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Essential Vermeer Glossary of Art-Related Terms J - P

This glossary contains a number of recurrent terms found on the present site which may not be clear to all readers, especially when employed within the context of an art historical discussion. Some terms, signaled by an icon of the Vermeer's monogram, are examined as they relate specifically to Vermeer's art. Each of the four sections of the glossary can be accessed from the menu top located on the top of the page..

The terms in this glossary are cross-linked or externally linked only the first time they appear in the same entry.

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder

Enhanced by the author's dual expertise as both a seasoned painter and a renowned authority on Vermeer, Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder offers an in-depth exploration of the artistic techniques and practices that elevated Vermeer to legendary status in the art world. The book meticulously delves into every aspect of 17th-century painting, from the initial canvas preparation to the details of underdrawing, underpainting, finishing touches, and glazing, as well as nuances in palette, brushwork, pigments, and compositional strategy. All of these facets are articulated in an accessible and lucid manner.

Furthermore, the book examines Vermeer's unique approach to various artistic elements and studio practices. These include his innovative use of the camera obscura, the intricacies of his studio setup, and his representation of his favorite motifs subjects, such as wall maps, floor tiles, and "pictures within pictures."

By observing closely the studio practices of Vermeer and his preeminent contemporaries, the reader will acquire a concrete understanding of 17th-century painting methods and materials and gain a fresh view of Vermeer's 35 masterworks, which reveal a seamless unity of craft and poetry.

While the book is not structured as a step-by-step instructional guide, it serves as an invaluable resource for realist painters seeking to enhance their own craft. The technical insights offered are highly adaptable, offering a wealth of knowledge that can be applied to a broad range of figurative painting styles.


author: Jonathan Janson
date: 2020 (second edition)
pages: 294
illustrations: 200-plus illustrations and diagrams
formats: PDF


  1. Vermeer's Training, Technical Background & Ambitions
  2. An Overview of Vermeer’s Technical & Stylistic Evolution
  3. Fame, Originality & Subject Matte
  4. Reality or Illusion: Did Vermeer’s Interiors ever Exist?
  5. Color
  6. Composition
  7. Mimesi & Illusionism
  8. Perspective
  9. Camera Obscura Vision
  10. Light & Modeling
  11. Studio
  12. Four Essential Motifs in Vermeer’s Oeuvre
  1. Drapery
  2. Painting Flesh
  3. Canvas
  4. Grounding
  5. “Inventing,” or Underdrawing
  6. “Dead-Coloring,” or Underpainting
  7. “Working-up,” or Finishing
  8. Glazing
  9. Mediums, Binders & Varnishes
  10. Paint Application & Consistency
  11. Pigments, Paints & Palettes
  12. Brushes & Brushwork

Jak/Jack (Jacket)

Following a timid debut in Woman with a Lute, a stylish fur-trimmed yellow satin jacket, which is now synonymous with Vermeer's art, is represented in five other pictures of the 1660s and 1670s. In three works it can be considered a sort of optical focal point, and so must have responded to important aesthetic requisites, although it is not out of the question that it had a sentimental significance for the artist. One such article is listed among the possessions of the artist's beloved wife, Catharina. The folds of this jacket are handled so differently from picture to picture that it appears to be made of various kinds of fabric, although a side-by-side comparison of the shapes and the distribution of the spots on the fur trim of three paintings (A Lady Writing, Woman with a Pearl Necklace and Mistress and Maid) assures us that it is one and the same article. The fact that the painter would have so willfully distorted the garment's folds but so carefully attended to the positions and shapes of the spots, which perhaps even Vermeer's wife would never have noticed, is somewhat perplexing.

The Duet, Gabriel MetsuThe Duet ("Le corset bleu;" detail)
Gabriel Metsu
c. 1660s
Oil on panel, 39.5 x 29 cm.
National Trust, Upton House

In Dutch, this article of clothing was called a jak or jack. Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667) painted them many times, sometimes green or blue, occasionally yellow, but most often red. Red had been a popular color for clothes and drapery. It had positive associations since antiquity and was regarded as a "warm color." The color of Vermeer's jack was probably obtained with a common dye called Dyer's Weed or weld (in Dutch, wouw or woude). Yellow was seen as a "cooler color" and was valued slightly less than red because it was not quite gold. Judging by the number of times that jacks appear in Dutch interior paintings of the 1650s and 1660s, it must have been a popular but elegant daily wear for ladies of the middle class, adapted for both indoor and outdoor use. The jack is represented countless times in Dutch interior painting, sometimes in views of market scenes, but it would not do for portraits.

Historians of costume tell us that the spotted fur trim of Vermeer's jacks was probably not precious ermine but cat, squirrel or mouse decorated with faux spots. In fact, even in the inventories of the wealthiest women, ermine is never mentioned. Unlike those portrayed in Vermeer's paintings, very few renderings of jacks show spots on the fur. In Vermeer's The Concert, a deep blue jack is portrayed without any spots and with no trim around the collar. Collars began to be trimmed in the 1660s. The same jack likely appears in Woman Holding a Balance as well as in Girl with a Flute. Not a single jack has been preserved.

Je ne sais quoi

See also, sprezzatura.

Je ne sais quoi [French: literally: I don't know what] is an intangible quality that makes something distinctive or attractive, which is, however, ultimately unsayable. It is sometimes associated with other historical terms such as sprezzatura, galanterie, honnêteté. Je ne sais quoi suggests the impossibility of defining the term itself. Since different individuals perceive it differently, it is not a rational value.

Je ne sais quoi is assumed to be a quintessentially French phenomenon and to belong purely to the realm of the literary. Richard ScholarRichard Scholar," The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Early Modern Europe Encounters with a Certain Something" (Oxford: Oxford Scholarship Online, September 2008). argued that in the early modern period it served to address problems of knowledge in natural philosophy, the passions, and culture and that major figures of the period such as Montaigne, Shakespeare, Descartes, Corneille and Pascal alongside some of their lesser-known contemporaries can be a tied to it. The term shows up Voltaire's Dictionnaire philosophique under finesse, but seems to have no other influence until the next century. James Elkins, Why are Our Pictures Puzzles? On the Modern Origins of Pictorial Complexity (New York: Routledge, 1999), 138.


A journeyman is a skilled worker who has successfully completed an official apprenticeship qualification in a building trade or craft. He is considered competent and authorized to work in that field as a fully qualified employee.

When the master-painter and guild were satisfied with an apprentice's progress, usually after two to four years, he became a journeyman. He could sign and sell his own pictures and work towards becoming a master himself. After submitting a masterpiece, a journeyman could be accepted as a master himself, open his own studio, and take on students. Many, however, continued to work in the shops of other artists. Thus, after his three years or so as a pupil of the history painter Jacob van Swanenburgh (1571–1638) in Leiden, in 1624 Rembrandt (1606–1669) went to study with Pieter Lastman (1583–1633), also a history painter, in Amsterdam for about six months, before returning to Leiden to practice painting as an independent master. Govert Flinck (1615–1660), who joined Rembrandt's studio in about 1633, while he was still using studio space in Hendrick Uylenburgh's premises, who was also a journeyman or assistant, rather than a pupil.

The practice of employing journeymen in the bigger studios led to a large-scale division of labor and to art being mass produced. For example, in the case of Michiel van Miereveld's (1566–1641) portraits, his sons, grandsons and journeymen worked on them. The portraits of the members of the court of the House of Orange were done by journeymen and were stockpiled against future demand. Miereveld just signed them, sometimes reworking them with one or two brushstrokes. The fact that some of his work was signed "painted by myself" (door mij zelven geschilded) may indicate that like other artists he differentiated between his own work and that produced by his studio, a difference that would have been reflected in the price.

By definition, a journeyman was an artist who may have been employed by a master craftsman but could charge a fee for each day's work. A journeyman could not employ others but could live apart from the master, unlike an apprentice who usually lived with the master and was employed for a period of several years. Traveling from town to town, journeymen would have gained experience in other workshops. Itinerant journeymen were not subject to most of the regulations protecting municipal craft guilds and unlike apprentices, they were not recorded in official sources such as the registers of the painters, and, thus, it is impossible to quantify the number of journeymen who worked in Dutch workshops. Marten Jan Bok and Gary Schwartz have contended that even in the mid-seventeenth century more than half of Dutch paintings could have been commissioned, and were mainly carried out by assistants, journeymen and copyists, whose works were sold at the lower end of the market through art dealers.

Kenlijckheyt (perceptibility)

See also, spatial depth.

Kenlijckheyt, (obsolete Dutch: perceptibility) is a term used to describe pictorial space as perceived in relation to the surface qualities of a painting. As far back as classical Greece, it was believed that light tones tend to advance towards the viewer while darker tones tend to recede toward the background. However, Rembrandt's pupil Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678) explained that the texture of the paint on the canvas could help strengthen or weaken the illusion of three-dimensionality. Thickly painted highlights create uneven surfaces that tend to reflect light, making those elements appear closer to the viewer. Smoothly painted areas, instead, appear more distant.

Van Hoogstraten, made this point about kenlijkheyt in reference to Rembrandt's The Night Watch:

I therefore maintain that perceptibility [kenlijkheyt] alone makes objects appear close at hand, and conversely that smoothness [egaelheyt] makes them withdraw, and I therefore desire that which is to appear in the foreground, be painted roughly and briskly, and that which is to recede be painted the more neatly and purely the further back it lies. Neither one color nor another will make your work seem to advance or recede, but the perceptibility or imperceptibility [kenlijkheyt or onkenlijkheyt] of the parts alone.

"Interestingly Van, Hoogstraten did not apply this proposition, which he advances with great emphasis, to his own paintings in the period which were smoothly executed, in both foreground and background."Ernst van de Wetering, Rembrandt: The Painter at Work (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 184–185.

Kunstkamer Painting

Alexander the Great Visiting Apelles as he Paints Campaspe
Guillam van Haecht
c. 1630
Oil on panel, 104.9 x 148.7 cm.
The Hague, Mauritshuis

by Barry Tsirelson:

The so-called "Kunstkamer" painting can be cautiously described as depictions of other paintings, collections of antiquities, sculptures, curiosities and other works of art, or paintings within a single painting. Quite often Kunstkamer paintings present images of existing paintings by popular contemporary artists, such as Rubens (1577–1640), David Teniers (1610–1690), Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), etc.

The genre of Kunstkamer painting was developed in the first decade of the seventeenth century in Antwerp and within the following decade emerged into a specialty of Frans Francken the Younger (1587–1642), Jan Brueghel (1568–1625), Willem van Haecht (1593–1637) etc. Scholars estimate that this genre lasted for about half of the century, even though Kunstkammer paintings are found in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Kunstkammer paintings frequently illustrated great collections of royal and aristocratic patrons, such as Archduke Albert and Isabella, and display the appreciation, taste and interest for art by these patrons to other European courts. Many Kunstkammer paintings feature artists, patrons, nobles and connoisseurs within exquisite gallery interiors.

The objects within Kunstkammer paintings are full of deliberately contrived symbols, allegories, emblems, allusions reflecting the contemporary taste for exchanging ideas between learned members of the seventeenth-century society. Unfortunately, many of their meanings are lost to us.

Kunstkammer paintings present modern art scholars with a great opportunity to identify symbols embedded shedding light on the time of their execution. Based on known dates of embedded paintings, it is possible to determine the earliest date of the Kunstkammer painting, which was obviously painted after the identified embedded paintings.


A lake is a pigment that has been made by precipitating or fixing a dye upon (usually in the form of a fine, fluffy powder) a semi-transparent inert pigment or lake base in order to give it bulk so that it might behave like other paints. This process may be compared to that of dying cloth. It requires a high degree of skill to achieve good results. Lakes are made in a great range of hues and strengths. Alumina hydrate, chalk and ground eggshells were used as bases for lakes.

