of harmony and concord.
The unattended viol da gamba in the foreground further strengthens the association with harmony. The woman, like the male musician in Jacob Cats' well-known emblem "Quid Non Sentit Amor" (see detail above), plays her instrument while a second lies unused. The emblem's text explains that the resonance of one lute echoes onto the other just as two hearts can exist in harmony even if they are separated. 17th Century eyes would have recognized the symbolism in the painting.


Music in Vermeers paintings

 The fact that Vermeer portrayed so many musical themes is not surprising in itself, "at least ten percent of all 17th-century paintings, music makes its appearance in one way or another. In genre pieces, in which category Vermeer's work is generally placed, the percentage is even higher. For example, about 20 per cent of Frans van Mieris' works, 25 per cent of Pieter de Hoogh's and almost half of Jacob Ochtervelt's deal in some way with music."

Dutch painting experts generally believe that underneath Vermeer's seemingly straightforward portrayals of young people engaged in a pleasurable pastime lies another level of meaning which can be understood only with a study of symbolism in the 17th Century.


Last painting in A-Z Blogging Challenge 2016 Vermeer

Although my visitor numbers have reached an all time low in these Vermeer series and dropped by some 80%, taking part of the challenge is a very nice experience, and it gave me an opportunity to explore the work and life of Johannes Vermeer. To those of you, who read all or some of it, thank you for your time and I hope you've learned a little bit more about Johannes Vermeer, Han van Meegeren's most appreciated artist.


Friday, 29 April 2016

Y = Yellowing

Yellowing is an effect usually associated with oil paintings and can occur due to a number of reasons. One such explanation is that the application of varnishes or finishes prone to yellowing could be to blame, however more likely is that dirt embedded within varnish applied is the culprit.
A nice example is this painting  of the painting of Scheveningen, 17 km from Delft by Hendrick van Anthonissen (1641)

View of Scheveningen Sands by Hendrick van Anthonissen before restoration
 After they cleaned the yellow varnish layer this is what the picture had hidden: a whale!
View of Scheveningen Sands by Hendrick van Anthonissen after restoration.

 I couldn't resist to have the curator tell her story. This is what she did with this painting:

Thursday, 28 April 2016

X = X-ray examination

X-ray use has become a common practice among art authenticators. Not only does it unlock secrets underneath paintings, but it helps to establish authenticity. Types of paper, materials, preparatory sketches, changes to the composition, and other clues can be discovered through the use of an x-ray to prove the nature and origin of a painting.

X-rays can reveal much about an artist's working process and can frequently show compositional changes. X-rays are located beyond UV in the electromagnetic spectrum. Like UV they are invisible but have even shorter wavelengths and greater energy than visible light. X-rays penetrate through paint layers and supports to varying degrees depending on the atomic weight of the material being x-rayed. Materials of low atomic weight allow x-rays to pass through easily and therefore appear dark on x-ray film, and those of high atomic weight block x-rays and appear white. For example, lead white paint is highly opaque to x-rays whereas carbon-based paints, including some blacks, are more transparent. The thickness of the material also determines the degree of opacity.
X-rays can also be used to detect traces of minerals and other elements within the paint. These traces can be clues to when the painting was executed and where. For example, this x-ray of Vermeer's "The Girl With a Pearl Earring" reveals that there were traces of lead in the paint that he used.

During Vermeer's day, lead was a primary component in white paint. These brighter areas on the x-ray show where Vermeer used white, therefore creating the luminous glow that this picture has become famous for. Even though this is unmistakably a Vermeer, this specific applied technique confirms the painting was produced at the time when lead was in use.


The Wedding Vow

Exactly two years ago on Monday 28 April 2014 I posted my first post, Alone, at the centre of a circle by Sharon Olds. On 28 April 2015 I payed tribute to miss Olds by posting Take the I out.
This year some 930 posts since April 2014, again miss Olds making The Wedding Vow:

I did not stand at the altar, I stood
at the foot of the chancel steps, with my beloved,
and the minister stood on the top step
holding the open Bible. The church
was wood, painted ivory inside, no people—God's
stable perfectly cleaned. It was night,
spring—outside, a moat of mud,
and inside, from the rafters, flies
fell onto the open Bible, and the minister
tilted it and brushed them off. We stood
beside each other, crying slightly
with fear and awe. In truth, we had married
that first night, in bed, we had been
married by our bodies, but now we stood
in history—what our bodies had said,
mouth to mouth, we now said publicly,
gathered together, death. We stood
holding each other by the hand, yet I also
stood as if alone, for a moment,
just before the vow, though taken
years before, took. It was a vow
of the present and the future, and yet I felt it
to have some touch on the distant past
or the distant past on it, I felt
the silent, dry, crying ghost of my
parents' marriage there, somewhere
in the bright space—perhaps one of the
plummeting flies, bouncing slightly
as it hit forsaking all others, then was brushed
away. I felt as if I had come
to claim a promise—the sweetness I'd inferred
from their sourness; and at the same time that I had
come, congenitally unworthy, to beg.
And yet, I had been working toward this hour
all my life. And then it was time
to speak—he was offering me, no matter
what, his life. That is all I had to
do, that evening, to accept the gift
I had longed for—to say I had accepted it,
as if being asked if I breathe. Do I take?
I do. I take as he takes—we have been
practising this. Do you bear this pleasure? I do.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Willem Alexander's birthday

Dutch King Willem-Alexander, rear left, Queen Maxima, rear right, and their three daughters
               Princess Ariane, Princess Alexia and Crown Princess Catharina-Amalia, front from left to right.
(AP Photo/Andreas Rentz, Pool)

As we reach the W-letter in the Alphabet on the birthday of our King, Willem Alexander, I couldn't resist to show a picture of the Royal Family this morning in Zwolle. The Dutch marked their king's birthday today with an official celebration in the northeastern city of Zwolle and festivals and unofficial garage sales around the nation.

