Friday, November 6, 2015

Jan Vermeer

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Jan Vermeer
Jan Vermeer, 
Girl with a Pearl Earring c. 1665
Oil on canvas, 46,5 x 40 cm Mauritshuis, The Hague
Dutch, Baroque
Context and Iconography: "Provenance: The provenance of this painting cannot be traced back very far. All earlier documents or sales catalogs cited by Blankert are pure guesswork. Vermeer seems to have painted a number of "heads," and various cited 'tronie', as they were called, cannot be further identified. We only know for certain that the work was purchased at the beginning of 1882 for the collection A. A. des Tombe of The Hague for fl. 2.30 in the sale Braam of the same city. The des Tombe collection was a public collection and bequeathed the picture in 1903 to the Mauritshuis.
The girl is seen against a neutral, dark background, very nearly black, which establishes a powerful three-dimensionality of effect. Seen from the side, the girl is turning to gaze at us, and her lips are slightly parted, as if she were about to speak to us. It is an illusionist approach often adopted in Dutch art. She is inclining her head slightly to one side as if lost in thought, yet her gaze is keen.
 The girl is dressed in an unadorned, brownish-yellow jacket, and the shining white collar contrasts clearly against it. The blue turban represents a further contrast, while a lemon-yellow, veil-like cloth falls from its peak to her shoulders. Vermeer used plain, pure colours in this painting, limiting the range of tones. As a result, the number of sections of colour are small, and these are given depth and shadow by the use of varnish of the same colour."
" The girl's headdress has an exotic effect. Turbans were a popular fashionable accessory in Europe as early as the 15th century, as is shown by Jan van Eyck's probable self portrait, now in the National Gallery in London. During the wars against the Turks, the remote way of life and foreign dress of the "enemy of Christendom" proved to be very fascinating. A particularly noticeable feature of Vermeer's painting is the large, tear-shaped pearl hanging from the girl's ear; part of it has a golden sheen, and it stands out from the part of the neck which is in shadow.  In his Introduction to the Devout Life (1608), which was published in a Dutch translation in 1616, the mystic St Francis De Sales (1567-1622) wrote, "Both now and in the past it has been customary for women to hang pearls from their ears; as Pliny observed, they gain pleasure from the sensation of the swinging pearls touching them. But I know that God's friend, Isaac, sent earrings to chaste Rebecca as a first token of his love. This leads me to think that this jewel has a spiritual meaning, namely that the first part of the body that a man wants, and which a woman must loyally protect, is the ear; no word or sound should enter it other than the sweet sound of chaste words, which are the oriental pearls of the gospel."
 From this it is clear that the pearl in Vermeer's painting is a symbol of chastity. The oriental aspect, which is mentioned in the above extract, is further emphasized by the turban. The reference to Isaac and Rebecca suggests that this picture could have been painted on the occasion of this young woman's marriage. So to that extent it is a portrait.
 There is surely a similar explanation for the Head of a Girl dressed in a smart, grey dress (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). One must admire the artist's technique, which features application of the pigments in juxtaposition and melting, avoiding precise lines, and therefore blurring the contours of different colours so as to obtain effects that foreshadow those of the impressionists. The dark backgrounds that Vermeer chose in these two portraits enhance the plasticity of the models. "
Jan Vermeer, 
Girl with a Pearl Earring c. 1665
Oil on canvas, 46,5 x 40 cm Mauritshuis, The Hague
Dutch, Baroque
Michelangelo Meresi Caravaggio 
Boy Being Bitten by a Lizard c1600
Form: Jan Vermeer is at first glance very much a caravaggisti. His portrait demonstrates a good mastery of the human face as well as chiaroscuro and tenebrism.   Essentially there handling of value structure is the same. However, where Caravaggio might choose dull earth toned hues (colors), on closer inspection, you can see that Vermeer uses more intense and saturated tones.
In Caravaggio's painting he paints the flesh tones of the young man completely in browns and pinks.  Vermeer's flesh tones are much more colorful.