Lakes were typically used in oil painting to produce effects of richness and depth over opaque underlayers (see glaze/ glazing) although it is known that Rembrandt (1606–1669) typically admixed lakes directly with other pigments to enrich their color.

Some lakes had organic and unusual origins."Until the middle of the last century, when it was discovered that aniline dyes could be made from coal tar, most dyes were obtained from natural substances in plants or animals called carmine lakes. There are two varieties of carmine lake, both produced from insects, cochineal lake and kermes lake and both employed as a dye and lake. Cochineal lake comes from cochineal beetle, native to the New World, which was used by the Aztecs for dyeing and painting and was brought to Europe in the sixteenth century following the Spanish conquest. Kermes lake comes from another species of cochineal living on certain species of European oaks. These insects were scratched from the twigs with the fingernails and produced a powerful permanent scarlet dye believed to be that obtained from the Phoenicians by the Hebrews to dye the curtains of their tabernacle.""Carmine Lake," Pigments through the Age, http://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/indiv/overview/carmine.html.

Indigo and red madder, two widely used lakes, are now produced more cheaply from synthetic sources, although some use of natural products persists, especially among artisans. The food and cosmetics industries have shown renewed interest in cochineal as a source of natural red dye. Schietgeel, (Dutch pinke or fading yellow), another widely used lake, was made from Buckthorn berries and fixed onto a substrate of aluminum hydrate. Schietgeel in oil is perfectly transparent since the refractive indices of aluminum hydrate and oil are very close to each other. Unfortunately, the yellow color in schietgeel, rhamnetin, is not light-fast, causing the yellow glaze to fade, and if over a blue underpaint to produce green, the bluefish color underneath will become dominant.

Vermeer used lakes pigments which are commonly found on Dutch painters' palettes of the time:

red madder - A natural dyestuff from the root of the madder plant (rubia tinctorium), formerly cultivated extensively in Europe and Asia Minor. The coloring matter is extracted from the ground root by fermentation.

Vermeer presumably used red madder to glaze the feathered hat of the Girl with a Red Hat and likely the gown of the seated lady in the early Girl with a Glass of Wine.

weld - A natural yellow dyestuff, obtained as a liquid or as a dry extract of the herbaceous plant, Dyer's Rocket (Reseda luteola) formerly cultivated in central Europe a widely used to dye cloth. Grown easily from seed, weld grows as far north as Scotland and has been extensively naturalized around the world in temperate areas. This pigment was known to be susceptible to fading.

It has been suspected that weld was admixed or glazed over the foilage of The Little Street but has faded producing an unnatural bluish color.

indigo - Is present in various plants, not only in the East Indian indigo plant but also in woad. It is the most important plant dye. Indigo was recognized as a valuable blue dye by most early explorers of the Indian region. The Venetian explorer Marco Polo described in detail the Indian indigo industry and by the eleventh century, Arab traders had introduced indigo to the Mediterranean region, where it became more popular than the local blue dye (woad). Indigo was brought to Britain in Elizabethan times (1500–1600), but its use was banned there and in other European countries due to protests from woad growers, whose business was being undercut. Today, indigo is still used to dye jeans—the irregular attachment of the dye causes the bleaching and mottling effect. Indigo has become naturalized in the southern United States.

Indigo was detected in the deep blue robe of Christ in Vermeer's early Christ in the House of Martha and Mary and in the background of the Girl with a Pearl Earring (now faded).

cochineal - Natural organic dyestuff made from the dried bodies of the female insect Coccus cacti, which lives on various cactus plants in Mexico and in Central and South America. First brought to Europe shortly after the discovery of those countries.

This pigment has only been identified in the late Love Letter.


Land transformation occurred in the North Netherlands, during the seventeenth century. The physical geography of northern Holland was dramatically altered by the reclamation of about two hundred thousand acres of land from the inland sea, by means of a complex system of dikes and drainage.

View of Haarlem, Jan van GoyenView of Haarlem
Jan van Goyen
Oil on wood, 34.6 x 50.5 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The creation of land was a commercial investment made by private citizens. By 1612 over one hundred citizens had invested in the scheme. Projects such as these dramatically altered the appearance of the region. These speculators constructed a system of canals and forty-two windmill pumps across the land. The resulting landscape was an extremely flat land, as recorded in Jan van Goyen's(1596–1656) View of Leiden (1647; see image left). The land was highly regular polder, punctuated by a grid-like system of canals and waterways across the drained areas.

Although landscape had always existed as a descriptive element of history painting, it only became independent in the early sixteenth century. Seventeenthcentury Dutch landscape paintings have been described as empirical, naturalistic images of the real Dutch landscape, yet they also reflect the social issues and aspirations of the time. Perhaps because the pressures of art theory in the Netherlands had weakened, landscape began to occupy a major place in art production. Landscapes were avidly collected by the growing middle class who did not speak French or Latin and were not educated with humanist reverence for classical antiquity but who loved valued land as a national identity.

"That Dutch countryside is oddly striking—it almost demands to be painted, although it has little of the drama of the tropics or of mountainous terrain. In fact, the land has almost no verticals at all but is conspicuously flat; the horizon is ever-present—so much that the Dutch language has four words for horizon. The wind sweeps over the low land. The changeable sky, with its towering clouds reflected in rivers and canals, is more dramatic than the earth: nature in itself seems as moody as man. In their efforts to catch the essence of this ever-changing setting, the new landscapist painted pictures that were different than anything seen before. Nature was portrayed for its own sake rather than as a background ton divine or human enterprises, or an artificial arrangement to convey literary allusion."Hans Koningsburger, The World of Vermeer 1632–1675 (New York: Time-Life Books, 1968).

Johan Huizinga in 1968 ably described the Hollanders' "intense enjoyment of shapes and objects, the(ir) unshakable faith in the reality and importance of all earthly things, a faith that... was the direct consequence of a deep love of life and interest in one's environment."

"By 1600, both the terms lantschap and its diminutive or frequentative lantschapken were already well established in the inventories and sales records of Amsterdam, Delft, Haarlem and Antwerp, and they remained dominant in describing landscapes of all sorts until the very end of... the 1670s. The words lantschap/lantschapjea denoted a relatively abstract, generic category into which many specialties were folded. Some of the most common were: wilderness (woestyjne), hunting (jacht), harvest (oogst), mountain(s) (gebercht(en), fishing (visserij), beach (strand, zeestrand), ruins (ruzjnen), moonlight (maenschijin), woods (bos, bossagie), pastorelle, hermitage, ice promenade (qjsgangh), dawn (morgenstond, dagerat), evening (in landscape) (avondstond), dunes (duijnen), river (rivier) and panorama (verschiet)."John Michael Montias, "How Notaries and Other Scribes Recorded Works of Art in Seventeenth-Century Sales and Inventories," Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 30, no. 3/4 (2003), 219.

In the noted 1696 Dissius Amsterdam auction of 21 paintings by Vermeer, three landscapes are mentioned although only two have survived. Items 31, 32 and 33, with relative description and sales price in guilders are listed below.

31. The Town of Delft in perspective, to be seen from the south, by J. van der Meer of Delft 200-0
32. A view of a house standing in Delft, by the same 72-0
33. A view of some house, by ditto 48-0

Item 31. certainly corresponds to the View of Delft. Although it fetched the highest price (200 guilders) it is curious to note that The Milkmaid, a fraction of the View of Delft's dimension, was paid almost the same price, 175 guilders. The View of Delft is somewhat an anomaly in as much it had always been highly considered throughout its known history while many other of Vermeer's painting slipped into oblivion and even received signatures by other artists to increase their commercial value. This large work is also considered to be perhaps the first true "urban landscape" in European painting. Unfortunately, one of the two "view of house(s)" mentioned in the Dissius auction is missing.


The ability of paint to form a smooth level film. Paint that has good leveling characteristics is usually free of brush marks. Stand oil can be added to paint to greatly increase its leveling properties.

Liefhebbers van de Schilderkonst (Lovers of the Art of Painting)

In Vermeer's day, there was a fast-growing but distinct interest in art and artists, with a public that was designated as Liefhebbers van de Schilderkonst (Lovers of the Art of Painting), composed principally of gentlemen from the upper classes.

Liefhebbers van de Schilderkonst read treatises like Roger de Piles' Conversations sur la connaissance de la Peinture, which linked the present with the grand traditions of arts of the past. Liefhebbers often took drawing classes and some even learned to paint. However, the key to understanding the secrets of art was to visit artists' studios and meet other connoisseurs. Some joined the Guild of Saint Luke alongside practicing painters, whose works they may have bought. As guild members, painters could probably resell the works they had purchased from their collegues.

"A small painting on copper by Antwerp artist Hendrick van Steenwijk the Elder (1550–1603) satirizes the overly worshipful nature of art lovers, as the allegorical figure of Fama opens the door to an artist's studio while a crowd of elegantly dressed gentlemen in tall hats and gallant capes push through the threshold. Some liefhebbers were interested only in the fame of the artist, and not his art. Rembrandt's (1606–1669) pupil and art theorist Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678) disparaged the naem koopers (name buyers) in his 1678 Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst (Introduction to the Art of Painting) or those who purchased art simply because of the status of the artist, the result of uneducated art devotees and a consequence of the spread of individual fame and name recognition of Dutch artists."Ingrid A. Cartwright, "Hoe schilder hoe wilder: Dissolute Self Portraits in Seventeenth- Century Dutch and Flemish Art" (PhD diss., University of Maryland, College Park, 2007), 104, Link to complete paper.

"At a time when the public wanted images of famous people, the rise of the art lover and his interest in the artist increased the demand for images of the artist as well. Prints became an important medium by which images could be produced. Because prints were inexpensive to make and series of prints could be bound together in books, they were widely distributed and easy to collect. Of course, the art lover, who wanted to link himself to the artist, formed the perfect market for these collections of prints. Prints also were ideal for propagating the image of the artist's new status in society. The artists' own image could now be circulated to potential patrons and collectors as a reputable and even distinguished member of society."Carissa Di Cindio, "Portrait of Peter Paul Rubens after Anthony van Dyck, 1665," http://bdindependent.com/rembrandtweb/scans/1carissa/carissamain.htm.

Other than that of the Frenchman Baron Balthasar de Monconys (1611–1665), the only written eyewitness account of Vermeer's paintings was penned by liefhebber Pieter Teding van Berckhout (1643–1713), a young scion of a landed gentry family. In his diary, May 14, 1669, he wrote:

"Having arrived in Delft, I saw an excellent painter named Vermeer," stating also that he had seen several "curiosities."

Van Berckhout had arrived in Delft accompanied by Constantijn Huygens (1596–1687) and his friends—member of parliament Ewout van der Horst and ambassador Willem Nieupoort. Huygens was an artistic authority in his own day, maintaining contacts with the famous Flemish painters Rubens (1577–1640) and Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), and recording in his own diary some remarkably insightful comments about the art of, among others, Rembrandt (1606–1669). However, it is doubtful that Huygens visited Vermeer's studio along with Van Berckhout.

Light (in painting)

"Although the painter who uses effects of illumination is very much aware of their power, the influence of light and shadow is experienced in everyday life mostly in very practical ways. The seeking or avoidance of light is common at all levels of the animal world, and in the same way man seeks light when he wants to see or be seen and avoids it otherwise. For these practical purposes, however, light is merely a means of dealing with the objects. Light and shadowed objects are observed, but hardly consciously for their own sake. They define the shape and spatial position of things and are consumed in this service. The naive observer is unlikely to mention them when asked to give a careful and detailed description about objects and their adherent properties.

