Archive for March, 2009

An iPhoned Vermeer

March 29th, 2009

One of the paybacks of 9+ years of making the Essential Vermeer website is the constant influx of correspondence. Scholars and specialists inform me of their thoughts and writings, museums directors about their exhibitions and web initiatives. I receive suggestions, constructive criticism, books, articles and even proposals for collaboration from all over the globe.

Alongside public figures, there are people whose names I did not know who generously express their opinions and raise questions on about every facet of Vermeer and web publishing one could imagine. They send me images of their own paintings or a dusty canvas found in the attic hoping it’s  a Vermeer, posters, postcards, poetry and every now and then, a donation to keep the site going and growing.

The other day, a friend of the Essential Vermeer, Drew, established an absolute first.  After some email correspondence about his Vermeer travels and the newly attributed Young Woman Seated at a Virginal which just popped up at the MET, Drew went to view the work directly. He  pulled out his iPhone, snapped a digital photo and emailed it to me as he was standing in front of the painting.

Sometimes I wonder.

What would Vermeer have said about someone blasting an iPhone image of his painting instantaneously from one part of the globe to another he had never met? How would have he reacted if he new some of his 36 surviving works fly on jumbo-jets over oceans, mountain ranges and the Siberian tundra to be ogled by thousands of viewers who spend hours in line at exhibitions dedicated to his art in places called museums?  What would have he though if he could thumb through the lavish, band-new Vermeer: The Complete Paintings written by Vermeer specialist Walter Liedtke?

In my opinion Vermeer would have taken in all the technology with an wide, wide grin.  He would have loved the stuff. And he would have been delighted although sometimes puzzled at what has been written about himself and his work. Perhaps he would have needed a bit more time to comprehend how many people on the earth are knit together by his tiny canvases.

A not-very-special special and a digital gem

March 20th, 2009

The Rijksmuseum has developed a webspecial to flank their temporary exhibition of Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance normally housed at the NGA.  It briefly investigates 3 aspects of Vermeer’s painting with comparative details of the Milkmaid (Rijksmuseum), Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (Rijksmuseum) and the Woman Holding a Balance (NGA). This special is nothing special, mind you, even though it might  interest those who tip their  toes into the water for the first time.

Lest one be disappointed at a missed chance (the code and text of the project must not have required more than a few hours to put together) visitors should remember that the Rijksmuseum offers a great deal when compared with other museums which house Vermeer paintings, especially, if you know where to dig. The quality digital scans of the museums’s holdings plus the depth of collection information can be daunting. Compare for example, the digital scans of the two Vermeers in the London National Gallery which cannot be downloaded by the viewer and bear unsightly watermarks capable of souring even the staunchest Vermeer devotee.

No doubt, the best part of this special are the downloadable images readily accessible on the press release page. In particular, the hi-resolution image Woman Holding a Balance is so accurate in color and exposition that it easily betters any printed image I have ever seen, a digital gem of sorts. The shot of the exhibition installation with the Milkmaid, Woman Holding a Balance and Woman in Blue Reading a Letter is moving (see  image above photo: Jeroen Swolfs) if one recalls the time the Milkmaid and Woman Holding a Balance were hung together in Amsterdam in 1696 (see the post on the exhibition below).

Following the Rijksmuseum’s policy, the downloads are free for everyone and require no sworn oaths or bureaucratic sign-ups. Their heart is in the right place.


press release and images of the paintings on display:

To see something new, go back to the sources

March 17th, 2009

Essential Vermeer interview with Jonathan Lopez, author of the The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren.

Han van Meegeren, the man who made Vermeers for decades, is justifiably the most written-about forger of all times. The most recent and original book on the topic is written by New York art historian Jonathan Lopez. Lopez casts new light on an old story by  fine tuning the results of years of patient research.

Two key points of the book are Van Meegeren’s hitherto underplayed Nazi sympathies and the mind set which allowed the greatest forger of all times to dupe the leading art specialists of his time. In order to explain the chasm between today’s unanimous view of Van Meegeren’s fakes as unsightly imitations and their original enthusiastic reception as true masterworks by Vermeer, Lopez reveals that “a fake doesn’t necessarily succeed or fail according to the fidelity with which it replicates the distant past but on the basis of its power to sway the contemporary mind.”

Jonathan opened up to an interview in which he explains what went into the book’s making and some fascinating side thoughts on Van Meegeren the man, whose brilliant darkness is probably better understood by Lopez than anyone else.

Vermeer’s hat

March 7th, 2009

If you feel comfortable with your knowledge of Vermeer, Canadian historian of China Timothy Brook provides a new  lens for examining the artist’s work from a different point of view: Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World (2007).

Here’s my interview with the author:

and very worthwhile podscast:

“For those who think they have mastered all the ins and outs of the seventeenth century Netherlands and particularly the country portrayed by the marvelously stay-at-home Dutch painters, Timothy Brook’s fine book provides a shock. By way of Vermeer’s pictures, he takes us through doorways into a suddenly wider universe, in which tobacco, slaves, spices, beaver pelts, China bowls, and South American silver are wrenching together hitherto well-insulated peoples. We hear behind the willow-pattern calm the crash of waves and cannon. A common humanity with a shared history comes about, with handshakes and treaties, shipwrecks and massacres, as trade expands and the world shrinks.”

Anthony Bailey, author of  Vermeer:  A View of Delft.

Taking a stroll in 17th-c. Netherlands

March 3rd, 2009

Writer, art historian and friend of the Flying Fox, Jonathan Lopez, wrote in recently…


Dear Jonathan,

Flying Fox readers might like to know that they can be transported back to 17th-century Holland by visiting a terrific show of Dutch cityscapes now up at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It contains wonderful town views of Amsterdam, Haarlem, Delft, Dordrecht, The Hague—all of the major Dutch cities—created just as the Netherlands was entering its golden age of prosperity after gaining independence from Spain.

Vermeer aficionados should be aware that the View of Delft, which was included in the version of this show at the Mauritshuis, is unfortunately not in Washington, as the picture is too delicate to travel. But there’s plenty of Delft to see in works by De Hooch, Steen, Vroom, and others. There’s even an amazing Vosmaer showing the explosion of the Delft powder magazine that claimed the life of Vermeer’s presumed teacher Carel Fabritius. (There’s also a very good Fabritius view of Delft in the show too.)

If anybody is interested in learning more, I have a full review of the exhibition in the current issue of Apollo but I really can’t recommend this show highly enough. It’s visually stunning and definitely worth a visit to Washington. It remains on view until the third of May.

All best,
Jonathan Lopez