If you look closely at the core shadow of the girl's cheekbone and under her chin, you will see that Vermeer used some blue and grays in the shadows and that he also shows a bit of yellowish green on her jaw line which is the color of the light reflecting from her garment.
The use of colors that you wouldn't expect to find in things like flesh tones are referred to as non-local color
Vermeer looked very carefully at flesh tones, the colors of drapery, and the colors of walls and shadows and recorded in paint how color changes in response to the light that moves across it.


figure 1
This strip (fig 1) is of the blue cloth across the top of her head.  In figure 2,  I reduced the colors to blocks of tones to allow you to see the value shift as well as the change in the hues.  In figure 2, if you are sensitive to color you may notice that the first two of blocks look kind of greenish.  The third block looks almost like it's pure blue and that the blocks on the far right are brownish blue.  This is because color changes as it moves across an object. Usually as things are closer to a light source they are yellower of "warmer" in tone and as they move away they become cooler.

figure 2

figure 3
In figure 3 all the other colors have been dropped out of the band.  It only consists of blue with no grays or any yellow are red.  Figure 3 demonstrates a lack of cool to warm relationships.  A similar relationship of warm green to cool blue green also occurs on her blouse.


Vermeer Girl Reading  1652
Vermeer Geographer 1669

Jan Vermeer, Lady with Her Maidservant 
Holding a Letter c. 1667
Oil on canvas, 89,5 x 78,1 cm
Frick Collection, New York
Form:  The composition of Girl Reading, 1652, at first seems simple and symmetrical but Vermeer creates a great range of space and a visual flow through the image in which the eye moves in almost a zig zag pattern from foreground to background.  By arranging a curtain in the foreground that partially blocks the view the viewer is forced to pause.  This creates a momentary stage like trompe l’oeil effect.  In the middle ground he provides another visual pause with the table containing the fruits and the Persian carpet.  The curtain is then echoed in the curtain hanging above the window and then the diagonal of the perspectives of the window frame moves the eye back to the image of the woman.  The value structure initially is very Caravaggesque but on closer examination the range of value and the subtlety of the tonal transitions is a bit more complicate. The same is true of the color in this image.  The wall behind the woman is almost a rainbow of non-local colors that move from warm to cool and light to dark.
Virtuosic conceits such as the reflection in the glass and the lace on the drapery serve to heighten the immediacy and realism of the image.  This painting and Vermeer's style returns to some of the ideas that we explored in the Arnolfini portrait and in other Northern painters.
Iconography:  The subject matter of woman writing and reading letters became a popular one in the 17th century and is taken up in later British novels by Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters and in a racier way, in the French novel  Dangerous Liaisons, and in various Rococo paintings.  Some historians have postulated that in Vermeer's paintings, depictions of women reading and writing letters is an illustration of there world.  Woman were primarily confined to the internal domestic world and they were able to reach beyond it through letters.  Whereas depictions of men by Vermeer, show them with the trappings (such as globes and maps) and therefore in roles of the adventurer whose world is outside the home.  (see the Geographer)
These paintings are a kind of still life and portrait mix.  The use of the still life, such as the fresh fruit which were delicacies and the Persian carpet which was considered a luxury items which are considered vanitas which is a kind of memento mori.  According to the Brittanica a vanitas was,
(Latin: "vanity"), in art, an important type of still-life painting that flourished in the Netherlands in the early 17th century, consisting of collections of objects symbolic of the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures; a vanitas painting exhorts the viewer to consider mortality and to repent. The vanitas evolved from simple pictures of skulls and other symbols of death and transience frequently painted on the reverse sides of portraits during the late Renaissance. It had acquired an independent status by about 1550, and by 1620 had become a very popular genre. Its development until its decline in about 1650 was centred in Leiden, in the United Provinces of the Netherlands, an important seat of Calvinist learning, with its emphasis on man's sinfulness and its rigid moral code.
Context: Many historians believe that Vermeer himself lead a very insulated and domestic life and that many of his paintings reuse the same props and the same room.  This would account for his consistent use of the window on the left in many pictures and the reoccurrence of the same garments, chairs, carpets and still life objects and this is why we have so many other kind of paintings, such as the landscape below.

