Posts Tagged ‘Virtual Vermeer’

“Is Google Art Project second-rate?” (yes)

February 11th, 2011

I’m not losing much sleep  over Google’s Art Project virtual tours and neither is Sebastian Smee at the Boston GlobeIs Google Art Project second-rate?

Compare Synthescape‘s virtual tour of the Couldtard Gallery to any on Google’s overblown shows. Some people actually get things right.

Google “Art”?

February 3rd, 2011

Google Art: Although the scans of the single paintings are admirable and perhaps even useful, the museum tours leave much, too much to desire. The Frick is especially low quality and captures literally nothing of atmosphere that makes this museum unique.  I suppose it’s all done efficiently as possible, but still, one could reasonably expect more from Google. Wheeling around a hi-tech camera cart up and down the halls does not guarantee results no matter how much the devise costs and even if your name is Google. Technology must be used sensibly or otherwise we just get just one more silly toy.  D- for effort, there are other realities outside Silicon Valley.

Online: The Montias Database of 17th-Century Dutch Art Inventories

March 7th, 2010

John Michael Montias, the American economist, can be credited to have “completed” Vermeer’s portrait after analyzing every shred of evidence directly concerning the Delft master and any person who in one way or another came into contact with him. He worked with passion and discovered new, important documents which have lead to a serious revision of the artist’s life, art and dealings with his principle patron, Pieter van Ruijven. A Delft archivist raccounts that Montias was often the very first to enter and the last to leave the archive’s premises. The fascinating results of his study can be read in Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History (Princeton University Press, 1989).

Very recently, the Frick Library has provided an invaluable internet interface with the database compiled Montias during his studies.

from the Frick website:

The Montias database, compiled by late Yale University Professor John Michael Montias, contains information from 1,280 inventories of goods (paintings, prints, sculpture, furniture, etc.) owned by people living in 17th century Amsterdam. Drawn from the Gemeentearchief (now known as the Stadsarchief), the actual dates of the inventories range from 1597-1681. Nearly half of the inventories were made by the Orphan Chamber for auction purposes, while almost as many were notarial death inventories for estate purposes. The remainder were bankruptcy inventories. The database includes detailed information on the 51,071 individual works of art listed in the inventories. Searches may be performed on specific artists, types of objects (painting, prints, drawings), subject matter etc. There is also extensive information on the owners, as well as on buyers and prices paid when the goods were actually in a sale. While not a complete record of all inventories in Amsterdam during this time period, the database contains a wealth of information that can elucidate patterns of buying, selling, inventorying and collecting art in Holland during the Dutch Golden Age.

To whom it may concern

January 10th, 2010

My Essential Vermeer website gets a pretty lot of traffic, naturally, considering it is dedicated to a single fine artist. It is sobering, but not altogether surprising, to know that any second-tier Hollywood actress, NBA player or recent video game generates infinitely more web traffic than Vermeer, Rembrandt  and  Leonardo da Vinci combined.

To whom it may concern, below is a breakdown of all 37 paintings by Vermeer with the number of page views during December, a slow month. I doubt you could call it a popularity contest in the strictest sense; many people come to study the paintings they need to understand rather than the ones they love.

However, most works are there where I would have expected.  Girl with a Pearl Earring has simply had too much good press not to be number one. The Milkmaid, as it has done for more than 300 years, marvels anyone who has ever seen it whether one knows it is a Vermeer or not.  The Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window comes in a comfortable third perhaps more for its captivating  image than for the way it is painted. Odd I would say, is the appearance of the Frick Mistress and Maid near the top. Vermeer specialists rarely cast more than a sidelong glance at it because, perhaps, from an iconographical standpoint, there is not a real lot to talk about.

Frankly, I am a bit surprised that the mesmerizing Woman in Blue Reading a Letter and iconic Little Street are stuck midway down the list. As expected, the two London virginal pictures, much fussed over by critics, lack popular appeal. The Lacemaker, once the artist’s most recognizable image, has fallen from the collective conscience down to 26. Even the newly attributed  and still unfamiliar A Young Woman Seated at the Virginal , now in a New York Private collection, places a bit higher.

I dutifully accept popular verdict  except for the Woman with a Lute, almost last. While I admit the canvas seriously lacks nuance (due its near disastrous state of conservation), it nonetheless overwhelms me every I have the privilege of seeing it again. I find the unspeakable delicacy of the lute player  ever more touching each time I find her still tucked away, even pampered, within  one of Vermeer’s boldest compositions.