Numbers of revelers were expected to be lower than in previous years because of wintery temperatures and showers forecast to sweep over the country. "Maybe the coldest King's Day ever, but the good atmosphere in Zwolle will warm everybody up. See you soon," King Willem-Alexander tweeted ahead of the celebrations.

Kings Day is a national holiday in the Netherlands and traditionally there are many pop festivals tonight, in spite of the rain, hail and wind...

W = Windows Patterns in Vermeer´s Paintings

If we pay attention to more than one dozen of Vermeer´s paintings we can notice that the greater part of the artist’s oeuvre, are of course representations of domestic interiors and that just a few of these show distinctive and unique spaces.
The great majority of them seem to depict just a few rooms repeatedly, with sitters and furniture rearranged. It is possible to draw some tentative conclusions about how many rooms might be involved, by making an inventory of their architectural features: floor tiles, wooden ceilings, and characteristic patterns of leading in the window panes.
Paying attention to the patterns that Johannes Vermeer followed when drawing the windows of his paintings, we can notice how the main motives are based mainly on squares and on circles. To prove this, just look at the following photos in which a comparison between different paintings is developed:

A                                    B                                           C

A = The glass of wine
B = The girl with the wine glass
C = The Music Lesson

Not the same stained glass windows we see in his paintings, but they look very much alike. He definitely used the same motives in his windows, always bringing the light from the left.

(Sources: )

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

V = Vermeer's Delft blown away

 1654 Delftse Donderslag

 After the great Fire in 1536 that destroyed a large part of Delft, the second catastrophe which shaped the topography and character of Delft was the infamous explosion of the gunpowder magazine, Delftse Donderslag., On Monday, Octobe 12, 1654, in the morning at half-past ten. Cornelis Soetens, the keeper of the magazine, on that fatal day opened the store to make his weekly check a sample of the powder. "Soetens was accompanied by a colleague from The Hague, wearing a red cloak, and by a servant. A lantern was lit, a door to the store was opened, and Soetens's companion handed his fine cloak to the servant so that it wouldn't get dirty and told him to take it home. The two men went in and down the dark stairs to collect their sample. Some minutes passed. It was still an ordinary Monday morning in Delft. Fiver huge successive explosions merged with one another. The earth shuddered and shuddered again. Flames rose and an intense heat fanned out in a searing wave."

Several parts of the town were leveled to the ground. More than one hundred people were killed and many more wounded. The explosion was so strong that it slammed shut doors in near bye towns and was said to have been heard as far away as the island of Texel, seventy miles north of Delft.
Egbert v.d. Poel - Het springen van de kruittoren in Delft, 12 oktober 1654

The tons of the Netherlands' gunpowder that had exploded were stored in barrels in a magazine in a former Clarissen convent (Poor Clares) in the Doelenkwartier district. Luckily, many citizens were away, visiting a market in Schiedam or the fair in The Hague. But Carel Fabritius, Vermeer’s colleague and Rembrandt’s most talented pupils, who had lived with his family in the Doelenstraat nearby the gunpowder magazine, died at his easel while painting a portrait and with him perished a part of his slim artistic production. A baby girl was rescued after 24 hours. She was still sitting in her high chair, holding an apple and smiling. After the initial Herculean effort to remove the rubble and save those who were trapped under the debris, but only a few survived. 

1660 Vermeer: Gezicht op Delft

Six years after the demolition of half the City of Delft Vermeer paints his "View of Delft". Like nothing happened... Like Egbert van der Poel painted a figment of his imagination. Vermeers View on Delft is a city rebuilt, a city far away accross the water...

Johannes Vermeer - View on Delft

Monday, 25 April 2016

U = Underpainting


In painting, an underpainting is a first layer of paint applied to a canvas or board and it functions as a base for other layers of paint. It acts as a foundation for the painting and is a great way to start the painting off with some built in contrast and tonal values. It's a technique that was widely used by the old masters as a way to develop a plan for future colour placement and to establish certain values and tones within a painting's colour palette. An underpainting, if used correctly, is a great way to unite colour values in the overall painting and add a subjective colour key to the painting that will create a tonal dominance of the painting.

Underpainting is simple, but can have major effects on the rest of the painting. It can invigorate areas of the painting that are mundane or uniform like a sky or rolling field. And, it can even act as an outline how the painting feels. For example:
  • A blue toned underpainting can make a painting feel cold, even if something is red-like a barn in wintertime against a white, snowy backdrop. 
  • A yellow toned underpainting is great for a swamp or desert scene, because the painting will seem like it takes place in a hot climate.
  • Some purples are great for warm layers later on, or for making shadows.

