Vermeer going #1

April 17th, 2013
glare

Although most would fault me for the dreadful photograph to the left, it does have the merit of conveying how if often feels to view a Vermeer at a blockbuster exhibition.

As I had promised in a post below to express some of my Vermeer-going experiences, here is one that deals with a Vermeer exhibition that took place a 35-minute walk from my house here in Rome last year. Perhaps a bit whiny for positivists (those who believe anything that promotes art is good…BTW, I don’t) but it is nonetheless an experience that many of us have shared at blockbuster exhibitions.

Considering their Girl with a Wineglass of great value, the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum demanded it be enclosed in an acclimatized case during its Rome sojourn. This meant that the thick protective glass of the box and the glass of the picture’s frame obediently reflected an “EXIT” sign, various overhead spotlights and a nearby gilt-framed De Hooch. There was really no way of eliminating the reflections unless once one stood obliquely to the side of the picture and danced a bit from left to right, the few times room for maneuvering was available.

The picture was so distant and so dimly lit that I was unable to show (off) to a fellow exhibition goer that in the miraculously depicted stained-glass window motif, Vermeer had represented a figure holding a bridle which, according to art historians, is the picture’s iconographical key. Although iconography is not a language that fires my imagination, the three curious ducks under the bridle do but were invisible as well. I shall spare you descriptions of the dots, dashes and flicks Vermeer’s majestic brushing that were impossible to make out.

Having been strapped before an easel and painted  for more than four decades, I feel safe to say that I can usually tell the difference between a painting and a reproduction. And yet, had I not knelt down in front of the Vermeer and seen the glare reveal the irregularities of the canvas weave near the borders of the painting, I would not have sworn that the it was the real Vermeer rather than a state-of-the-art preproduction. At this point, it does not seen whiny to ask why tens thousands of dollars for insurance should be spent and a pictures should undergoe travel risks in order to  exhibit  a picture that people can’t really see.

Mind you, the Anton Ulrich has every  right to protect their painting as they see fit, but paintings are usually better seen than taken on faith.

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