  1. Girl with a Pearl Earring  – 3,892
  2. The Milkmaid – 2,481
  3. Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window  –  2,058
  4. Girl with a Wine Glass – 1,623
  5. Mistress and Maid – 1,589
  6. Woman with a Pearl Necklace – 1,524
  7. The Astronomer – 1,513
  8. Woman with a Water Pitcher – 1,477
  9. The Lover Letter – 1,473
  10. A Lady Writing – 1,465
  11. The Art of Painting – 1,459
  12. The Geographer – 1,410
  13. The Concert – 1,377
  14. View of Delft – 1,331
  15. Officer and Laughing Girl – 1,326
  16. St Praxedis – 1,316
  17. Woman in Blue Reading a Letter – 1,301
  18. The Procuress – 1,276
  19. The Little Street – 1,253
  20. Girl with a Red Hat – 1,181
  21. The Music Lesson  – 1,172
  22. Diana and her Companions  – 1,158
  23. A Young Woman Seated at the Virginal – 1,131
  24. Girl Interrupted in her Music – 1,131
  25. Woman Holding a Balance – 1,121
  26. The Lacemaker – 1,041
  27. Christ in the House of Martha and Mary – 1,015
  28. Allegory of Faith – 960
  29. Lady Wring a Letter with her Maid – 958
  30. Guitar Player – 955
  31. Maid Asleep – 924
  32. A Lady Standing at the Virginals – 890
  33. A Lady Seated at the Virginals – 918
  34. Study of a Young Woman – 913
  35. Woman with a Lute  – 832
  36. Girl with a Flute – 798
  37. The Glass of Wine – 788

Vermeer under reconstruction

November 26th, 2009

My good friend Adelheid  kindly keeps me up-to-date on what is going on in Northern Europe. It seems that heavy-weight museums have recently developed a taste for physically reconstructing Vermeer’s paintings in order to draw museum-goers closer to his masterpieces (see the reconstruction of Vermeer’s Art of Painting entry below). As a painter, I whole-heartedly approve this kind of display since those who look at pictures rarely understand the complexeties making a meaningful, painted compositions from real life situation.

Here’s the news.

On 24th November, the so-called “experiment-room,” a life-size, 1:1 reconstruction of the scene in Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, was presented to the public at the Labortheater of the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. Academy students and teachers developed and realized the exact replica which will later become the central part of the extensive educational program for the upcoming The Early Vermeer exhibition in its Dresden venue.

By stepping into the reconstructed room, visitors will be able to grasp more concretely Vermeer’s painting process, the manner in which employed perspective, light and shadow, whether he used a camera obscura, and above all, the his unsurpassed sense of composition.

Not only were the objects now visible in the painting faithfully replicated, but those which Vermeer had later overpainted such as a crystal goblet and a large painting of a Cupid. Thus, with a bit of imagination one can directly experience Vermeer’s “art of omitting” which transformed a somewhat theatrical scene into a more intimate one focused on the silent act reading of a letter a love letter.

The girl’s smart yellow jacket (none have survived) was recreated according to scientific research as a diploma project by students of  theatrical costume design department. On special occasions a young female student will model as the reading-girl in the scene. Otherwise life-size figure  made specifically by the students will stand in for the live model.

for an image and a short video (German text) see:

New National Gallery website re-make

June 28th, 2009

After years of stagnation, the London National Gallery has updated its internet presence.

For Vermeer enthusiasts, the re-do offers an improved zoom feature of both the Lady Seated at the Virginals and the Lady Standing at the Virginals, two late works which can be easily overlooked by newcomers.

Other than the restrained graphic re-make, someone at the National Gallery put his hand on his heart and eliminated the hideous watermarks which once “graced” these previous zoom features. If you are partial to detail (like myself) or a painter (like myself), these images provide both food for the eye and mind.

Although politics evidently constrain the gallery staff to aim their sites on the “lower” tier of museum goers (“Plan your visit here,” “Take part as a family,” “Subscribe to out Podcast link” links strategically infest the site), the textual information sorely disappoints. Do not the two ladies merit more than five bland paragraphs? Frankly, my 10-year web experience has taught me to never underestimate the inquisitiveness or intellect of the those who wish to warm up to the masterpieces for the first time. Both of these unobtrusive Vermeers have some pretty compelling stories to tell if one willing to scratch under the surface a bit.

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:

Googling at the Prado

January 20th, 2009

With the usual hoopla Google has launched a virtual tour of the Prado Museum in Madrid that enables visitors to closely examine 14 of its masterpieces on their computers monitors. A Google spokesman said: “The paintings have been photographed in very high resolution and contain as many as 14,000 million pixels (14 gigapixels).

“With this high level resolution you are able to see fine details such as the tiny bee on a flower in The Three Graces (by Rubens), delicate tears on the faces of the figures in The Descent from the Cross (by Roger van der Weyden) and complex figures in The Garden of Earthly Delights (by Bosch).”

While broadening the access to digital images of art works is welcomed news, it remains to be seen what real need this initiative may ultimately fulfill. What is Google’s commitment to art other than drumming up one-time novel seekers and sprinkling their brand with a bit of highbrow culture? Personal experience has shown me that museum goers rarely spend more than a few seconds per painting as they “do” the gallery and with special exhibitions it is not uncommon that visitors spend more time reading the accompanying brochure than looking at the objects on display.