Jan Vermeer,  View of Delft 1659-60 
Oil on canvas, 98,5 x 117,5 cm Mauritshuis, The Hague
More views of this image
 "Topographic views of cities had become a tradition by the time Vermeer painted his famous canvas. Hendrik Vroom was the author of two such works depicting Delft, but they are more archaic because they followed the traditional panoramic approach that we remember from the two cityscapes by Hercules Seghers at the Berlin museum. The latter artist was one of the first to make use of the inverted Galilean telescope to transcribe the preliminary prints and their proportions (more than twice as high as wide) into the more conventional format of his paintings.  Vermeer executed his View of Delft on the spot, but the optical instrument pointed toward the city and providing the artist with the aspect translated onto canvas, which we admire for its conciseness and special structure, was not the camera obscura but the inverted telescope. It is only the latter that condenses the panoramic view of a given sector, diminishes the figures of the foreground to a smaller than normal magnification, emphasizes the foreground as we see it in the picture, and by the same token makes the remainder of the composition recede into space. The image thus obtained provides us with optical effects that, without being unique in Dutch seventeenth-century painting, as often claimed, convey a cityscape that is united in the composition and enveloped atmospherically into glowing light.
 We admire the town, but it is not a profile view of a township, but a painting, an idealized representation of Delft, with its main characteristics simplified and then cast into the framework of a harbour mirroring selected reflections in the water, and a rich, full sky with magnificent cloud formations looming over it. This is chronologically the last painting by Vermeer that was executed in rich, full pigmentation, with colour accents put in with a fully loaded brush. The artist outdid himself in a rendition of his hometown, which stands as a truly great interpretation of nature."
Quoted from

Camera Obscura

It was believed that Vermeer used the device of the camera obscura.  There are several theories concerning his use of the device.  The first is that he used the device as means to just look at a flattened two dimensional image.  According to the Brittanica, the camera obscura,
is the ancestor of the photographic camera. The Latin name means "dark chamber," and the earliest versions, dating to antiquity, consisted of small darkened rooms with light admitted through a single tiny hole. The result was that an inverted image of the outside scene was cast on the opposite wall, which was usually whitened. For centuries the technique was used for viewing eclipses of the Sun without endangering the eyes and, by the 16th century, as an aid to drawing; the subject was posed outside and the image reflected on a piece of drawing paper for the artist to trace. Portable versions were built, followed by smaller and even pocket models; the interior of the box was painted black and the image reflected by an angled mirror so that it could be viewed right side up. The introduction of a light-sensitive plate by J.-N. Niepce created photography.
And according to the Cape Argus "CAMERA OBSCURA MARRIES MAGIC AND SCIENCE" February 15, 2001
Knowledge of the phenomenon has been around for well over 2 000 years. In essence, a camera obscura uses the property of light by which, if a room or container is darkened and a small hole is made in one wall or side, an image from the outside will be projected on to the opposite inside surface, but upside down and inverted.
This ability of a small hole, or pinhole, to form an image was apparently known to Chinese scholars as early as the 4th century BC.
The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle also knew about the phenomenon and used it to observe solar eclipses.
Famous Renaissance artist and scholar Leonardo da Vinci wrote about it and produced a detailed account of the formation of images by the use of a small hole.
Later, this concept was modified by the use of lenses, so that a 360BA view could be obtained - by using a lens mounted above the camera and able to swivel in a complete circle - and into portable forms which eventually became pinhole cameras.
These instruments were often used by artists to aid perspective drawing, as the images are easily traced.
Modern photography was born when the small reflex box obscura was combined with Daguerre's invention in 1839.
Daguerre perfected the discovery of the effect of sunlight on silver nitrate to form photographic film and paper.
Copyright 2001 The Chronicle Publishing Co.
The San Francisco Chronicle
LENGTH: 386 words
HEADLINE: How Vermeer may have used a camera obscura
BYLINE: Reviewed by Kenneth Baker
BODY:Vermeer's Camera,Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces
By Philip Steadman
OXFORD; 207 PAGES; $25
Did the rise of photography prepare the way for Johannes Vermeer's rediscovery after two centuries of neglect?
More than that, Philip Steadman argues in his new book, "Vermeer's Camera," Vermeer (1632-1675) may have paved the way for photography itself by his use of a camera obscura.
Most art historians now believe that Vermeer used this optical convenience, but no one has taken more trouble to prove it than Steadman, a professor of urban studies at University College London. The principle of the camera obscura -- Latin for "dark chamber" -- had been known to European scholars since the early Renaissance. As to how Vermeer might have learned of it, Steadman must speculate.
Open a small hole in the wall of a dark room and an inverted image of the scene outside, given enough light, will appear on the opposite interior wall. Lenses and mirrors can right and focus a projected image. The same principles work in a portable "box camera," as in the cameras that launched photography.
Steadman's argument rests on the assumption that Vermeer made a number of his most famous paintings in the same room.
Working backward from the pictures' internal perspective, Steadman infers the dimensions of the room itself, including the position of a back wall that we, the painting's viewers, necessarily never see.
On that back wall, Steadman believes, Vermeer projected his camera obscura images of the room. He imagines Vermeer's camera as a curtained cubicle in which the painter could sit alone.
When Steadman calculated the sizes of those hypothetical projections, based on his reckoning of the paintings' viewpoints -- that is, the position of the camera obscura's lens -- they approximate those of Vermeer's canvases to a startling degree.
Steadman's account of his research can be hard to follow at points, but his argument seems decisive.
The camera obscura hypothesis, Steadman concludes, suits not only the look of Vermeer's mature paintings but also his situation as a man seeking peace in a financially pressed household of 11 children.
E-mail Chronicle Art Critic Kenneth Baker at