De Geograaf (1669)


Vermeer and underpainting

 It now seems certain that underpainting was a fundamental step in Vermeer's relatively methodical creative process. Laboratory analysis demonstrates that in the underpainting stage, the artist made many major and minor alterations in the type, placement, and dimensions of objects found in his compositions. Chairs, maps, framed paintings, musical instruments, baskets, a standing cavalier and even a dog can no longer be seen where they were originally represented. Vermeer probably painted them out in the underpainting stage having seen that they did not create the desired effect or that they were distracting to the painting's central theme.

He changed the positions of arms and fingers to create precisely the gesture he desired, edges of maps were moved to the left or right to add stability to the composition and the contours of the young women's garments were altered to make them more elegant and fluid, and shadows too were lightened or darkened, all depending of the immediate visible effect that the underpainting produced.
It has been noticed that in the Geographer there is more than one passage which seems to have been left uncompleted or which over have become exposed. Perhaps, much of the deep shaded area of the carpet reveals Vermeer's method of underpainting. If this is so, his method would appear similar to those of his contemporaries.


Sunday, 24 April 2016

Vermeer is coming home

When you arrive from our new underground train station (cost estimated at 270 million euro, actual cost 550 million euro and still nowhere near the end of it) you see this wonderful welcome sign: "Welcome in the city of Vermeer, Welcome to Delft". And if you are lucky there will be a girl there all in a traditional Dutch costume bidding you welcome.

The City of Vermeer never did anything much to honour it's second most famous historical inhabitant. There is no painting of Vermeer in Delft. And for years we had to do with pathetic replica's of his paintings. Only few years ago, we finally got ourselves a "Vermeer Museum", in the place of the Guild of St. Luke.

Now, after 320 years, The Little Street finally is back in the City where it was painted. Well for a few months anyway :-)

The exhibition Vermeer is coming home | The Little Street returns to Delft describes the long search to identify the place that inspired Vermeer to paint his masterpiece. It deals with a number of theories, but specifically explains the most recent research on this topic.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

T = Timelessness

Vermeer is often praised for the timelessness of his paintings.
Why are some works of art are so filled with genius that they rise above time and place and gives us all the feeling that we are looking at a masterpiece?

The concept of timelessness is frequently evoked in conjunction with Vermeer's art. By avoiding the purely incidental and anecdotal detail of daily life, where gestures become tied to specific events, Vermeer was able to convey the universal, rather than the temporal realm of the everyday life. "The emotions of longing and expectations which he so often incorporated in his work provide a thematic means for suggesting the extension of time, a quality he enhanced with purity of compositions, purposefulness of human gaze and gesture, and evocative treatment if light. Through these means Vermeer not only succeeded in transforming a momentary activity into a timelessness vision, but also created images whose moods and concerns continue to speak directly to viewers far removed from the world in which he lived."


Friday, 22 April 2016

Letter S again, but not Vermeer today

I'm one day out of schedule with my A-Z blogging challenge. I like to by in sync with the rest of us, so I will post another S today. Not about Vermeer I'm afraid, but I'm sure Mr. Shakespeare will do as well.

Visiting A-Z bloggers I came across a blog post about getting older and reaching a milestone in birthdays.  It made me think of one of my favourite sonnets by Shakespeare, number 73 for the connoisseurs among us. You should really read the sonnets of Shakespeare out loud. It really takes some time to do so fluently, but the reward is indescribable. Anyway, the sonnet is called: 

That Time Of Year Thou Mayst In Me Behold

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.
 William Shakespeare

In Sonnet 73 death is approaching and the writer is thinking about how different it is from being young. It’s like the branch of a tree where birds once sang but the birds have gone and the leaves have fallen, leaving only a few dry yellow leaves. It’s like the twilight of a beautiful day, where there is only the black night ahead. It’s like the glowing ashes of a fire that once roared. The things that one gave him life have destroyed his life. From that experience he has learnt that one has to love life as strongly as one can because it will end all too soon. (No Sweat Shakespeare)

Thursday, 21 April 2016

S = Straatje van Vermeer

The exact location of where Vermeer painted his "Straatje van Vermeer" (Vermeers Little Street) was unknown for many years. Various addresses in Delft have been suggested over the years, but none was convincing. Frans Grijzenhout, Professor of Art History at the University of Amsterdam, consulted seventeenth-century records that had never before been used for this purpose and clearly indicate the site of 'The Little Street' in Delft.

The address

His new research has enabled Professor Grijzenhout to identify the exact address: it is Vlamingstraat in Delft, at the point where the present-day numbers 40 and 42 stand. The new source Frans Grijzenhout consulted for this research, which led to the conclusive findings of his investigation, is De legger van het diepen der wateren binnen de stad Delft (the ledger of the dredging of the canals in the town of Delft) of 1667, also known as the Register op het kadegeld (quay dues register). It is a record of how much tax everyone in Delft who owned a house on a canal had to pay for dredging the canal and maintaining the quay outside their door. The register provides a detailed account, accurate to within around 15 centimetres, of the width of all the houses and of all the passageways between them that lined Delft’s canals in Vermeer’s day. He was able to establish that on the north side of Vlamingstraat, a quite narrow canal in what was then the poorer eastern quarter of Delft, there were two houses where numbers 40 and 42 now stand. Each house was approximately 6.3 metres wide, and between them were two immediately adjacent passageways, each around 1.2 metres wide. Further research into the position of the houses and the small gardens behind them confirmed that the situation on the spot corresponds exactly with the painting. There was no other place in Delft during that time where this constellation was found.