"Without light, the eyes can see no shape, no color or movement. But light is for human beings more than just the physical cause of what we see. Yet since man's attention is directed mostly towards the objects and their actions, the debt we owe to light is not widely acknowledged. Even psychologically it remains one of the most fundamental and powerful of human experiences."Rudolf Arnehim, Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974), 320.

In the case of representational painting, the artist of both the past and present must come to grips with one of the principal dilemmas of his craft: how to render the dialogue of natural light and shadow with paint. In regards to this problem, at least, the painter has a decisive advantage over the photographer.

Photographers of all levels know that in conditions of intense light it is impossible to make a "perfectly" exposed photograph. If the highest lights are captured correctly, the darks will be uniformly dark if not pitch black. On the other hand, if the camera aperture is exposed to capture the shadows, the great part of the sunlit areas will be bleached out. Instead, the painter may "expose" lights and darks differently according to his artistic necessities and represent them "correctly" on his canvas. He is free to exalt or suppress any tonal value he observes and create a "perfectly" exposed image. He creates, as it were, a handmade High Dynamic Range photograph (HDR photography captures and then combines several different, narrower range, exposures of the same subject matter).

However, the capacity to simultaneously expose areas of dark and light does not alleviate the difficulty of expressing in pictorial terms the extraordinary range of natural light's intensity. Beginning with the actual source of light, the sun, and terminating with the total absence of light in the deepest shadow, the range of light in nature is unbounded when compared to the range of light and dark paints available to the artist which do not emit, but only reflect light. While black pigment suggests fairly well the deepest darks we see in nature, the lighter end of tonal values is exceptionally limited.

The expert of craquelure in painting, Spike Bucklow, discloses that "a sun-lit cloud is tens of thousands times brighter than the shadowy foliage under a tree, yet when the artist paints a landscape his brightest clouds can only be thirty times brighter than his darkest shadows (assuming that they—like the white paper and black ink—reflect about 90% and 3% of the light falling on the painting, respectively). The artist is able to re-construct a dynamic range of 10,000s to 1, with paint that reflects 30 to 1 of ambient light." Bucklow also reveals the painter's limited possibilities of suggesting light with reflective pigments is further exacerbated when his work ages and develops a network of cracks. "If the painting develops a crack network that reduces the perceived reflectivity of the bright clouds, then the dynamic range is further reduced. White paint that reflects c. 90% of the light becomes cracked paint which may reflect c. 80% of the light, but the 'spreading effect' means that it is perceived as if it reflects only c. 50%. The painting's dynamic range therefore shrinks from 30 to 1 when new, to 17 to 1 when heavily cracked, yet it still adequately represents a scene of 10,000s to 1." "The presence of crack networks therefore influences the tonal organization of paintings, effectively reducing their dynamic range."Spike Bucklow, "The effect of cracks on the perception of paintings," 1996, http://www-hki.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/research/hist/cracks.html. See also Bucklow, "The effect of cracks on the perception of paintings," Research at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, http://www-hki.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/research/hist/cracks.html.

If the face of this seemingly insurmountable limit, the Great Masters devised simple yet extremely efficient pictorial tactics to artificially extend the range of lights and darks. Moreover, by combining various types of paint application the number of visual effects that can be represented with oil paint is greatly multiplied allowing the painter to suggest optical phenomena of all sorts that cannot be matched with photography. In fact, the paint surfaces of the early masters display a full range of textures, from the most diaphanous veils of fluid paint to layers of impasto paint so rugged that they seem to be tree bark.

Light (in science)

From a scientific point of view, light is electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye and is responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light, however, occupies a very small part of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Visible light is conventionally grouped into seven wavelength groups, each of which corresponds to the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The colors we see, however, do not really belong to the objects. When light hits an object, some of the wavelengths are absorbed and some are reflected, depending on the molecular composition of the object. The reflected wavelengths that meet our eyes are what we perceive as the object's color. If all the wavelengths are reflected, the object is white. When none are reflected, the object is black. In everyday living, the perception of light in our environment is a complicated matter that depends on both physical and psychological causes.

Lights and Darks

See also, Chiaroscuro, Light, Shadow and Portrait Lighting.

Descent from the Cross, Rembrandt van RijnDescent from the Cross
Rembrandt van Rijn
Oil on canvas, 158 x 117 cm.
Hermitage Museum

The lights and darks of a painting are those areas that are either lighter or darker. Differently than with abstract painting, in mimetic forms of painting, the light areas of a composition generally correspond to those which appear to be illuminated by natural light while the darks, those that appear to be in shadow.

The manipulation of lights and darks, rather than color, gives volume to form and creates the illusion of natural light. A common strategy for mimetic painting is to begin with the darkest darks and gradually progress through the middle tones to the lights, adding the highlights at the end. Moreover, darks have more depth when they are painted thinly with dark transparent or semi-transparent paint, while the lights are most effective when they are painted thickly and opaquely. However, if the scene of a painting is largely filled with darkness, it is convenient to begin with a dark ground and work upwards to the lights. Rendering with light and dark originated during the Renaissance as drawing on colored paper, where the artist worked from the paper's base tone toward light using white gouache, and toward dark using ink, bodycolor or watercolor.

The contrast and distribution of lights and darks are crucial to pictorial design and expression. Chiaroscuro, one of the key terms to describe the effect of light in paintings, is an Italian term that means literally "light/dark," but which can be deployed in many ways. Caravaggio (1571–1610). used exceptionally accentuated lights and darks to produce a dramatic effect, if not violent, and rivet the viewer's attention on the foreground figures while plunging the background into a menacing dark void.

Seventeenth-century artists were keenly aware of the proper management of lights and darks. The Dutch painter and art theoretician Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678) warned against overworking shadows lest they become hard: "But whether you begin or end with the shadows, you should split them up in your mind into lesser and greater, and depict each in a flat manner, according to its darkness; for by working them too much, and melting them in, all your work would turn to copper; and you would even lose the capacity to judge it. Don't allow yourself to be bothered by small modulations [kantigheden] in a soft shadow, nor by the fact that, when viewed from close by, a darker one can be seen in the middle of it; because the force will be all the greater if you hold it at arm's length…"

It would seem that what Van Hoogstraten aimed at was crisp contrasts in which light and shade were clearly articulated, both between and within themselves.

Van Hoogstraten also warned against alternating lights and darks too frequently or too dramatically. He wrote, "I therefore recommend you not to mix up lights and shadows too much, but to combine them properly in groups; let your strong lights be gently accompanied by lesser lights, and I assure you that they will shine all the more beautifully; let your darks be surrounded by lighter darks, so that they will make the power of light stand out all the more powerfully." Referring specifically to Rembrandt, Van Hoogstraten added: Rembrandt (1606–1669) developed this virtue to a high degree, and he was a master in combining bevriende (in tone related) colors."

Light Source & Light Coming from the Left Side in Paintings

A light source is the most luminous element affecting any given environment, for example, the sun, a fire, a candle, an overhead skylight or an open window. The nature of the light source plays a critical role in form description. Normally, painters utilize only one light source, while photographers and filmmakers may use two or more. However, in order to enhance narrative, painters of the past were more willing to use more than one light source, which, however, is rarely noticed by viewers because the human visual system is quite tolerant to incoherences in lighting in that its paramount function is to comprehend volume, distance and local color.

Until the early years of the Renaissance, there was no light source in painting. Shadows on draperies and anatomical and architectural features were not caused by directional light originating from a specific source but by the need to create localized relief, object by object—shading rather than chiaroscuro. Early renaissance paintings were illuminated by ambient light, that is, a general, even illumination of a scene from no apparent direction. Although there is no linear development in the treatment of light in the Quattrocento, Giotto (1266–1337) sensed the value of a consistent light source. However, Masaccio (1401–1428) was first to employed directional light in a systematic manner in the frescoes of the Brancacci chapel in Florence. Directional light not only gives a clearer sense of volume; it anchors more convincingly the figures to their environment. Light, then, no longer was a spiritual emanation but a means to measure volume and to reinforce perspectival illusionism. During this time light originating from above and from the right-hand side of the picture and flowing to the left became a fixed pictorial convention.

Portrait of a Young Man, Sandro BotticelliPortrait of a Young Man
Sandro Botticelli
Tempera on panel, 51 x 36 cm.
National Gallery, Washington D.C.

Light in Western painting almost always originates from above rather than from below. This may be because on the surface of Earth the most common source of illumination is the Sun, except in unusual circumstances, such as at sunset on a mountain top, or when light is reflected from water. This fact seems to have conditioned the visual system to such a point that if three-dimensional objects are illuminated from below rather than above, concave appears convex, and vice-versa.

In the great majority of Western paintings with directional light, light also originates from the left-hand side of the painting and flows to the right. This convention has been sometimes explained by the fact that Westerners read from left to right but this can only be associated with Western art because Eastern painting does not feature directional light and writing is done downwards, beginning at the right-hand side of the page proceeding to the left. The pictorial convention of light originating from the left is not comforted by the visual system adapting to recurring natural circumstances in that human beings do not spend more time with the light source on their left rather than on their right'. An observer on the surface of the Earth who can look in any direction being as likely to have light coming from their right as from their left. There must be another explanation.

Perhaps the most prominent source of the idea that light might come from the left is Ernst Gombrich, who commented in his Art and Illusion that: "Psychologists have found that in the absence of other clues, Western observers have settled for the probability that the light falls from high up and from the left-hand side. It is the position most convenient for drawings and writing with the right hand, and it therefore applies to most paintings." (Gombrich 1960, page 229) As observed by McManus, Buckman and Woolley ("Is light in pictures presumed to come from the left side?" Perception, 2004, vol. 33, p.1422) Gombrich's argument suggests that this bias is found mainly in works of art, and is secondary to the handedness of the artist, since, like most other people, artists are mostly right-handed. As a result, light from the left provides the clearest view of the working surface, whereas light from the right causes the right hand to cast a shadow over the paper or canvas. Certainly, there seems little doubt that paintings in the Western tradition usually show light coming from the left side. Figure 1 below shows data from Byzantine and Italian Renaissance paintings, and a similar effect was found in a more general selection of paintings by Sun and Perona ("Where is the sun?" Nature Neuroscience 1, 1998, pp. 183–184)."

The left-light bias is the tendency for viewers to prefer artwork that is lit with lighting coming from the left-hand side of the painting. Researchers predicted that participants would prefer artwork that was lit from the left side and when given the option, they would choose to place lighting on the upper left side of a piece of artwork. Participants found paintings with lighting on the left to be more aesthetically pleasing than when it was lighter on the right side.


See also, Chiaroscuro, Light, Lights and Darks, Shadow and Portrait Lighting.

Lighting, or illumination, in the visual arts is the deliberate use of light to achieve a practical or aesthetic effect. Lighting creates mood, atmosphere and enhances theme and spatial effects. Effective lighting may also substantiate design. Lighting was not introduced into painting until the Early Renaissance.

By the second quarter of the fifth century, folds of drapery were occasionally emphasized by thickened lines or shading by Greek artists, so giving some effect of shadow. At about the same time, the Athenian Apollodorus (c. 480 B.C.), considered by the Greeks and Romans one of the foremost painters of the Early Classical period, is credited for the use of creating shadows by a technique known as skiagraphia (literally "shadow painting"). The technique layers crosshatching and contour lines to add volume to solid objects and spatial depth to the scene, but anything near a coherent system of lighting with directional light and cast shadows was not developed.

In the Middle Ages light was used to convey religious significance, not physical reality. The gold grounds, halos and geometric star patterns (symbolic representations of divine light) appeared to the eye not as effects of lighting, but as shiny attributes. It was only in the Renaissance that light eventually became the means for modeling form and attributing physical qualities to the object, such as weight and texture. But for the early part of the Renaissance, the painted world remained uniformly bright, objects were intrinsically luminous and shading had the unique function of creating the relief of surfaces.

