Friday, October 19, 2012

Celebrating the Light of Vermeer

If I was to make a list of wonderful small museums well worth your time, I would put Vermeer Centrum in Delft (or Vermeer Center) at the top of the list.
To call it a museum is an overstatement, because "museum" implies you might actually see some original Vermeer paintings there.

You won't. You'll see reproductions of every painting he did, some great multimedia presentations and some excellent and very accessible analytic interpretations of his work.
If you're not a Vermeer fan, a quick overview. Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter who specialized in scenes of middle class life (although he also did some landscape work.As artists go, he produced relatively few paintings, and was in debt at his death in 1675.

He lived in Delft and if anything seems particularly striking about a Vermeer painting it is the color and light.
He mixed his own colors himself from items that came from the apothecary.
A splendid display at the Center outlines the colors he used and how they were mixed.
A particular favorite combination of colors were blue and yellow, which are often seen in his paintings. As an artist, this area was of particular interest to me. 
A personal anecdote -- an old Army buddy of my father was an artist and he studied how the old masters mixed their materials and tried to paint in the same ways. He did a pretty darned good forgery of The Girl with the Pearl Earring, which he gave my parents long ago. It now hangs in my guest room.

After Vermeer's death, his work went out of style and wasn't rediscovered until the 1800s. He is now considered one of the great painters of the Dutch Golden Age, with work in many museums, including the Rijksmuseum, the Louvre and the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The Center focuses in part on his family life -- his wife, Catherine (sometimes listed as Catharina), gave him 14 children. He married into money and his mother-in-law, Marina Thins, was fairly aggressive in her support of his art. It is presumed that it was she who insisted he convert to Catholocism. Fourteen children followed.
The family moved in with Maria Thins. The house is now a private residence, but is still standing on Oude Langendijk in Delft. His paintings were done in this house.
If you are familiar with his work, you'll note that there are many portraits and scenes of daily life. The Vermeer Center has copies of all his works and an area that simulates his area where subjects would pose.
Using a camera obscura (it is not certain whether Vermeer actually used this object or not), you can pose and see how the light might affect a painting.
Here's a slightly different view of the same image.
 It was fun to put yourself in the picture! I'd love to take that light home with me every day!
When you see his paintings in a museum, it might be surprising how small they are. Even framed, they were rarely larger than 20x30 and many were much smaller.

But, as the exhibits show, they were filled with symbolism. This one shows how emblems are used to convey certain meanings relevant for the time. In this case, the messages pertain to love. (Click to see full size and read the description.)
For example, this display talks about unattainable love.
The painting contains various clues indicating that the subject is reading a love letter. 
Musical instruments symbolize sensual love, the broom symbolizes living together unmarried and there are indications in the paintings on the wall that are symbols of love. According to the display, the ship refers to the absence of a traveler and the man on land is walking away on a sandy path, both unreachable.

Much is also made of his use of perspective. This drawing explained how he ued angular perspective with two vanishing points instead of one. Even the way he creates the tiled floor adds to the dimension.
(The display also noted that in Vermeer's time, perspective was known as "see-through skill" -- you have to be able to see through walls and the frame of the painting to be able to use it. He and his contemporaries used lengths of string and chalk as tool to help them "see through."

Extra Treats!

For more on the book and film "Girl with the Pearl Earring," please visit this splendid post on Arti's blog.

For more on Delft, including some lovely videos about Vermeer Center and the town, check out this link.

A Personal Note

I'm sorry I've not been around to more of you lately, but I will catch up. Rick has been in the hospital, I haven't been at my best, work is crazy. I SO appreciate your visits and your hanging in there with me. It means more than you know.


Introverted Art said...

I love looking at the pigments used to create color, paints... how they were able to create such paintings with the material available at the time still baffles me. The Girl with a Pearl Earring is an amazing piece of art and your dad's buddy "forgery" a good rendition of the original.

Janet said...

I was reading along enjoying this post and then I came to the end and learned that Rick has been in the hospital! I hope it isn't anything serious. My thoughts are with you both.

Jeanie said...

Very interesting information about the artist. It was especially interesting to look at the paintings with the information that he mixed the colors himself.
I hope things are okay with Rick by now. Please remember to take care of yourself while you are taking care of him.

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Good evening Jeanie,
Thank you for this beautiful tour.
I just love the paintings.
I will keep Rick and you in my prayers.
Take care,

~*~Patty S said...

Sending every good and special wish for Rick's speedy recovery. You take care too Jeanie!

This was such an informative post.
My father did needlepoint and we have one he did of Vermeer's Milkmaid, it is really beautiful and a special treasure.

Hope you have a good weekend!

Joanne Huffman said...

What a great idea for a museum. And, I love that you can put yourself into a painting.

Arti said...

Delft is now a must-see for me, definitely. What an interesting place this museum is, albeit with no real painting. But the interactive idea is good, putting yourself in Vermeer's canvas... what an ingenious concept! You look good in a Vermeer. And, I've read that his colour palette inspired Van Gogh to use blue and yellow, a 'signature' in many of his paintings.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Jeanie, I'm so sorry to hear that Rick is in the hospital! I hope he's doing well and will be better very soon. I know it's so hard -- when you're feeling stressed and worried -- to keep up with all the blog activity. Please know you're in my thoughts.