Straatje van Vermeer


Findings disputed

On "Essential Vermeer", one of the best documented sites, if not the best documented site, Philip Steadman, professor of University College London, disputes the results of Grijzenhout and makes a well documented case for an alternative location. The mystery remains...

Tripe Gate

The houses now on the site were built in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The only aspect that can still be recognized as it appears in The Little Street is the striking gate and passageway on the right. The investigation also revealed that the house on the right in The Little Street belonged to Vermeer’s widowed aunt, Ariaentgen Claes van der Minne, his father’s half-sister. She earned her living and provided for her five children by selling tripe, and the passageway beside the house was known as the Penspoort – Tripe Gate. We also know that Vermeer’s mother and sister lived on the same canal, diagonally opposite. It is therefore likely that Johannes Vermeer knew the house well and that there were personal memories associated with it.
(Source: )

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

R = Reconstruction of Vermeers House


In 1641, on April 23, Vermeer's father, Reynier Jansz. Vos, bought the large and heavily mortgaged Mechelen inn on the Market Square at the corner with the Oude Manhuissteeg. He paid 200 guilders in cash and assumed two mortgages for the total value of 2,500 guilders. Mechelen had six fireplaces which tells us something of its size, the largest construction of the Markt . Like all the neighboring houses, the front side faced the Market Square and the backside plunged straight down into the Voldersgracht canal. Mechelen was demolished in 1885 to make way for fire-prevention equipment.
The Mechelen Inn was the bustling heart of the town. Its location, with the town hall on one side and the Nieuwe Kerk on the other side. It was an ideal meeting place for discussions and exchanging news and archives show that many Delft artists also used to meet here for shop-talk.Inn-keeping and art dealing often went hand in hand. In these circumstances, it is obvious that the young Vermeer was exposed to the many paintings that adorned the walls of the inn as well as a chance to encounter artists and artisans who no doubt frequented the locale. Mechelen was also spacious enough to contain Vermeer's wife when she moved in.

Baptist Corner

We know that by 1660, Johannes Vermeer and his family had been living together in his mother-in-law's (Maria Thins) house at Oude Langendijk, in the heart of Delft's Catholic community, the "Papenhoek," or Papists' Corner adjacent to the Nieuwe Kerk. The first document which proves that the Vermeer and his wife Catharina had changed living quarters is dated 27 December, 1660 although it is possible he made his move somewhat earlier.  From a topographical point of view, the move from Mechelen to Oude Langendijk was a short one, perhaps no more than 120 paces across the Market Place. But from social point of view, it was worlds apart. The Papist Corner was not a ghetto because many of the families who chose to live there of their own free will and many were prosperous. In Delft about a quarter of the population was Catholic.

Oude Langedijck

The house of Vermeer doesn't exist any more, there is now a church where the house once was. There are no reproductions how the house looked like. When Vermeer died he left his modest possessions and was as you have read before, in debt. A notary came to make a very detailed inventory list of the possessions, so it could be decided what was the property of his widow and mother in law and what goods could be auctioned. Because that inventory list described the rooms where the goods were, historians made an effort to reconstruct the house of Vermeer, and how it may have looked like. This is the one there is more or less consensus about:

The house Thins / Vermeer was reconstructed by Zantkuijl for the first time in 2001 in a responsible manner, ie maps based on records and in-depth knowledge of building history of houses in the Republic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.Vermeer might have worked on his paintings in a pretty small studio (L) on the floor at the front of his house. Given the area there would be no place for a large camera obscura.

The inventory from 1676 is comprehensive and detailed. By showing floor plans of the house Thins / Vermeer we have some idea how this small but long (approx.) 32 meter long house might have looked like.

(Sources:  )

Q = Quality of painters and painting


Scholars believe that Vermeer's Art of Painting addressed a number of weighty issues which regarded both the art of painting and the fine arts in general. One of them was the so-called paragone, or the comparison of the arts.

In the past, there was an enduring and impassioned debate concerning the hierarchical status of the various arts. In the Quattrocento, Italy was the battleground on which painters, still handicapped by the classical prejudice against manual labor, fought to establish their art on the higher tier of the Liberal Arts. Practicing painters, in fact, were then relegated among artisans and craftsmen. The rivalries between painting and poetry and painting and sculpture were particularly intense although in the course of the Renaissance the kinship between painting and poetry became commonplace so much that they were considered sister arts by some.

By Vermeer's time, the debate still inflamed and had been extended to science as well. It was argued that doctors and astronomers can know the visible world through the use of their use of acquired skills, but artists can not only comprehend the natural world, they can replicate it. The painter's art embraces and recreates the entire visible world, or as in the words of painter and art theorist Samuel van Hoogstraten, "the Art of Painting is a science for representing all the ideas or notions that visible nature in its entirety can produce, and for deceiving the eye with outline and colour."

Deception as we know, was at the heart of Vermeer's concept of illusionist painting and perhaps nowhere more manifest than in his monumental Art of Painting. 