Although there is no linear development in the treatment of light in the Quattrocento, Giotto (1266–1337) had sensed the value of a consistent light source, in the Arena Chapel frescoes. However, it was Masaccio (1401–1428) who first employed directional light in a systematic manner in the frescoes of the Brancacci chapel in Florence. Directional light not only gives a clearer sense of volume; it anchors more convincingly the figures to their environment. Light, then, no longer was a spiritual emanation but a means to measure volume and to reinforce perspectival illusionism. During this time light originating from the right-hand side of the picture and flowing to the left became a fixed convention.

It is generally believed in the Baroque light became for the first time a deliberate means for evoking emotion. New forms of lighting were experimented including candlelight, especially favored by Dutch painters of the Golden Age. Lighting was greatly exaggerated, commonly referred to as chiaroscuro, by Caravaggio (1571–1610), who sparked a revolution in European painting. Modern critics have interpreted the mysterious lights and darks of chiaroscuro as a metaphor for the two realms of the human soul, but it should be remembered that period art literature speaks of light uniquely in terms of mimetic enhancement.

Venus of Urbino, TitianVenus of Urbino
Oil on canvas, 119 × 165 cm.
Uffizi, Florence
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

In the great part of renaissance and baroque history paintings, the figures, architectural elements and props were drawn from various monochrome drawings and afterward recomposed on a cartoon or on the canvas itself. Rarely, if ever, did the painter have the whole scene set up in his studio, to say nothing of outdoor scenes. Thus, we must presume that lighting was largely a factor of artistic invention and pictorial convention. If a foreground repoussoir figure was represented immersed in a dark shadow with the background powerfully lit, it was not because the painter saw his scene this way in the moment he began paint, but because he either he had noted a similar effect in nature or he had copied the effect from another painting.

It should always be remembered that the human eye is particularly forgiving to lightning in the visual arts. Is well known that some of the figures in certain works of Rubens (1577–1640) are illuminated from the right, but in the same picture some receive light from the left, and yet this is generally not noticed. Many Italian renaissance history paintings represent a backdrop landscape immersed in the dim evening light while the foreground figures are fully illuminated, yet the whole appears nonetheless magically unified despite the notable incoherency in lighting.

Line & Contour

See also, diagonal line.

Line is essentially a convention because it is generally believed that lines do not exist in reality. Lines must be thought of as boundaries between different tone values, the edges of adjoining areas of light and dark or darker tones.

Line is the most basic art and design element, the foundation that other elements are built on. Line was used by ancient cave painters, and it is used in children's art. Theoretically, it is a one-dimensional element measured only in length—an abstract concept that is more perceived than actually viewed.

In the visual arts, instead, lines are characterized by their length, weight (darkness/thickness) and direction. There are different kinds of lines.

From a visual point of view the simplest line is the straight line, but the straight line is by no means the simplest to draw. On the contrary, a complex muscular arrangement must be activated to produce straightness, the reason being that the upper arms, lower arms, hands and fingers are levers, which naturally pursue curved paths.Rudolf Arnehim, Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974), 182. Straight lines look stiff in comparison to curved lines. Curved and irregular lines dominate European and Oriental painting alike. They introduce linear extension in space and thereby direction. Compositional lines, or implied lines, guide the viewer's eye within the composition of a painting and designates the action within the picture. Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) noted in his journal that "the straight line never occur in nature, they exist only in the brain of man."

Vertical lines have the ability to convey a variety of different moods ranging from power and strength (think of skyscrapers) to growth (think of trees). An image filled with strong vertical lines tends to give the impression of height and grandeur. The straight line is imbued with symbolic attributes that denote moral rectitude and is woven into the imagery of literature and media to represent order, strength and stability.Juliette Aristides, Classical Drawing Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practices (New York: Watson-Guptill, 2006), 37.

Horizontal lines tend to convey a sense of homeostasis (lack of change) and stability. They are commonly found in landscape paintings giving the impression of calm, tranquility and space. Both horizontal and vertical lines become particularly powerful in painting if they extend from one side of the canvas to the other. If the artist emphasizes line, the term "linear" is used to describe his or her style. If the lines are broken and lost amidst the artist's brushwork, we use the term "painterly."

Outlines describe the outer boundary of an object such as a hand, although it can also distinguish objects or abrupt changes in planes that lie with an object, such as the wrinkles or nails of a hand. Outlines are generally uniformly thick.

Contour is the use of line to define the edge of an object but it also emphasizes its plastic qualities of volume or mass of the form. Contours may describe the shapes and variations in relief (such as an eye or a nose) that lay inside the outline. Outline, then, is perceived as flat while contour emphasizes the three-dimensionality of an object.

Old Man with Outspread Arms, Rembrandt van RijnOld Man with Outspread Arms
Rembrandt van Rijn
c. 1628–1629
Black chalk, 25.4 x 19 cm.
Kupferstichkabinett, Dresden

Gestural lines are quick marks that capture the impression of a pose or movement rather than the shape and volume of an object.

Implied lines are broken lines that are aligned in such a manner that the immigration is able to complete them. Implied lines can be suggested by objects disposed in sequence or even by the glance seen in someone's eyes. These lines, called implied lines, are completed with the viewer's imagination through the concept of closure. Painters call them compositional lines.

Analytical line is a formal use of line. The analytical line is closer to geometry with its use of precise and controlled marks. A grid is a very popular analytical use of visual line as a way to organize a design. The Golden Section is an example of the traditional use of analytical classical line, which uses calculated implied lines to bring unity to the structure of a painting's composition.

Modeling line is used to create the illusion of volume in drawing. Hatching is the use of parallel lines to suggest value change. Parallel lines on another angle can be added to create cross-hatching to build up a gradation and more value in areas of a drawing.

Vermeer's compositions are pervaded by straight lines. They divide, join and frame objects and the space around them. By dividing the composition into simple geometric forms, the artist created a stable foundation that reinforcse the actions of the painting's sitters and their gestures, bestowing an air of restful permanence to the whole composition. Many times discontinued straight lines are aligned along the same axis in order to bring into relation diverse parts of the composition.

The following writing by Lawrence Gowing (Vermeer, 1950), author of one of the most penetrating interpretations of Vermeer's art and a painter himself, elegantly sums up the atypical relation between linear and tonal in Vermeer's art.

His is an almost solitary indifference to the whole linear convention and its historic function of describing, enclosing, embracing the forms it limits, a seemingly involuntary rejection o the way which the intelligence of painters had operated from the earliest times to our own day. Even now, when photographers have taught us how to recognize visual as against imagined continuity, and in doing so no doubt blunted our appreciation of Vermeer's strangeness, the feat remains as exceptional as it is apparently perverse, and to a degree which may not be easy for those unconcerned with the technical side of a painter's business to measure. However firm the contour in these pictures, line as a vessel of understanding, has been abandoned and with it the traditional apparatus of draughtsmanship. In its place, apparently effortlessly, automatically, tone bears the whole weight of formal explanation.

An example of an implied line can be clearly seen in Vermeer's Astronomer wherein a single horizontal line that runs horizontally from one side of the picture to the other is implied by various straight but interrupted contours. The light-toned horizontal line representing the lower illuminated edge of the window extends itself towards the right and almost connects with the horizontal stand of the globe. This line proceeds to the right and is picked up by the upper edge of the astronomer's ex­tended arm and finally reaches the other side of Vermeer's composition through the lower edge of the picture-within-a-picture which hangs to the right behind the scientist. This line gives a sense of purpose to the overall composition which is also reflected upon the psychology of the astronomer himself. On the other hand, the gaze of the young woman of the Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace seems to imply a line between herself and the mirror hanging on the wall to the extreme left of the composition. The iImplied lines is fundamental tool for organizing composition and guiding the spectator's eyes throughout the composition or directly towards the key areas of interest.


An auxiliary support applied by a conservator to the original support (canvas, etc.) of the painting when the original support no longer has enough strength to carry the weight of the painting. Linings can be constructed from a variety of material, including canvas, fiberglass, etc. and may be rigid, semi-rigid or flexible as the need demands.

All of Vermeer's paintings have been relined, except for The Guitar Player, which bears its original stretcher and canvas, a true exception in seventeenth-century painting.

Local Color

Local color is the true color of an object removed from all outside influence. Thus, the local color of a lemon is yellow and the local color of a tree's leaves is green. Every local color has its own intensity. Lead-tin yellow, the pigment used to depict the yellow morning jackets worn by Vermeer's female sitters, is an intense yellow, while yellow ochre is dull in comparison. Cobalt blue paint straight from the tube is very intense. When it is mixed with white or black, it becomes less intense.

Strong light in nature tends to destroy local color. If all the objects in painting were rendered only with their local colors they would appear flat and unnatural, somewhat like a Simpsons cartoon..

Perhaps the most striking example of the use of strong local color in Vermeer's painting is The Milkmaid. Other paintings, such as the Woman Holding a Balance, present such limited areas of local color that one wonders why the paintings seem so naturalistic. It is surprising to note how restricted a role local color plays in some of Vermeer's most intensely illuminated works such as the Officer and Laughing Girl or the Woman with a Pearl Necklace. Although both pictures seem literally bathed in sunlight, only a minimum part of the surface is painted with full color.

Luster, Sparkle, Glimmer, Glitter, Splendor & Highlight

See also highlight(s).

Although the optical phenomena that form distinct highlights on objects with highly reflective surfaces (known also as "luster," "sparkle," "glitter," "glimmer," or "splendor") had been know to painters since the antiquity, it was lost in medieval times but was recovered by Northern painters of the 1400s who painted real highlights on metallic objects such as organ pipes that were distinguishable from mere lights which, instead are meant to give volume to objects rather than describe a surface quality. However, the "full potentiality of lustro [luster] to reveal not only sparkle but sheen is a discovery that will always remain connected with the Van Eycks." E. H. Gombrich, The Heritage of Apelles (Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1976), 31. Later Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was the first to write about and explain how luster varies according to the observer's viewpoint. He distinguished two forms of reflected light: the so-called lume, by which he meant randomly scattered light, and lustro, which was responsible for the gleam which is to be seen "on the polished surface of opaque bodies." According to Leonardo, luster "will appear in as many different places on the surface as different positions are taken by the eye." Leonardo's text reads as follows (and see image below left):

Of the highest lights which turn and move as the eye moves which sees the object. Suppose the body to be the round object figured here and let the light be at the point a, and let the illuminated side of the object be b c and the eye at the point d: I say that, as luster is everywhere and complete in each part, if you stand at the point d the luster will appear at c, and in proportion as the eye moves from d to a, the luster will move from c to n.

Leonardo da Vinci

The principle behind Leonardo's observation is that luster appears at the point of intersection of the cathetus (the perpendicular from the image) and the ray, such that the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection.

The optical instability of luster varies according to other factors, one of which is the size of the luminous source. When a surface is illuminated from a relatively small source—say a distant window—the visibility of the reflected highlight is critically dependent on the viewpoint, whereas if the scene is more broadly illuminated—say from the sky—the reflected luster is relatively widespread and the visibility is comparatively resistant to changes of viewpoint. Even so, the fact that a highlight is preferentially reflected at one angle rather than another means that the luster unmistakably fluctuates when viewed from different positions. This is not observable, however, in pictorial representations, since the highlight is depicted on a two-dimensional surface and cannot vary as spectators change their position. The same applies to the legendary eyeline of a portrait which is said to follow the spectator around the room. It does no such thing, of course. The gaze, like the luster, is represented on a flat surface and it cannot change its appearance with alterations in the observer's position.