Jan Vermeer. The Lacemaker 1669-70
Oil on canvas transferred to panel, 2
3.9 x 20.5 cm 
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Dutch, Baroque Form:  This portrait is a very straightforward and naturalistic representation.  The composition is simple and there is no great range of space.  The value structure initially is very Caravaggesque but on closer examination the range of value and the subtlety of the tonal transitions is a bit more complicate. The same is true of the color in this image.  Vermeer does use some intense or saturated hues as well as a few non-local colors in the face and hands.
This image is one of those images that tends to support Vermeer's use of the camera obscura.  If you look closely at the detail below of the red lace you will find that Vermeer's lace becomes blobs of color rather than the red lines we would anticipate a painter rendering for individual strands.  If you look closely at the details of any photograph you will find that details become blurry in this same fashion.
Another facet of this detail also supports this conclusion.  If you look closely at the details of the strands you will also see that there are little disks or rings of color that seem to have no purpose for being there.  These disks are actually what one would see if you looked through a cheap or poorly made lens on a camera.  They are caused by some imperfections in the lens condensing or refracting light in an odd fashion.
Iconography:  Almost all of Vermeer's paintings are allegorical in some way.  As this the young woman makes lace her hands are propped up on a prayer book.  This juxtaposition of prayer book to her embroidery seems to pay homage to the cliché that "idle hands are the work of the devil."  This may be the case because there are many accounts of Dutch housewives obsessive creation of lace ornamentation,  however, this was not just to keep their hands busy.  Lacemaking was also a good source of extra income for many housewives.  If you look at almost any image from Rembrandt to Vermeer you will see that the clothing usually included an ornate lace collar and sometimes sleeves and other ornaments.  So lace is also a sign of wealth when it was worn. 


Color Temperature The terms "warm" and "cool" are used to express those hues that connote these respective qualities. In general, reds, oranges, and yellows "feel" warm, while blues, greens, and purples "feel" cool. Distinctions between warm and cool colors can be very appear either warmer or cooler depending upon the slight influence of red or blue. The same applies to gray and black (fig.12).

color wheel
The wheel of color are helpful tool that show the basic organization and interrelationships of colors. It is also used as a tool for color selection. This color wheel provides basic color terminology that anyone working with type and color should be completely familiar with. Many color wheel models exist, and some are quite complex. Below are color wheel that contains 12 basic colors (fig.6). It is conceivable for a wheel to consist of an infinite number of variations, too subtle for the human eye to discern. Contained within the circle of color is a circle of black, which is obtained by mixing together all of the surrounding colors. Though this color wheel consist of only 12 colors, it is the root of all colors, a pure statement of chromatic harmony, and a fountain of imagination and emotion are important.