Bella Rum said...

Beautiful post. Blue and yellow... sky and sun.

Best wishes for Rick's speedy recovery. Take care.

Shane Pollard said...

Oh no Jeanie - my very best wishes to Rick, let us know how he is.

I fell in love with Vermeer in "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" - who doesn't fall in love with Colin Firth!!!
I also loved the book and must read it again - it was an insight into life in Europe in the 17th century, I found it totally fascinating.

It looks like a very interesting museum as you say.
A wonderful post thank you dear Jeanie.

Take care
Shane ♥

shoreacres said...

I hope by now Rick is well on his way to recovery. So many people I know are dealing with this and that, and some others have landed in the hospital. It's always nerve-wracking.

I really like the fact that this isn't a "museum" in the usual sense. It sounds as though they've done a marvelous job with explanatory exhibits. I'd especially be interested in the paints - how they were compounded and mixed. I know absolutely nothing about that!

The broom was interesting, too. "Jumping the broom" has been used as a symbol of marriage in a variety of cultures, including English, Welsh and Gypsy. I wonder if that's how Vermeer picked it up?

Rosa said...

Love all your beautiful photos. Absolutely brilliant. Am about ready for a Euro trip!!!

joyce said...

Het melkmeisje....the Milk Maid, (the first one you included) is one of his works that has special meaning for me.
Hope it's nothing to serious with Rick....too much rich dutch food?

Privet and Holly said...

How blessed you were
to visit that wonderful
museum. I'm a big
Vermeer fan, so know
I would love it. I'm so
sorry to hear your hubby
is in hospital. Sending
hugs and prayers your
way that he has a speedy

xo Suzanne

Beth M. said...

Caravaggio always comes to mind when I think about his inventive use of light in scenes where so much of the story's religiosity could be revealed with his "light". Sometimes when I see Vermeer's excellent use of "light", I find myself associating the ordinary people in each work with something greater, something more universal, something more awe-inspiring. And then I tend to thank Caravaggio for sharing his genius!

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Sorry to read that Rick is in the Hospital. I hope all will be well, very soon!
Very interesting post, my dear...Vermeer---Such a glorious painter...! And as always your pictures enrich everything you are writing about. Fascinating Museum!

Tracy said...

Oh, Jeanie... Is Rick OK?! I hope everything's OK. Do let us know how things go. I pray he is well... And that you are too! :o) This Vermeer post was just the best. I could just cry... Vermeer has long been one of my very favorite painters. So so see your experience visiting this pace wit his works just amazes me. I loved seeing the display with paint pigments, etc. Vermeer's way with light was just magic. There were stories in his paintings, so subtle, but so powerful.Thank you for this, Jeanie! :o) ((LOVE & HUGS))

Paulita said...

So sorry about Rick's health problems. Hope he is better soon. I loved this post. Seeing the process of the paintings is amazing.
I've started a new France meme on Mondays. I hope you'll come play along. Here's My Dreaming of France meme

Lilbitbrit said...

I once sewed a Vemeer crewel piece, and it took a lot of time. So became very familiar with the shading.

Interesting post.

Lil Bit Brit

Lilbitbrit said...

Sorry Vermeer.


Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Dear Jeanie,
Thank you so much for taking time out to come visit.. I am glad to hear that Rick is home.. I hope is recovery is as swift as possible. I will keep you both in my prayers.

Jenny Woolf said...

I am really sorry Rick has been at the hospital, and I do hope he is better soon.

Thank you for posting this - it sounds really unusual. I suppose it must be very hard to have a "proper" museum of Vermeer because he did produce so few paintings, so there couldn't be much of a display. How interesting and creative to pursue the idea of explaining Vermeer. I have never been to Delft, although I've often been really near it, so looks as if I will have to make the effort next time I am in the vicinity.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

What a unique "museum". I am glad you got a chance to take that in. I love the portrait of the girl w/ the Pearl Earring - and I also loved that book. I have not seen the movie though so may need to check that out some day...

Marilyn Miller said...

Love what you shared here about Vermeer. That light is definitely perfection. 14 children, oh that poor mother. She must have always been pregnant.

Take care and glad Rick is healing.

The Artful Diva said...

Did you read "The Girl with the Pearl Earring". I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Hello Jeanie,
Thank you so much for visiting the mouse ballet.. I am so happy you enjoyed it. Your kind words are like music to my heart..
I am honored that you would even consider me to be qualified to give lessons.. THANKS! But really, it is not a difficult art.
Patience is good to have.. I actually taught myself... It is time consuming but relaxing... I just watched a few how to videos on the basics online and went from there.
Just type in utube needle felting.
The supplies are not expensive.. You just need a large piece of foam to work on, the needles and wool, which can be purchased on Etsy and ebay...
You should try it.. I think you would enjoy.
Have a great day

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