Johannes Vermeer - De Schilderkunst


 Vermeers Art of Painting (De Schilderkunst)

The composition shows a painter, presumably Vermeer himself; painting a model who poses with a crown of laurel on her head a trumpet in one hand and a book in the other. These accessories refer to fame and its perpetration through writing and would have allowed any contemporary spectator who was well informed in emblems to have identified the woman as Clio, muse of History. The mask which appears on the table is traditionally used as a symbol of imitation and thus of painting. The light hanging above the artist is crowned by a double-headed eagle, symbol of the Hapsburg dynasty which since the 16th century had governed the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands that appear in the map on the end wall (and which still governed the southern provinces). As in the majority of interior paintings, it is difficult to know when an element should be read in a symbolic manner. The map and the lamp may, along with Clio, be further references to history or simply reflections of a taste for these objects which contained an element of nostalgia for the days when the Netherlands were united. 

Few paintings in the entire history of art seem as perfect as this one. Vermeer's extraordinary technical mastery, the crystal-clear light which illuminates the scene, the purity of the volumes and the unique psychological distancing of the figures are all characteristics of his work that here reach an extraordinary level of refinement.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

P = Pearl or No Pearl that's the question

Girl with a Turban

Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665

The Girl with a Pearl Earring was originally titled Girl with a Turban and it wasn't until the second half of the twentieth century that the name was changed. Regarded as Vermeer's masterpiece, this canvas is often referred to as the Mona Lisa of the North or the Dutch Mona Lisa. The girl in this painting is believed to be Vermeer's eldest daughter, Maria, who was about twelve or thirteen-years-old at the time it was created. Her facial features appear in several of Vermeer's works but his various techniques on his subject make it difficult to compare the female faces in his paintings, as the woman are portrayed in different lighting conditions and poses.With this painting the viewer is captured by the subject and believes they have caught her attention and caused her to turn her head. This is a sensual painting with the girl gazing at the viewer with wide eyes and a parted mouth and there is an air of mystery surrounding her identity.

There is very little information about  the Girl with a Pearl Earring. It's signed "IVMeer" but there is no date on this work. It remains unknown whether or not this canvas was commissioned and if so, by whom.

Pearl or No Pearl, that's the question

In the painting Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer girl bears no pearl. A large part of the doubt, is caused by reflections which are visible in the jewel in the ear. An actual bead consists of thin layers of calcite which scatter light of different wavelengths and break, said Vincent Icke, professor of theoretical astronomy at Leiden University. This creates the famous soft white, pearly sheen. Instead, we see a bright reflection of light in the top left corner of the 'pearl' and at the bottom to see a reflection of the white collar. In addition, the dark parts of the jewellery give no white dusk, but they seem to the girl's skin and the space to mirror behind her.
If you look closely, can not but conclude that the girl with the pearl not wearing pearl. But what then? Icke thinks himself to silver or maybe polished pewter. He adds quickly that this discovery, however, doesn't make the painting any less beautiful. “The details in the brilliance of the gem that is not a pearl, are a testimony to the great realism which Johannes Vermeer in the list of great Dutch masters state.”

Book and Film

My own copy of the Dutch book

Girl with a Pearl Earring is a 1999 historical novel written by Tracy Chevalier. Set in 17th century Delft, Holland, the novel was inspired by the painting Girl with a Pearl Earring. Chevalier writes a fictional account of Vermeer, the model, and the painting. The novel was adapted into a 2003 film of the same name and a 2008 play of the same name.
The book and film contributed much to the reputation of this painting.


Monday, 18 April 2016

O = Overview of Vermeers signatures in his paintings

Signatures and Authenticity

In general, a signature, even if proven genuine, cannot definitely establish the true attribution of a painting. It is known that Rubens sent some of his paintings to Spain with a letter that stated the paintings were by his best students yet signed by him. Rembrandt, as well, routinely signed works of his apprentices to bring in supplementary income.
Since signatures on paintings are so vulnerable to ageing and so difficult to examine with even the most sophisticated scientific equipment, and because they are in the overwhelming number of cases so easy to imitate, signatures are, then, not one of the strongest means to determine if a work of art is authentic or forged.

Overview of Vermeers signatures


Johannes Vermeer: Signatures

Twenty-three paintings by Vermeer’s paintings bear legible signatures. The early Diana and her Companions once presented vestiges of the artist’s signature which was still reproduced in the 1859 catalogue of the Mauritshuis. It has since been removed presumably by overzealous cleaning. Only three works bear both a signature and date. Some of the most important works, like the Milkmaid and the Woman in Blue Reading a Letter are neither signed nor dated.  Most of the Vermeer’s signed canvases present a characteristic monogram or variants of it employing different combinations of the letters “V, ” “M” or “I” followed by “eer” meant to complete the letters of the of the artist’s full name, Vermeer.  A few works, such as the Astronomer, the Geographer and the Lacemaker, the artist placed surprisingly large signatures on unmodulated fields of colour making them impossible to neglect.

Signatures of other painters

23 different signatures was not very common amongst painters. Of his 35, 36? paintings attributed to Vermeer 23 different signatures or monograms. Rembrandt, for instance, somewhere about 420 paintings signed like this:

Meesters in de Schilderkunst - Lekturama, Rotterdam, 1967, pag. 10 )

Saturday, 16 April 2016

N = Netherlands in the 17th century

I know, I know, I know. This video is way too long, but so interesting for all those who want to know how Dutch life was in those days. One cannot see Vermeers paintings and understand how these were made and not know the world Johannes Vermeer lived in. This video will tell it all...

