artist: Andrea del Sarto
museum: Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland
get the zoom: http://www.clevelandart.org/explore/artistwork.asp?searchText=del+sarto&ctl00%24ctl00%24ctrlHeader%24btnSearch=go&tab=1&recNo=0&woRecNo=1
what it’s about: For a painter who wishes to comprehend the technique of Vermeer, the best imaginable venue would be to spend a day, even an hour, watching him paint.
The next best thing, this one at least theoretically possible, would be to be able study a half-finished work by Vermeer, say somewhere between the underpainting and the final working-up stages. No luck here either.
In fact, to think of it, we rarely come across incomplete paintings in any museums by any author or from any age, not because they are down on the gallery racks out of view, but because very few have survived. Most often, when a painter died or an incomplete work surfaced, either an apprentice or a competent colleague was called in to make it salable. Authorship, even in the case of the most renowned masters, did not have the same aura as it does today.
The third best solution would be able to study an unfinished 17th-century canvas by a competent artist. Wish granted. And not only is there such a picture, it’s viewable in an excellent Zoom on the net. To be frank, there is too much to learn just by looking, so get clicking.
If you are a painter and you need background information to make sense of Del Sarto’s canvas, my book How to Paint Your Own Vermeer on Vermeer’s methods and materials covers quite a bit of common 17th-century studio practices. If you are not a painter and would like to delve in to some of the mysteries of the masters’ workshop, you get the same information in lay terms in my Looking over Vermeer’s Shoulder.