Another factor which influences the visibility of luster or sheen is the curvature of the surface from which it is reflected. Highlights which are thrown off from sharply angled surfaces come and go with captivating abruptness, should either the object or the observer shift. This is why diamonds glitter or scintillate when twiddled in the incident light. Another characteristic of luster is the fact that it seems to hover somewhere below the surface in which it appears. In contrast to the local texture and color of the object, which is coextensive with the plane of its surface, the sheen or gleam appears to be in the depths. Once again, this is less apparent in a flat picture than it is in three-dimensional reality.Jonathan Miller and Valerie D. Mendes, On Reflection (London: National Gallery, 1998).


A Young Boy Copying a Painting, Wallerand VaillantA Young Boy Copying a Painting
Attributed to Wallerand Vaillant
c. 1660
Oil on panel, 31.1 x 39.5 cm.
Guildhall (Samuel Collection), London

This term is derived from mannekijn, an old Dutch word for "little person." It was absorbed into English usage at about the same time that English speakers took from the Dutch the words "easel" and "landscape." It was sometimes referred to as "the boy" or a "lay figure." Mannequins are used tailors, dressmakers, windowdressers and others especially to display or fit clothing. Historically, artists have often used articulated mannequins as an aid in drawing draped figures. The advantage of this is that clothing or drapery arranged on a mannequin may be kept immobile for far longer than would be possible by using a living model. Although rarely represented, mannequins must have been stock tools in figurative artist's studios of the Netherlands, especially the upper-tier portrait painters who were often commissioned to represent the luxurious, intricately decorated costumes of their sitters which would have required days of patient labor to paint.

Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) claimed that Fra Bartolommeo (1472–1517) was the first artist to use a mannequin, but an earlier description of earlier of such a device is found in Filarete's Treatise on Architecture (1461–1464). It was said to be life-size, but early mannequins were probably small.

Mannequins were a frequent motif in the works many early twentieth-century artists, notably the Metaphysical painters Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978, Alberto Savinio (1891–1952), and Carlo Carrà (1881–1966.

Vermeer most likely possessed at least one life-size mannequin. Unlike even the most patient model, the mannequin remains motionless for as long as it was needed: for days, weeks or months. Dutch painters had employed mannequins for decades, especially as an aid to full-length portraiture. Metsu once exchanged a portrait for a mannequin. The father of Gerrit ter Borch (1617–1681) wrote to his son in London, "Dear child, I am sending you the mannequin, but without a stand because it is too large and too heavy to be put into the trunk. For a small amount of money you can have the stand made there. Use the mannequin and do not let it stand idle, as it has done here, draw a lot: large dynamic compositions." From this letter, it appears that mannequins were unknown or unavailable in London.

Manner/Grand Manner

See also, mannerless manner, Mannerism.

Jane, Countess of Harrington, Joshua Reynolds
Jane, Countess of Harrington
Joshua Reynolds
Oil on canvas, oil, 145 x 235.6 cm.
Royal Collection Trust

from Wikipedia:
" Manner" is a term often used for a sub-division of a style, perhaps focused on particular points of style or technique. While many elements of particuarl period style can be reduced to characteristic forms or shapes, "manner" is more often used to mean the overall style and atmosphere of a work, especially complex works such as paintings that cannot so easily be subject to precise analysis. It is, however, considered a somewhat outdated term in academic art history, avoided because it is imprecise. When used it is often in the context of imitations of the individual style of an artist, and it is one of the hierarchies of discreet or diplomatic terms used in the art trade for the relationship between a work for sale and that of a well-known artist, with "Manner of Rembrandt" suggesting a distanced relationship between the style of the work and Rembrandt's own style. The "Explanation of Cataloguing Practice" of the auctioneers Christie's' explains that "Manner of ..." in their auction catalogues means "In our opinion a work executed in the artist's style but of a later date."

from Wikipedia:
" Gran Manner" refers to an idealized aesthetic style derived from classical art and the modern "classical art" of the High Renaissance. In the eighteenth century, British artists and connoisseurs used the term to describe paintings that incorporated visual metaphors in order to suggest noble qualities. It was Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) who gave currency to the term through his Discourses on Art, a series of lectures presented at the Royal Academy from 1769 to 1790, in which he contended that painters should perceive their subjects through generalization and idealization, rather than by the careful copying of nature. Reynolds never actually uses the phrase "gran manner," referring instead to the "great style" or "grand style," in reference to history painting:

How much the great style exacts from its professors to conceive and represent their subjects in a poetical manner, not confined to mere matter of fact, may be seen in the cartoons of Raffaelle. In all the pictures in which the painter has represented the apostles, he has drawn them with great nobleness; he has given them as much dignity as the human figure is capable of receiving yet we are expressly told in Scripture they had no such respectable appearance; and of St. Paul in particular, we are told by himself, that his bodily presence was mean. Alexander is said to have been of a low stature: a painter ought not so to represent him. Agesilaus was low, lame and of a mean appearance. None of these defects ought to appear in a piece of which he is the hero. In conformity to custom, I call this part of the art history painting; it ought to be called poetical, as in reality it is.

Originally applied to history painting, regarded as the highest in the hierarchy of genres, the Grand Manner came thereafter also to be applied to portrait painting, with sitters depicted life-size and full-length, in surroundings that conveyed the nobility and elite status of the subjects. Common metaphors included the introduction of classical architecture, signifying cultivation and sophistication, and pastoral backgrounds, which implied a virtuous character of unpretentious sincerity undefiled by the possession of great wealth and estates.

Mannerism, derived from the Italian maniera (manner) is a specific phase of the general Renaissance style, but "manner" can be used very widely.

The Lacemaker, Johannes VermeerThe Lacemaker (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1669–1671
Oil on canvas on panel, 24.5 x 21 cm.
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Vermeer's later works are often labeled as stylized or mannered. No longer conceived exclusively in alliance with illusionist ends, in the works of the late 1660s, but especially of the 1670s, Vermeer's brushwork is clearly visible. The wavy, mannerist strokes of the faux veining on the virginal in A Lady Seated at a Virginal recall the apparent carelessness of Japanese Sumi-e painting, or as one critic noted, the rhythmic drip paintings of Jackson Pollock (1912–1956). The flourishes of fluid gray paint of the marble veining of the floor tiles in The Love Letter are so accentuated that one may wonder what the artist desired to make visible, if not the pleasure of manipulating paint with a springy brush. In The Lacemaker languid brushstrokes of red paint dive from the sewing pillow into a swirling pool of color, a passage which has few parallels in Dutch painting in its disattention to recognizability.

Besides these calligraphic details, paint is applied evenly, producing enamel-like patches of unmodulated paint that lock together to create flat, simply shaped forms. This highly graphic manner directs the viewer's attention to the aesthetic values of shape, color and tone of the paint, rather than its physical substance. Although convincing in perspective and outline, this technique confers form a certain brittleness, as if, according to one critic, the world has been crystallized in paint. Even the edges of the shadows cast by the pictures-within-pictures, which were once so mysteriously soft, have been sharpened in obedience to the greater aim of subjugating form to the nearest geometrical equivalent.


The Deposition, Pontormo
The Deposition
c. 1525–1528
Oil on panel, 313 × 192 cm.
Santa Felicità, Florence

The term "Mannerism" derives from manieria, an Italian word that means "style." Mannerism is a style in European art that emerged in the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520, lasting until about 1580 in Italy, when the baroque style began to replace it. Though unified as a general phenomenon, Mannerism achieved distinct characteristics in different parts of Northern Europe.

Northern Mannerism continued into the early seventeenth century. Mannerism is sometimes referred to as the "stylish style" for its emphasis on self-conscious artifice over realistic depiction (as opposed to the "mannerless manner" evoked by a seventeenth-century Dutch art theorist). The sixteenth-century artist and critic Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574)—himself a mannerist—believed that excellence in painting demanded refinement, richness of invention and virtuoso technique, criteria that emphasized the artist's intellect. Mannerism may appear artificiality bizarre, to some unsettling, with its often acidic coloring, illogical compression of space, elongated proportions anatomy and serpentine poses.

Stylistically, Mannerism encompasses a variety of approaches influenced by, and reacting to, the harmonious ideals associated with artists such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Raphael (1483–1520), and early Michelangelo (1475–1564). Where High Renaissance art emphasizes proportion, balance and ideal beauty, Mannerism exaggerates such qualities, often resulting in compositions that are asymmetrical or unnaturally elegant. The style is notable for its intellectual sophistication as well as its artificial (as opposed to naturalistic) qualities. It favors compositional tension and instability rather than the balance and clarity favored by early renaissance painters. Mannerism in literature and music is notable for its highly florid style and intellectual sophistication.

Distinct from the Mannerist period in Italy, which began slightly later and lasted until the seventeenth century, Northern Mannerism in the early sixteenth century is characterized by unique stylistic and thematic traits, a number of which derive from late Gothic art. Though many of the early sixteenth-century Mannerists were based in Antwerp, where the movement was most clearly defined, other centers in France, Germany and the southern and northern Netherlands (i.e., present-day Belgium and Holland, respectively) were important for the transmission and divergence of the style.

Mannerless Manner

The Dutch art writer Philips Angel (1616–1683) recommended to painters that they adopt what he called a "mannerless manner,"' or a manner in which the sign of the painter's handiwork should not be too evident and overshadow the illusionist image, warning painters not to focus too strongly on brushwork. This means painting precisely, like Gerrit Dou (1613–1675), who approached real life "without […] [showing] the manner of the master who made it." In other words, a painter's manner should not interfere with the picture's mirror-like illusion of reality. Curiously, Angles also recommended a certain looseness in brush handling, an evident contradiction of the mannerless manner. As the art historian Johanna Catharina Tummers pointed out ("The Fingerprints of an Old Master On Connoisseurship of Dutch and Flemish Seventeenth-Century Paintings: Recent Debates and Seventeenth-Century Insights," 2009), when art theorists of the time struggled to define ideal styles, which required uniting the divergent goals of painting, they realized that "a perfect illusion cannot be appreciated if the viewer does not realize that he or she is looking at a picture. In other words, a perfect illusion requires an awareness of the deception. Praise of the illusion created in a painting and of its excellence as a work of art were necessarily at odds with each other."

In Abraham Bosse's treatise Sentimens sur la distinction des diverses manières (1649). the author wrote that the so-called "mannerless manner" was particularly adapted in the field of portraiture; because, unlike other types of paintings, portraiture should aim solely at a convincing imitation of nature, Thus, one should not be able to distinguish the painter's manner in a portrait.

Marine Painting

from Wikipedia:
Marine art or maritime painting is any form of figurative art that portrays or draws its main inspiration from the sea. Maritime painting is a genre that depicts ships and the sea—a genre particularly strong from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. In practice, the term often covers art showing shipping on rivers and estuaries, beach scenes and all art showing boats, without any rigid distinction—for practical reasons subjects that can be drawn or painted from dry land in fact feature strongly in the genre. Strictly speaking "maritime art" should always include some element of human seafaring, whereas "marine art" would also include pure seascapes with no human element, though this distinction may not be observed in practice. Dutch marine painters (Dutch: Zee-Schilden)

The Dutch Republic relied on trade by sea for its exceptional wealth, had naval wars with Britain and other nations during the period, and was crisscrossed by rivers and canals. It is, therefore, no surprise that the genre of maritime painting was enormously popular, and taken to new heights in the period by Dutch artists; as with landscapes, the move from the artificial elevated view typical of earlier marine painting was a crucial step. Pictures of sea battles told the stories of a Dutch navy at the peak of its glory, though today it is usually the more tranquil scenes that are highly estimated. Ships are normally at sea, and dock scenes are surprisingly absent.

The Maas at Dordrecht, Alert CuypThe Maas at Dordrecht
Aelbert Jacobsz Cuyp
circa 1650
Oil on canvas, 114.9 x 170.2 cm.
National Gallery of Art.