Friday, 15 April 2016

M = Melkmeisje

The Milkmaid is one of Vermeers best known and popular paintings. It can be found in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (in the "honour gallery") and Vermeer painted it around 1658-1661. It's quite small: 45.5 x 41 cm. (17 7/8 x 16 1/8 in.) If you type "Vermeer milkmaid in Google you will find many images with all kinds of strange colours.... This one looks like the original the most, and is from the Rijksmuseum website.

Johannes Vermeer - Het Melkmeisje

 What is she actually doing?

 In order to appreciate the exceptional quality of this canvas which has a remarkable impact on anyone who has the fortune to see it, we must decipher Vermeer's full intentions. Oddly, even though Vermeer's Milkmaid has been scrutinized from head to toe, art historians have generally ignored the question of what she is doing. Obviously, she pours milk and does so in a particularly thoughtful way, but for what reason? Art historian Harry Rand addressed the question in great detail this is his theory:

First of all, the woman Vermeer depicts is not the home's owner, she is a common servant, not to be confused with the other servants called "kamenier" who attended the personal needs of upper-class women and functioned contemporarily as a sort of guardians of their mistress.
Vermeer's unassuming maid is slowly pouring milk into a squat earthenware vessel which is commonly known as a Dutch oven. The deep recessed rim shows the vessel was meant to hold a lid to seal the contents for airtight baking. Dutch ovens characteristically were used for prolonged, slow cooking and were made of iron or in the case of the present painting, of ceramic. Rand posits that the key to the contents are the broken pieces of bread which lays before her in the still life and assumes that she has already made custard in which the bread mixed with egg is now soaking. She now pours milk over the mixture to cover it because if the bread is not simmering in liquid while it is baking, the upper crusts of the bread will turn unappetizingly dry instead of forming the delicious upper surface of the pudding. The maid takes such care in pouring the trickle of milk because it is difficult to rescue bread pudding if the ingredients are not correctly measured and combined.

The foot warmer with its smouldering ember on the floor below, reinforces Rand's hypothesis. The maid's kitchen is not properly heated. In the best well-to-do houses, two kitchens were often found, one "hot" for daily cooking of meats, breads etc., and another "cold" reserved for baking, confectionery, pastries. The cold kitchen did cause the all-important butter to melt and allowed the cook time to fold it in to dough or crusts.
Thus, Vermeer describes not just a visual account of a common scene, but an ethical and social value. He represents the precise moment in which the household maid is attentively working with common cooking ingredients and formerly unusable stale bread transforming them into a new, wholesome and enjoyable product. Her measured demeanour, modest dress and judiciousness in preparing her food conveys eloquently yet unobtrusively one of the strongest values of 17th-century Netherlands, domestic virtue.
The maid, of course, could have been making something far more simpler than Rand's tasty pudding, simple pap for small children made of bread and milk, ingredients present in Vermeer's painting.

Always a Calvinistic warning

Melkmeisje - detail foot warmer
There is always a double layer in Dutch Golden Age paintings. The wall text explains, rather squeamishly, that the act of milking a cow was code for “grabbing a man’s ... attention.”

A barely perceptible Cupid on a Delft tile just behind the foot warmer is the painting’s only concession to amorous distraction.

No Vermeer painting without a constant praise to the intimacy of the civil life, on domesticity and the discreet feminine virtues.

(Sources: )

Thursday, 14 April 2016

L = Life of Vermeer, short biography

The website with the appropriate name "Essential Vermeer" is so wonderful, I could simply refer all these letters from A-Z to the pages of "Essential Vermeer" and you would be better and more completely informed than reading my pages. Really, in every letter if you look at the sources, you will find "Essential Vermeer" somewhere. A deep bow for those people that have made this possible.


One of the examples is a timeline of Vermeer's Life. Nobody lives his life in a bubble, and when there is so little known about someone like Vermeer you need to paint the background well as to the events that took place in that time. "Essential Vermeer" divides that timeline in:


Johannes Vermeer was born in Delft, Netherlands, circa October 31, 1632. His father Reijnier Janszoon and his mother Digna Baltens were middle-class innkeepers and prominent silk weavers in the city of Delft. His father later changed his surname to Vermeer for reasons unknown. Vermeer's father was a member of the Guild of St. Luke where he traded and sold various paintings. It was from this profession that a young Vermeer probably learned all about art.

Johannes Vermeer was the only son in the family and had just one sibling. He was raised Protestant in a largely conservative Catholic province and later became part of the Guild of St. Luke. He may have  apprenticed under Leonart Bramer but no evidence can conclude that he had an influence on Vermeer's works. Other names that might have been his teachers are Carel Fabritius or Abraham Bloemaert, but again, there is no evidence that he actually did get his education here.

Baptismal record of Johannes Vermeer
After his baptismal record at a local church, Vermeer seems to disappear for nearly 20 years. He likely had a Calvinist upbringing. His father worked as a tavern keeper. At the Market Square he owned an inn called "Mechelen". He was also an art merchant, and Vermeer inherited both of these business upon his father's death in 1652.

Baptismal record - detail

In April 1653, Vermeer married Catharina Bolnes, a wealthy Catholic woman from a higher class family. Upon marrying Catharina, Vermeer moved to the predominantly Catholic neighbourhood in Delft. He and Catherina had fifteen children together but four died at birth. None of the surviving eleven were known to inherit their father's skills.