Hue Hue is simply another name for color. The pure hues are identified by familiar names such as red, violet, green, purple, yellow. In the world of commercial products and pigments, hues have been given thousands of names. Woodland Green, Sienna, Apache Red etc. may evoke romantic and exotic thoughts, but these names, aside from their marketing value, have little to do with the composition of the colors they represent. In reality, few legitimate names exist for hues. The basic 12 color-wheel pictured on the opposite page features the primary hues red, yellow and blue; the secondary hues orange, green, and violet; and the six tertiary hues red-orange, orange-yellow, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet (fig.9). Primaries are considered absolute colors and cannot be created by mixing other colors together. However, mixing together the primaries color into various combinations creates an infinite number of colors.

fig.9 mo.ri n, pl memento mori [L, remember that you must die] (1596): a reminder of mortality; esp: death's-head n, pl -tos or -toes [ME, fr. L, remember, imper. of meminisse to remember; akin to L ment-, mens mind--more at mind] (1580): something that serves to warn or remind; also: souvenir
non-local colorThe use of colors that you wouldn't expect to find in things like fleshtones are referred to as non-local color.
prov.e.nance n [F, fr. provenir to come forth, originate, fr. L provenire, fr. pro- forth + venire to come--more at pro-, come] (1785) 1: origin, source 2: the history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature
It also called chroma or intensity, saturation refers to the brightness of a hue. The highest saturation occurs in colors that are pure and unmixed. Any color mixture will diminish intensity. However, adding white, gray, black, or a complementary color most radically compromises intensity (fig.10). Variations of a single hue dulled in intensity by different amounts of an added complement are often referred to as tones. When complementary colors are placed in close proximity, the intensity of each is increased. This vibrant condition is referred to as simultaneous contrast (fig.11).


trompe l’oeil - (French: "deceive the eye"), in painting, the representation of an object with such verisimilitude as to deceive the viewer concerning the material reality of the object. This idea appealed to the ancient Greeks who were newly emancipated from the conventional stylizations of earlier art. Zeuxis, for example, reportedly painted such realistic grapes that birds tried to eat them. The technique was also popular with Roman muralists. Although trompe l’oeil never achieved the status of a major artistic aim, from the early Renaissance on, European painters occasionally fostered illusionism by painting false frames out of which the contents of a still life or portrait appeared to spill, or by creating window-like images suggesting actual openings in the wall or ceiling. (Brittanica)
Value Structure
Is the lightness or darkness of a color or shade.  Chiaroscuro and tenebrism both employ the use quick shifts of light and dark.
Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. It is a variable that can substantially alter a color's appearance, and as we will see later, it is also an important factor in achieving legibility with type and color. A hue changes in value when either white or black are added to it. A color with added white is called a tint (fig.7) ; a color with added black is called a shade (fig.8). Generally speaking, pure hues that are normally light in value (yellow, orange, green) make the best tints, white pure hues that are normally dark in value (red, blue, violet) make the most desirable shades. The palettes colors below shoes a spectrum of tints and shades based on the hues from the colors clearly shows that changes in value greatly expand color possibilities.


vanitas (Latin: "vanity"), in art, an important type of still-life painting that flourished in the Netherlands in the early 17th century, consisting of collections of objects symbolic of the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures; a vanitas painting exhorts the viewer to consider mortality and to repent. The vanitas evolved from simple pictures of skulls and other symbols of death and transience frequently painted on the reverse sides of portraits during the late Renaissance. It had acquired an independent status by about 1550, and by 1620 had become a very popular genre. Its development until its decline in about 1650 was centred in Leiden, in the United Provinces of the Netherlands, an important seat of Calvinist learning, with its emphasis on man's sinfulness and its rigid moral code. (Brittanica Encyclopedia)