More often than not, even small ships fly the Dutch tricolor, and many vessels can be identified as naval or one of the many other government ships. Many pictures included some land, with a beach or harbor viewpoint, or a view across an estuary. Other artists specialized in river scenes, from the small pictures of Salomon van Ruisdael (c. 1602–1670) with little boats and reed-banks to the large Italianate landscapes of Aelbert Jacobsz Cuyp 1620–1691), where the sun is usually setting over a wide river. The genre naturally shares much with landscape painting, and in developing the depiction of the sky the two went together; many landscape artists also painted beach and river scenes. Artists included Jan Porcellis (1580/8–1632), Simon de Vlieger (c. 1601–1653), Jan van de Cappelle (1626–1679), Hendrick Dubbels (1621–1707) and Abraham Storck (1644–1708). Willem van de Velde the Elder (c. 1611–1693) and his son are the leading masters of the later decades, tending, as at the beginning of the century, to make the ship the subject, whereas in tonal works of earlier decades the emphasis had been on the sea and the weather. They left for London in 1672, leaving the master of heavy seas, the German-born Ludolf Bakhuizen (1630–1708), as the leading artist.

As far as we know, Vermeer never painted a true marinescape, but he did include an ebony-framed marinescape in the background of the late The Love Letter. Although the authors of a number of the pictures which appear in the background of Vermeer's interior scene have been identified, or at least conjectured, no one has of yet attempted to link the marinate with any contemporary Dutch marine painter.

Art historians muse that the anonymous seascape may represent an absent loved one which presumably functions as a pictorial stand-in for the author of the letter which has just been received by the seated mistress. Large numbers of Dutch women of the time must have experienced the great distances of the globe through their loved ones at sea.

A significant percentage of able-bodied Dutchmen earned their living from sea trade or the fishing industry and both Dutch painters and poets drew heavily from seafaring experience for their imagery. On the other hand, the ship in the present picture-within-a-picture may be associated with the emblematic motif of the suitor as a ship on the sea of love searching the safe harbor of his lady's arms. The motto inscribed above Jan Krul's contemporary emblem reads: "Even Though You Are Far Away, You Are Never Out of My Heart." In any case, the calm sea and blue sky of the ebony-framed seascape in Vermeer's picture may be a good omen in love providing a hint that the anxieties of the mistress are unfounded.


A master is an artist or artisan of skill qualifies him to teach an apprentice; also a great artistic figure of the past whose work serves as a model or ideal. Originally, the qualification of master was applied only to artists who were fully trained and belonging to their local artists' guild. Masters worked independently, but in practice, paintings produced with the collaboration of his pupils and journeymen. The master demonstrated the correct way of completing a task, and afterward, the apprentice attempted to imitate the master's skills while being corrected for any mistakes. Before training began, the apprentice and the master would sign a legal contract, with specific terms for the training. In various apprentices' contracts it is added that the master is expected not to hold back anything of what he knows, such that the pupil zijn cost eerlijck sal kennen verdienen (would be able honorably to earn his living). In some, though certainly not all, cases the pupil would receive board and lodging from his master. In addition to this, providing the material to be used by the pupil was an important factor. The apprentice was required to sign an apprenticeship contract of several years before he could become a journeyman, a person fully trained in a trade or craft, but not yet a master. The master was also responsible for everything that took place in the workplace. He rented the studio space, negotiated commissions and checked the contracts that went with them. He kept the books and paid the bills. Other than formal lessons in perspective and anatomy, the apprentice acquired tacit knowledge by observing how the master used his skills, sometimes said to be analogous to the interplay between parent and child. Through participation in daily activities, children learn skills by observing their parents, a process sometimes called observational learning.

Training with a recognized master was expensive. On average, the family of a young apprentice who continued to live with his parents paid between twenty and fifty guilders per year. Without board or lodging, the apprentice could disburse fifty to one hundred guilders in order to study with a famous artist such as Rembrandt (1606–1669) or Gerrit Dou (1613–1675), although highly productive pupils might be exempted from paying fees. Some even received wages. At the end of his tenure, the apprentice was required to submit a meesterstuk (masterpiece) to the local guild commission. If approved, he became a master and was admitted to the guild, paid an entrance fee and thereafter a yearly fee. He could now paint, sign, sell his works and take on apprentices of his own. In all likelihood, the guild would continue to play a central role in his life.

Some new masters established independent studios while some became specialized journeymen offering their assistance to painters who were unable to keep pace with market demand. Others moved on to another master whose style was more congenial to their interests. Rembrandt progressed so rapidly that he had pupils of his own when he was twenty-one. However, there was no obligatory system of instruction, so training varied from master to master to some degree.

Students were trained to work in the master's style and often succeeded to such a degree that today's art historians find it difficult to distinguish the hand of a master from that of his most talented pupils. Attributions of some paintings from the studio of Verrocchio (c. 1435–1488) and Rembrandt, for example, have gone back and forth between the master and various assistants. The same confusion applies to works of Perugino (c. 1446/1452–1523) (one of Verrocchio's students) and his young assistant Raphael (1483–1520), and those of Giovanni Bellini's (c. 1430–1516) students Giorgione (c. 1477/8–1510) and Titian (c. 1488/1490–1576). Although contracts sometimes specified that the master himself execute certain parts of a composition, guild rules allowed him to sign as his own any work that emerged from his shop. Authenticity in the modern sense was not at issue. A master's signature was a sign that a particular work met his standards of quality, no matter who had actually painted it.


Masterpiece (French: chef d'œuvre) is a term now loosely applied to the finest work by a particular artist or to any work of art of acknowledged greatness or of preeminence in its field. Originally it meant the piece of work by which a craftsman, having finished his training, gained the rank of "master' in his guild. Great care was therefore taken to produce a fine piece in whatever the craft was, whether confectionery, painting, goldsmithing, knifemaking, or many other trades. The Royal Academy in London is one institution that has acquired a fine collection of "Diploma works" as a condition of acceptance.

Although it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to articulate a definition of masterpiece that could be accepted universally, superlative craftsmanship, extraordinary design, great antiquity, rich materials, purity of form, artistic genius, originality and influence on other artists must be taken into consideration.


Matthijs Jonker, "Meaning in Art History: A philosophical analysis of the iconological debate and the Rembrandt Research Project."http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_zev001200801_01/_zev001200801_01_0014.php (This article is based on Jonker's master thesis "The Practice Turn in Art History. A new philosophical framework for art historical research," University of Amsterdam, 2006)

Since the origins of their discipline in the nineteenth-century art historians have silently worked with a certain conception of meaning. In this conception the meaning of a work of art is seen as some kind of aura accompanying it, an essential or intrinsic property of the artwork. Therefore, I will call this the 'essentialist' conception of meaning. The application of this conception in art history has two main variations. In the first one, the artist is seen as the origin and sole source of an artwork's meaning. Through his creativity, brilliance and sometimes even through divine inspiration he expresses his ideas, intentions and emotions by infusing his materials with some intrinsic quality or concept, turning them into art with a given meaning. The art historian attempting to understand this meaning seeks to plumb the intentions, emotions, or other mental conditions the artist had at the time of the artwork's creation. In the other variation, an artist is seen to express (often no less brilliantly) the mentality of a nation or the underlying principles of a culture. Although the artist and his mental conditions are still important in this view, they are no longer crucial for understanding the meaning of a work of art. The meaning of a work of art is analyses by reconstructing the mentality or the principles of his culture. In this variation, culture is seen as a homogenous and ideal entity. The two variations can also be combined: in that case, the intentions of the artist are reconstructed, but they are regarded less as individual choices than as reflections of the mentality or underlying principles of his culture.

The essentialist view tends to downplay or ignore a circumstance that has received increasing attention in recent decades in art history as in other fields. That is, the social dimension of the work of art. This has been acknowledged in the last three or four decades in a large number of art-historical studies infused with concepts and methods.

from "The Elements of Art," in Art History: A Preliminary Handbook (1996) by Dr. Robert J. B.

When the question is asked about meaning in art, however, it is not usually the individual ingredients in it that are being referred to. If it were, the answer could simply be, "Yes, this word has a meaning and that word has. So does the sentence as a whole. And items in paintings sometimes have meaning; for example, the halo over the Madonna's head symbolizes holiness." What is being asked is whether the work of art as a whole has a meaning. But what does the question itself mean? Several different things can be meant: (1) The inquirer may be asking, "What is it about?"—in which case the question is about subject matter, already discussed. (2) He may be asking, "What is its theme?" For example, is the motion picture He Who Must Die really a parable about the life of Jesus? (3) He may be asking, "What is its thesis?" For example, what is the message of the Anglo-Irish author Jonathan Swift to the reader in "A Modest Proposal"? (4) The inquiry may be about the effects of a work of art on the recipient—either what these effects are or what they could or should be. In this sense, all works of art have meaning, since they all have effects (whether there is one type of effect that a given work of art should have is another question). This is, however, an extremely misleading use of the word "meaning." Indeed, the entire discussion of "meaning in art" is a most confusing one—and the fault does not lie in art, but in the human users of words. Endless unnecessary mysteries can be created by using such nebulous words as "meaning" as if they were simple, straightforward and susceptible to one interpretation. It would contribute greatly to the clarification of discussions of philosophy of art if the word meaning were not used in them at all but some conception clearer and more specific.

Since Vermeer's instatement in the Pantheon of European art beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the meanings given to his paintings have steadily multiplied. His work has been a catalyst for a head-spinning array of theories, illuminating and obscure. Scholars have cross-examined every detail, no matter how inconsequential, in the hopes of uncovering some sign of what the artist meant to tell his viewers. A humble ceramic tile with a barely recognizable Cupid scribbled by some anonymous Delft artisan informs us that what the bare-armed, no-nonsense milkmaid had her mind not so much on the bread pudding she is making, but on a loved one.

Parallel to specialist study, Vermeer's oeuvre have been ensnared in an incessant reevaluation of Dutch art at large. A broader overview of relevant literature suggests that Vermeer, willing or not, has been a painter for all seasons, a chameleon whose uncluttered images are somehow able to mirror the interests of anyone who wished to see in them something more than chairs, maps, checkered floor tiles and a few not-too-particularly pretty young woman.

Period documents say nothing of what meanings Vermeer may have undefended to convey to his contemporaries. The only qualified assessment of Vermeer's art in his own age was written on May 14, 1669 by an up-and-coming aristocrat and aspiring liefhebber van de schilderkonst (lover of the art of painting), Pieter Teding van Berckhout. Van Berckhout made no mention of "balance," "transience," "suspended time," "allusiveness," "optical way" or any other of the concepts recurrently associated with the artist today. Instead, he unequivocally affirms that the "most extraordinary and most curious aspect" of Vermeer's art "consists in the perspective." Although the perspectival constructions of Vermeer's paintings have been analyzed in recent years, not a single art scholar or museum-goer would designate perspective as a salient feature of the artist's oeuvre. From this we may presume Vermeer's art was viewed differently in his own age than ours.

Following Van Berckhout's brief diary entry, critical silence cloaked Vermeer's art for 200 years until his artistic identity was recovered and his oeuvre provisionally reassembled by the French art connoisseur, collector and active socialist Joseph Théophile Thoré.

Medium & Binder

Oil paint is made from a drying oil bound with a pigment, the actual coloring substance. Binders are usually vegetable oil that dry to a tough hard film by oxidation through absorption of oxygen from the air. Numerous different oils are used in paints, however, the most common is linseed oil made from the pressed seeds of the flax plant. Walnut and poppy seed oils are also commonly found used as paint binders.

Drying oils were known to painters of the fourteenth century and earlier but were not widely adopted for use until about 1400. By the middle of the sixteenth century, it was fully in use as the main form of paint medium. This medium leaves paintings with a well saturated rich tonality to the colors.