Johannes Vermeer struggled financially in his final years, due in large part to the fact that the Dutch economy had suffered terribly after the country was invaded by France in 1672. Vermeer was deeply indebted by the time of his death; he died in Delft circa December 16, 1675.


Wednesday, 13 April 2016

K = De Koppelaarster

This painting is the first known Vermeer. One of his early works, dated 1656.
A large format work 56.3 X 51.2″ (143 X 130 cm). The subject, the decor and the cultural climate are perfectly exemplary of the Caravaggio school. 

Dirck van Baburen - The Procuress 1622
Baburen was one of several painters from Utrecht, in Holland, who went to study and work in Rome. Profoundly influenced by the Italian painter Caravaggio and his followers, they specialized in close-up views of large, half-length figures, modelled with stark contrasts of light and shadow. Here, an amorous suitor barters with an elderly, turbanned woman for the favours of a cheerful young woman. The lute, symbol of love, occupies the centre of the composition; the gestures of the hands that surround it tell the painting’s story. Vermeer may have owned this painting, because in two of his paintings this painting is in the background. Lady Seated at a Virginal and The Concert.

Vermeers version of the Procuress

In this famous picture by Vermeer we can clearly distinguish four different characters. A whore, a procuress, a young man and another man drinking some spirits are the protagonists of the picture.
The whore is a young girl with fair features and clean clothes. She is ready to do her job with the young man in red who is touching her. She holds a glass of some spirits with which she intends to make her suitor go drunk. Whores were supposed to make their lovers go as drunk as possible at that time, and providing they got very drunk, sex was no longer an option for them. She seems to be posing very tranquil and she offers both the viewer and the young man a fair smile. She is presented as a sensitive young girl who is ready to make her job.
The young man in red is the suitor to the young whore in yellow. He is a young man - probably a soldier- that wants to have sexual relationships with that girl. He is wearing a red coat - maybe symbol of passion and sexual desire- and a large, black hat with which he is trying to cover the girl, as if he was willing to shelter her - probably meaning he wants to take on her in the bed. He also has his hand on her left breast, as though he was embracing her, and sexually possessing her - showing his clear intentions - at the same time.

The procuress is the woman in black. She is not easily recognised because she is not like most procuresses in other pictures. Her features are fair and she even looks like a man. She is paying heed to the economical transaction that is taking place in the picture. What is more, in early stages of the picture, she was receiving some money - this means she was more active - from the young suitor. Eventually, she is just looking at him and making sure everything goes perfectly. However, the viewer should notice the malice in her eyes, meaning she is no fool and she knows how to deal with economical and sexual issues. In fact, the procuresses were frequently retired whores that had enough money to lead their own business.
The man in black is much of a jester. He is a comical character that functions rather as the narrator of the story. As a matter of fact, he is looking at the viewer, as if he wanted to tell the story to whoever is examining it. He is aside the action and he wears black clothes so that he does not attract too much attention to himself. Many critics agree nowadays that he is a self-portrait of the very Vermeer. Actually, it was very common to find the painters of those “brothels” in their own pictures. Thus, Vermeer could be following the current fashion.

(Sources: )

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

J = Jonge vrouw lezend bij open venster

The English translation is A Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window. You always need to go to a museum to see how big or small a painting is, you cannot see that in a picture in a book (many people are surprised how small the Mona Lisa in the Louvre actually is). This painting of Vermeer is 83 x 64.5 cm (32 3/4 x 25 3/8 in.). It's one of my favourite paintings. If you want to see it, book a ticket to Dresden, go to the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) and be amazed.

Vermeer - A Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window (1657–1659)


This painting of Vermeer shows a remarkable sense of privacy. The viewer feels almost like an intruder as we has been allowed to share discreetly this girl completely unaware of us watching her behind that green curtain  Light from the open window glows radiantly on her head and shoulders as she intently follows the letter's words. Her face is dimly reflected in the translucent and reflective qualities of glass. Not only her face but also the sheen of the woman's lemon yellow sleeves, and the nap of the wool rug, which he accents with coloured highlights. The reflection of the girl in the window emphasizes the importance of the letter, which becomes the axis of the painting. As in other works by Vermeer, the chair acts to clarify the spatial relations between the elements in the room, in this case the table and the end wall. The angle of the fruit bowl and the girl's forearm are parallel and thus visually related, so that we connect the golden sleeve of the girl with the large green curtain on the right.

Fruit in the painting

In the Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, Vermeer displays an imported Chinese Wan-Li bowl with peaches, plums and perhaps a large apple. One peach has been halved with its rounded pit exposed to the viewer. The exhibit of ripe fruit accents the fullness of the girl herself, perhaps, ripe for love. A Dutch poet once recommended to "send apples, send pears or other fruit" to win over the heart of one's lover drawing inspiration from Ovid's Ars Amatoria.


Vermeer - Woman in Blue
Rob Mies noticed the resemblance of the girl in this painting with another painting by Vermeer "Woman in Blue reading a letter" (1663-1664). This painting acquired by the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands, shows a woman in blue. Maybe she is pregnant, maybe not. The clothes in those days were concealing the shape of the body, fashion in these days. Speculation is also if this might be the wife of Vermeer, Catharina Bolnes, that we know had many children, so Vermeer might have wanted to paint her pregnant. In the 17th century not many Dutch artists painted woman pregnant, oddly enough. So if it's just a wide skirt, so if the face of woman is just a model or a memory of Vermeer. we will never know.

