A painter of still life and landscape shares her theories and re-creations of Johannes Vermeer’s artistic methods, primarily whether or not he used a camera obscura.
Vermeer’s paintings have been meticulously studied and analyzed with inconclusive results; facts about Vermeer the man are equally elusive. The lack of information about the man of Delft who lived in his mother-in-law’s house with his wife and more than a dozen children might indicate a man of little import. However, his work was appreciated during his (relatively short) life; only hard economic times dried up his customer base. Any artist will love this book because it shows that art is not just the process of putting paint on a surface. Vermeer used many steps to ready his canvas, from hemming the linen to sizing, stretching, smoothing, and priming, followed by a three-month drying period before creating an image. Grinding paints from natural materials and making only enough for a day’s painting before they dried up further elongated the process. The author is justifiably enthralled with Vermeer’s ability to capture light, how he draws us in to the action, as well as his perfection of composition. Most curiously, there appears to be no drawing in his paintings, only his tonal plan that constituted the “inventing” of the subject. Thus, the possibility of Vermeer using a lens or a camera obscura develops. The projected image would have been perfect to create the tonal makeup that every picture requires. Jelley makes a convincing case that this was only the first step in his creation, and his glazing of multiple colors atop the tonal invention makes perfect sense. The debate will continue, but the more we learn of Vermeer’s masterful use of color and light, the more we can love them.
Featuring wonderful illustrations, engaging prose, and a deep knowledge of the craft, this is a study in art history and methodology to delight an audience beyond just visual artists.