February 27, 2024

Vermeer painted in a slow and careful way, producing about two paintings in one full year. Worldwide there are only about 36 paintings by Johannes Vermeer of Delft.

Some people have fallen in love with the magic and radiation of Vermeer paintings and have decided to travel the whole world, from Boston to Dresden and from Dublin to Washington DC, crisscrossing the earth. Arguably the best ones are on show in Vienna, Amsterdam and The Hague. This kind of mesmerized fan tour and pilgrimage is quite feasible as virtually all paintings are now located in public collections and can be seen during opening times after purchasing the entrance ticket.

Do you recognize a work from his youthful style, when Vermeer was around twenty in 1653? Or is it in fact a late work like the one in Dublin?

Standing in front of a real Vermeer painting… what do you actually see and what do you fully appreciate? Do you see the technical wizardry in the way he used paint, in layer upon layer of glazes, with light bouncing between these layers? Did he use wet-in-wet, of wet-on-dry on a given part of the painting?

What can be recognized within the picture, what is the story, the psychology and which physical objects can be distinguished? What is the level of reality? How does this “photographic reality” relate to his list of private goods, which he left after his death in 1675? Many viewers have the idea that what Vermeer shows us are views of his own private home with marble floors and all. In fact, what he sometimes does is painting fancy rooms, upgrading the interior by filling it with luxury items not belonging to him: musical instruments, architectural details…

And what about he meaning of objects and scenes, according what we think now and according to available knowledge from current books from his day and age… what would the meaning be of the scenes depicted by Vermeer according to those contemporary sources?

Do you actually recognize the fullness of artistic choices and visual tricks he put in it to elevate a painting into a work of great art?

If you do, viewing can become a thrill of a lifetime.

If you find you are slightly lacking in all that, you may immerse yourself in serious art books and come up for air after two months of reading. You may also read the novel Girl with the Pearl Earring and not know how many factual misconceptions it contains. Alternatively you may click widely on Internet and see what you get in terms of knowledge, information, fancy theories and misinformation.

Finally you can request a specialist to stand next to you and see what knowledge and passion may yield. In order to really “get it”, it may take a specialist to learn how to fully see and appreciate. I am that kind of art historian.

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