 Mr. Mies Photoshopped the face of both paintings the same size and put them over eachother. We have to agree there is a striking resemblance.
Woman in Blue
A Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window

The model, the nose, the hair, the eyes, the lips, all evidence points out this was the the same model Vermeer used in his paintings.



Monday, 11 April 2016

I = Images of all Vermeers paintings

Gabriel Metzu, Pieter de Hoogh, Gerrit Dou, Frans van Mieris, all painters in the 17th century in the Netherlands painted more than 100 paintings. Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Jan van Goyen made hundreds of paintings and etches. The latter made over a thousand paintings....

Vermeer made roughly 35 paintings, that scholars agree upon that are his. That would mean 2 or 3 a year. A big contrast with his fellow painters is hardly possible. Because we don't know much about Vermeer there is a lot of speculation why he painted so few works. Some say because his standards were so high, it would take him a long time to reach the level of perfection he achieved in his paintings. Some say because it was of Vermeers vision of art that made him restrict to works that showed thematic interventions and technical findings in his work.
Whatever reason (perhaps he was so successful in his art trading he had little time to paint), underneath is a little video with all the Johannes (Jan) Vermeer works.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

H = Han van Meegeren


The connection of Johannes Vermeer and Delft is so obvious because Johannes Vermeer lived all his life in Delft, worked in Delft, died in Delft.
Because I live in Delft, The Netherlands, I wanted a nickname that represented Delft in some way. Because a nickname is a kind of forgery of your real name, I chose Han van Meegeren the famous forger of a "Vermeer" painting. In honour of the memory of Mr. van Meegeren I dedicate my letter H in the Blogging A-Z series of April 2016 to him.

How van Meegeren became a forger

Han van Meegeren was born in 1889 and had earned a mediocre reputation in the early thirties of the last century. Critics had never praised him where he felt entitled to have some. Irritated by what he called the lack of aesthetic judgement of art criticism, he decided the most effective way he could think of to take revenge: he would show his talent by a great master that would be considered a masterpiece by all critics and experts.

Van Meegeren decided he could imitate Vermeer's work  the best. Through his knowledge of art history, he knew that many historians believed Vermeer in his youth would have painted in the style of Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, other religious subjects. It made Meegeren decide not to create a typical Vermeer, but instead create a "lost religious Vermeer" with a touch of Italian influence.

The painting, called Supper at Emmaus, shows the meal Christ and two disciples held shortly after the resurrection. This biblical story has been painted by many painters before, like Rembrandt did in 1648

Rembrandt van Rijn: Supper at Emmaus

Van Meegeren showed his painting in 1937 for the first time see and used a clever strategy. He brought the painting to a friendly lawyer and told him a story about an old Dutch family that owned a number of paintings they kept in their family castle for centuries. Some of these paintings was now in France held by a female member of the family who was secretly in love with Van Meegeren and had asked him to sell the painting.
The lawyer sent the forgery to Dr. Abraham Bredius, an eminent art expert in Dutch art. Dr. Bredius examined the painting for several days and then announced with great excitement that it was a genuine Vermeer.

The painting immediately was received with great excitement and many comments about it were published  in art magazines. A bit of a routine examination for it's age took place (van Meegeren used a 17th century canvas and scratched almost the entire paint coat from it ) and the painting passed all tests.  The critics were in ecstasy. One of them noted that testified of Vermeer's "favourite balance between pale blue and yellow tones."

Han van Meegeren - Emmaus supper

 How the fraud was revealed

 Now if Van Meegeren would not have become greedy for power and recognition of his painting skills, he would have taken his secret to the grave, like he intended to do. But in the Second World War 5 other Vermeer paintings suddenly emerged, along with 2 Van Hoogh paintings.   Hermann Goering was a collector of art and  Van Meegeren supplied him the other "Vermeer" paintings as well.
After the war in july 1945 he was in prison, not for forgery but for collaboration the the enemy. After six weeks in his cell he announced the truth: the paintings of Goering and the Emmaus supper were not National Treasures, they were made by Han van Meegeren himself.  
In the beginning nobody believed him. But an increasing number of art connoisseurs began to doubt. To invigorate his statements he offered to make a new "Vermeer" with the authorities present. He actually started the work but when he found out that his indictment had changed from Collaboration to Forgery he refused to finish the new painting.


After two years of preparation the trial was held. The trial was sensational but lasted only one day. Van Meegeren was trailed on 27th October 1947 for deliberative forgery and was sentenced to one year in prison. Han van Meegeren died of a heart attack one day before his sentence was to be carried out.    

Sad story ends...

For the present public looking upon the Emmaus supper, it's difficult to understand how this counterfeit work for a Vermeer has ever been able to cause such a stir in the thirties. Undoubtedly some kind of mass hypnosis caused the excitement of the critics in the thirties. One should keep in mind that many experts were eager to discover a new Vermeer. And, no doubt some critics were influenced by the signature that was with precision forged and what some other critics had to say about the painting.
They looked at their ears, not their eyes, and this was exactly what Van Meegeren was trying to prove. And so it is not difficult to bring up some sympathy for his act.

Het complete werk van Vermeer - Lekturama Rotterdam 1967
De wereld van Vermeer - Time-Life 1967 )
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