Ideal mediums are colorless, permanent, flexible and do not influence the color of a pigment. Learning the particular properties of a drying oil is part of the essential technical knowledge an oil painter should have. When an oil paint feels dry to the touch, it will still be drying under the surface for some time, which is why the principle of painting "fat over lean" is so important in oil painting.

Linseed oil is made from the seeds of the flax plant. It adds gloss and transparency to paints and is available in several forms. It dries very thoroughly, making it ideal for underpainting and initial layers in a painting. Refined linseed oil is a popular, all-purpose, pale to light-yellow oil that dries within three to five days. Cold-pressed linseed oil dries slightly faster than refined linseed oil and is considered to be the best quality linseed oil.

Stand oil is a thicker processed form of linseed oil, with a slower drying time (about a week to be dry to the touch, though it'll remain tacky for some time). It's ideal for glazing (when mixed with a diluent or solvent such as turpentine) and produces a smooth, enamel-like finish without any visible brushmarks. Sun-thickened linseed oil is a mixture of linseed oil and water which has been exposed to the sun for weeks to create a thick, syrupy, somewhat bleached oil, with similar brushing qualities to stand oil.

As linseed oil tends to yellow as it dries, it must be avoided in whites, pale colors and light blues (except in underpaintings or lower layers in an oil painting when painting wet on dry). Stand oil and sun-thickened oil yellows very little.

Poppy seed oil is a very pale oil, more transparent and less likely to yellow than linseed oil, so it is often used for whites, pale colors, and blues. It gives oil paint a consistency similar to soft butter. Poppy seed oil takes longer to dry than linseed oil, from five to seven days, making it ideal for working wet on wet. Because it dries slowly and less thoroughly, avoid using poppy seed oil in lower layers of a painting when working wet on dry and when applying paint thickly, as the paint will be liable to crack when it finally dries completely. Poppy seeds naturally contain about 50 percent oil.

Walnut oil is a pale yellow-brown oil (when newly made it's a pale oil with a greenish tinge) that has a distinctive smell. As it's a thin oil, it's used to make oil paint more fluid. As it yellows less than linseed oil (but more than safflower oil) it's good for pale colors. Walnut oil dries in four or five days. It's an expensive oil and must be stored correctly otherwise it goes rancid (off). Walnuts naturally contain about 65 percent oil.

Turpentine is the traditional solvent used in oil painting. It's based on tree resin and has a fast evaporation rate, releasing harmful vapors. Turpentine is principally used to clean brushes and is a dilutent, rather than a binder, so it should be used with parsimony to thin paints.

Vermeer most likely used simple oil/pigment paint since no other element has been detected in his paint other than inert pigments and a protein-based material. These elements, however, were commonly mixed with particular pigments such as lakes, azurite and smalt to mitigate their inherent defects and render them more adapted for painting.

For centuries it has been assumed that the great masters, and especially Rembrandt (1606–1669), used complex mixtures of drying oils, resins and other materials to obtains the extraordinary technical effects which later painters were at a loss to explain. However, recent research into the exact composition of Rembrandt's painting medium has shown that he used primarily linseed oil and that resins and wax, which were believed to have been present in his paint, were not detected.

However, it is quite probable that he added amounts of egg (egg yolk, egg white or both) and perhaps water to his mixtures of white impasto (heavy opaque paint). The oil and egg contents of this kind of paint create an emulsion. The emulsion has more body than simple oil paint and brushes easier. The textural effect of emulsion is greater than that of oil/ pigment. However, the presence of emulsion in Rembrandt's work should not be considered a "secret" since emulsion in various forms was widely employed in European easel painting.

Medium (artistic)

In relation to art, this term has three meanings, two of which have overlapping, even slightly confusing meanings. Painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, are all mediums of art in the sense of a type of art: however, the term can also refer to the materials a work is made from. Some of the most popular artistic painting mediums are acrylic, encaustic paint, gouache, oil, tempera, watercolor and fresco. Finally, in a third meaning, the term medium also refers to the liquid in which the pigment is suspended to make paint.

Vermeer is known to have used only oil paint.

Merry Company (Gezelschappen)

The term "genre," which is widely used by art historians to describe a variety of subject matter found in Dutch paintings of contemporary life, was not employed by seventeenth-century Dutch viewers, who, instead, used more specific terms to such as gezelschappen ("merry company") and koortegardje ("guardroom pieces"). During the seventeenth century, a small army of Dutch artists made a discreet living painting gezelschappen which compassed a wider range of styles and subject matter, both "high" and "low."

Although many merry companies display typical elements of contemporary life they cannot be seen as records of real-life circumstances but pictorial conventions continually repeated and elaborated upon over many generations to meet and better the expectations of art collectors.

The origins of the merry company motif were colorful paintings of flamboyantly dressed young people engaged in merry-making and amorous play in open garden terraces (buijtenpartij), which in turn may have been transformations of the "Courtly Garden on Love" which had lived a long life in late medieval manuscript illuminations and paintings. Other sources of the merry companies may have been the "Garden of Fools" and the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son, both of which moralized against lasciviousness and drink.

Willem Pieterszoon Buytewech, Merry CompanyMerry Company
Willem Pieterszoon Buytewech
c. 1620
Oil on canvas, 19.4 x 68 cm.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

By 1610, Willem Buytewech (1591/1592–1624) and Dirck Hals (1591–1656, Fran Hals' younger brother, were actively producing merry companies in Haarlem in which the careless young, fritter away their lives on drink, women and revelry. "Whilst Buytewech seems to have been responsible for moving scenes of merry companies to the indoors, he only painted a handful of pictures of this type." Buytewech, however, died prematurely in 1624 and left only a few works. "It remained for Dirck Hals to develop the theme, updating it and restyling it in a more secular vein. In his hands, the didactic character of the early prototypes largely disappears and is replaced by a new emphasis on modern manners and pastimes. Judging by the considerable number of scenes of merry companies produced by Hals during his career, his new gloss on the traditional theme must have struck a positive chord with the art-buying public.""Dirck Hals (1591–1656) 'A Musical Company in an Interior'," Johnny van Haeften,, http://www.johnnyvanhaeften.com/musical-company-interior.

Most of the first merry companies were small in scale and bright, if not gaudy, color which featured people of different generations. However, later generations of painters gradually transformed the typically packed merry company scene excluding all but two or three figures. The scenes were no longer staged in flat space but set in boxlike rooms in elegant interior settings decked out with the latest style of dress and most elite social decorum. While the first painters who brought ushered in the more gentrified merry company motif were Anthonie Palamedesz (1601–1673) and Dirck Hals (1591–1656). Pieter Codde (1599–1678) and William Duyster (1599–1635) brought hitherto unseen refinements to both in subject matter and technique and provided important precedents for other artists, the most significant of which was the representation of guardroom scenes. Duyster's merry companies strike a contemplative note that was altogether foreign to works of the early seventeenth-century renditions of the motif. In this, more than any other genre painter of his generation, Duyster's merry companies anticipate those of Gerrit ter Borch (1617–1681), perhaps the finest exponent of the motif.

Despite the apparent lowliness of subject matter of some merry companies—one of the more direct examples is Jan Miense Molenaer's group scene in which people sing, dance, drink and smoke while two skeletons lurk, Merry Company With Death Entering the Door (c. 1631)—such pictures were quite popular in the Netherlands and could demand high prices.

Various works by Vermeer would have been considered merry companies, such as the Glass of Wine, the Girl with a Wine Glass, the Girl Interrupted in her Music and the Concert. By the 1660s, artists who painted merry companies no longer had to spell out their intentions clearly whether they be a reminder that love, youth and beauty are as transient as the music's sweet strain. Like today, these paintings could appreciated for their sheer elegance and technical facility.


Mimesis is one of the oldest, most fundamental concepts in Western aesthetics. Generally speaking, mimesis is the imitation of life or nature in the techniques and subject matter of art and literature. Mimesis is a species of imitation, although the word has specialized uses ensuring that it is not a straightforward synonym. Mimesis is the enactment of the elements of a text as opposed to the imagination of them—in other words, the showing of things as opposed to the telling of things (diegesis). One of the major concerns of painting in the Western world has always been representing the appearance of things.

Moshe Barasch in Theories of Art (New York: New York University Press, 1985) states that "there is...one belief that was regarded as dogma and that was reverently observed by everybody who thought, or wrote, on painting and sculpture: the belief that the visual arts imitate nature." Barasch continues: "Not a single renaissance treatise fails to make the point that the imitation of nature is the very aim of painting and sculpture and that the more closely a work approaches this aim the better that it is." This tradition, wherein the painter's task is to rival the truth of nature, which had became a fundamenta goall, has survived to the present day, and the more accurately a painting represents the real world, the greater the aesthetic value attached to it.

In the world of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) the assessment of art is largely a mimetic one, where the beauty of an artwork is judged in part by its visual approximation of Nature. Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), the sixteenth-century da Vinci biographer, describes the artist's Mona Lisa thus:

If one wanted to see how faithfully art can imitate nature, one could readily perceive it from this head; for here Leonardo subtly reproduced every living detail. The eyes had their natural luster and moistness….The mouth, joined to the flesh tints of the face by the red of the lips, appeared to be living flesh rather than paint. On looking closely at the pit of her throat, one could swear that the pulses were beating. …in this painting of Leonardo there was a smile so pleasing that it seemed divine rather than human; and those who saw it were amazed to find that it was as alive as the original.

"Vermeer's use of perspective and camera obscura vision to outdo life was one response to the Renaissance idea that art is the rival and lover of nature, and that art's highest challenge is mimesis, the most persuasive representation of the visible world. In Dutch painting, the goal of painting naer het leven (after life) was pursued with a whole range of new tactics. Seventeenth-century viewers relished the miniaturized reproduction of their world that painting offered. A contemporary praised Gerrit Dou (1613–1675), for example, "for bringing 'such perfection to his living subjects, on such a neat and small scale, that his creations can hardly be distinguished from life itself.'"Mariët Westermann, "Vermeer and the Interior Imagination," in Vermeer and the Dutch Interior, ed. Alejandro Vergara (Madrid: Museo Nacional de Prado, 2003), 228.


Mise-en-scène is the way a director arranges people and objects on a stage to create verisimilitude in theatre. In theatre and film. It is the stage setting, including all props, lighting effects, costumes, etc., but excluding the narrative proper. Mise-en-scène is especially critical in film studies, where it implies the orchestration of all the seen elements, with special reference to composition, visual weights, the function of the frame, and staged movements within the scene.

There are essentially three distinct aspects of composition in painting. The first is the painter's immaterial vision, which in the case of Vermeer was an imaginary ensemble of figures and objects within an environment adapted for telling a specific story, for example, a woman who fastens a pearl necklace to her neck while gazing at a mirror in a peaceful, light-filled domestic setting. The second aspect is three-dimensional and consists in arranging objects in a real setting corresponding to those of the artist's vision from which he can effectively paint. For despite the opinions of a few art historians, given the intricacies of rendering perspective, drawing, color, and light and shadow it is impossible to depict scenes like those of Vermeer's paintings without a relatively complete observable model. This sort of purposely staged model has much in common with the term mise-en-scène used in theatre and cinema. The third aspect of composition is the arrangement of the shapes, lines and colors of objects as they appear when they are transmuted into paint on the flat surface of the canvas. Thus, to give full body to his original vision the artist must create an aesthetic arrangement of the two-dimensional pictorial elements that complements the order of the real scene as seen from the single viewpoint of the painter.


Although mixing different tones and colors of paint which each other is necessary to create the illusion of form, space and light, over mixing must be avoided.

Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678), a Dutch artist and art theorist who at the time was influenced by his former teacher Rembrandt (1606–1669), warned painters against blending:

It is above all desirable that you should accustom yourself to a lively mode of handling, so as to smartly express the different planes or surfaces (of the object represented); giving the drawing due emphasis, and the coloring, when it admits of it, a playful freedom without ever proceeding to polishing or blending: for this annihilates feeling, supplying nothing in its stead but a sleepy constraint, through which the legitimate breaking of colors is sacrificed. It is better to aim at softness with a well-nourished brush, and, as Jordaens used to express it, "gaily lay on the color,"f caring little for the even surface produced by blending; for, paint as thickly as you please, smoothness will, by subsequent operations, creep in of itself.

Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) later wrote, "To preserve the colors fresh and clean in painting, it must be done by laying on more color, and not by rubbing them in when they are once laid; and if it can be done, they should be laid just in their proper places at first, and not any more be touched, because the freshness of the colors is tarnished and lost in mixing."


A modello (from the Italian; plural, modelli) is a sketch for a painting (or other work of art, especially sculpture) made in the same, or similar, medium. Modelli were usually made to show patrons what the end result would roughly look like, as well as to help artists work out their ideas.

A modello is not usually as detailed as a cartoon, which is intended to be copied accurately. Modelli were admired and collected by connoisseurs of the sixteenth century in Italy. It is often hard to distinguish them from ricordi, which are reduced replicas of larger paintings also often executed with freedom of touch. A distinction may be made between a bozzetto—a roughly blocked-out preliminary sketchand a modello, which is more finished.


In his Groot Schilderboek, Dutch painter Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711), who turned art theoretician after he became blind, first distinguished between the two modes of painting which he called "the Antique" and "the Modern." According to de Lairesse, "'the Antique' persists through all periods while 'the Modern' constantly changes with fashion." Therefore, the most adapted subjects of great painting were Biblical, historical and mythological themes, in appropriate the dress and settings and not representations of modern scenes such as those of Vermeer in contemporary dress since in this manner the viewers would become estranged by their paintings due to the continual changes. The idea of "the Antique" corresponds to our concept of "classicist."

In the important 1740 edition of de Lairesse's treatise, Vermeer was cited among other "modern" Dutch masters whose art was destined to perish: "the old Mieris, Metzu, van der Meer."


A monochrome is a work painted in a single color, but the term is often used more loosely to describe works in which a single color predominates. In such pictures it is the subtle variation of tone which creates the desired effects.

There was a school of landscape painting in Haarlem in the early seventeenth century that painted "monochrome" landscapes. The school included Salomon van Ruisdael (c. 1602–1670) Jan van Goyen (1596–1656) and Pieter de Molijn (1595–1661).


monogram of Albrecht DurerThe monogram of Albrecht Dürer

A monogram is a motif made by overlapping or combining two or more letters or other graphemes to form one symbol. Monograms are often made by combining the initials of an individual or a company, used as recognizable symbols or logos. Monograms first appeared on coins, as early as 350 B.C. The earliest known examples are of the names of Greek cities that issued the coins, often the first two letters of the city's name. For example, the monogram of Achaea consisted of the letters alpha (Α) and chi (Χ) joined together.

Monograms have been used as signatures by artists and craftsmen on paintings, sculptures and pieces of furniture, especially when guilds enforced measures against unauthorized participation in the trade. A famous example of a monogram serving as an artist's signature is the "AD" used by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528). Also well known is Vermeer's monogram which employs an "M" and "I" in which the "I" stands for "Johannes," the "M" stands for "Me.

+er" and the valley of the "M" stands for "Ver."

For a complete analysis of Vermeer's monograms and signatures, click here.

Motif (visual arts)

A motif is an element, usually characterizing, of an image, most commonly used in creative fields like visual arts, literature and design. A motif may be repeated in a pattern or design, often many times, or may just occur once in a work. Paisley designs are referred to as motifs. Many designs in mosques in Islamic culture are motifs, especially those of flowers. Two major Roman motifs are egg and tongue, and ball and reel.

A motif may also be the main subject of an artwork. The depiction of a motif can be obvious or understated. Often, a motif will form a basis for the work of which it is a part; in this case, the motif is usually a key concept that the artist or designer feels is essential and wishes to represent through the immediate sensory experiences engendered by the piece.

Many motifs that Vermeer painted are those that he encountered in daily life: a young woman absorbed in reading a letter in a corner of a sunlight room; a girl adorning herself in the morning with a pearl necklace, a girl making lace, a view of the harbor filled with boats in front of the skyline of his native Delft and two young children quietly playing in front of their house under the watchful eye an elderly woman.


The muses were nine sister goddesses who in ancient Greece were credited with the inspiration for learning and the arts. They include muses of history, comedy, tragedy, music and dancing: Clio, Thalia, Melpomene, Euterpe and Terpsichore. They were considered the source of the knowledge embodied in the poetry, lyric songs, and myths that were related orally for centuries in these ancient cultures. They were later adopted by the Romans as a part of their pantheon.

An appeal to a muse would be to a specific muse, rather than for general inspiration. By extension, a museum is a place where objects pertaining to the arts and learning are kept.

In current English usage, "muse" can refer in general to a person who inspires an artist, musician, or writer.

In Vermeer's The Art of Painting it is believed that the standing female figure represents Clio, the muse of history, evidenced by the fact that she wears a laurel wreath, holds a trumpet, possibly carries a book by Herodotus or Thucydides, which matches the description in Cesare Ripa's sixteenth-century book on emblems and personifications entitled Iconologia.


Officer and Laughing Girl, Johannes VermeerOfficer and Laughing Girl (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1657–1660
Oil on canvas, 50.5 x 46 cm.
Frick Collection, New York

Vermeer painted different types of women's head coverings in eleven works. Bianca M. du Mortier* wrote, "The most common type is the nachtdouck, or night kerchief, a simple piece of white cloth which was folded or rolled back around the woman's face and tied under the chin. The nachtdouck kept the woman's head warm, protected her hair and prevented fragrant oils or powders—sprinkled on the hair to rid it of grease—from getting onto the bedclothes." The nachtdouck was frequently worn in combination with the jack. In Vermeer's Officer and Laughing Girl, the ends of the nachtdouck are neatly tied under the chin, while in all other pictures they fall loosely to the breast, framing the woman's face in a protective rectangle. Interestingly, only in The Procuress, which features a young prostitute plying money from her client, is the nachtdouck bordered with lace.

The seated mistress of the Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid also wears a head covering which seems to be bordered with lace, but given its heavily abstract treatment, its form is unclear. In The Love Letter the maid wears a tight-fitting piece of cloth which is bunched up in the back. In the Young Woman Holding a Water Pitcher the figure wears both a nachtdouck and a kamdoek, the latter being a length of linen or cotton reaching halfway down the upper arm or to the elbow, gathered around the neck.

*Bianca M. du Mortier, "Costumes in Gabriel 's Paintings: Mode and Manners in the Mid-Seventeenth Century." Gabriel Metsu. Adriaan E. Waiboer. New Haven and London. 2010.

Naer het leven (from life)

See also "en plein air."

Naer het leven, in Dutch "from life." The alternative to naer het leve was uyt den geest, "from the mind."

It was only in 1604 that working naer het leven was introduced as an art theoretical concept in Karel van Mander's (1548–1606) Schilder-boeck. Van Mander encouraged young artists to go into the countryside to observe nature and make drawings from life, but once back in the studio, the impressions gathered from nature needed to be transformed. In his opinion, the aspect of invention, suggested by the expression uyt den gheest, is the most crucial within the process of artistic creation.

Although the Dutch school is primarily known for naturalism and illusionism, it is not known to what extent Dutch painters actually worked from or after life, as it is sometimes termed. Until then, artists had ubiquitously constructed their paintings within the confines of their studios with the aid of sketches from life of single objects, prints, memory and fantasy.

Michiel van Musscehr, The Painter's Studio
The Painter's Studio

Michiel van Musscher
Oil on panel, 57 x 47 cm.
Historisch Museum Het Schielandhuis, Rotterdam

Most authorities doubt that Dutch landscape painters carried their painting equipment outside and painted directly from life, as the Impressionists would do centuries later. Rather, the abundance of landscape drawings that have survived would indicate that seventeenth-century landscape painters habitually went of outdoor trips to make drawings, both quick sketches and finished drawings, which they brought back to their studios and elaborated in oil. An example the practice of working from drawings is emphasized in a work by Michiel van Musscher (1645–1705) called The Painter's Studio which represents a finely dressed painter who momentarily meditates on a number of ship drawings at the feet of his easel while he paints on a seascape using full color, a fact confirmed by the artist's fully set palette tilted obligingly towards the viewer.

Amongst history painters, drawing from life was common practice, but the actual painting process was a different matter. Once the painter had produced a sufficient stock of drawings of figures or complicated props (backgrounds were largely done from fantasy or prints), all the parts of the compositional puzzle were arranged together in a harmonious and detailed layout and subsequently painted uyt den geest, "from the mind."

On the other hand, some Dutch landscape painters stated on the title pages of series of landscapes had been done from sketches naer het leven thereby guaranteeing a higher degree of authenticity. As late as 1860 Johan Conrad Grieve felt compelled to declare it on the title page of a series of lithographs he published of various types of Dutch ships; he states the ships were "drawn from nature," and then lithographed by him.Seymour Slive, "The Manor Kostverloren: Vicissitudes of a Seventeenth-Centre Dutch Landscape Motif," papers in Art History from Pennsylvania State University 3 (1988): 141.

Nonetheless, only rarely did contemporaries describe single works as done from life. "A very long inventory, in which at a certain point three panels representing the face of Christ were listed. One in particular is defined in these terms: 'Cristus tronie nae't Leven'. Literally: Head of Christ from life. What did that specific "from life" mean? The first scholar to publish the inventory in 1834, decided it was an oversight on the part of the Dutch magistrate, and thus ignored it and suppressed the description. Two years later, an attentive observer remarked the act of censorship and solved the problem for himself by a decidedly forced interpretation: life-size. But in Dutch nae't leven, a contraction of naar het leven, leaves no room for ambiguity: it means "taken from life," that is from a living model.Giuseppe Frangi, "Rembrandt moved by the face of Jesus," 30 Days in the Church and the World (2011), http://www.30giorni.it/articoli_id_77871_l3.htm.

In regards to genre interiors, art historians and art specialists are divided into separate camps. On side, exemplified by art scholar Walter Liedtke, hold that Dutch painters, including Vermeer, were so technically well equipped that they were able to construct a good part of their paintings from acquired conventions of pictorial representations and from imagination. On the other hand, the London architect Philip Steadman, author of a game-changing book on Vermeer and the camera obscura, believes that Vermeer not only assembled all the details of his scenes in a controlled studio environment in order to work from life, he also employed the camera obscura to help him compose and subsequently trace the device's projected image directly to his canvas, shortcutting the need for tedious line drawings and problems of perspective. Unfortunately, there exist are no period documents which discuss the matter.

Narrative/Narration/Narrative Art

Term used to describe art that provides a visual representation of some kind of story, sometimes based on literary work. Narration, the relating of an event as it unfolds over time, is in principle a difficult task for the visual arts, since a work of art usually lacks an obvious beginning, middle and end, essential features of any story. Nevertheless, since ancient times many works of art have had as their subject matter figures or tales from mythology, legend or history (i.e., history painting). The artists overcame the inherent limitations of visual narrative by representing stories that the viewer might be expected to know and would therefore retell in his or her mind while taking in the representation.

The function of narration is to deliver a narrative, although it may also include descriptive or other elements that are not narrative proper. In a simplistic distinction, the narrative is comprised of the events of a story, whereas the narration consists of the way(s) in which the story is presented, ranging from the implied author's tone to such things as the actual order of events.

Genre and history painting are each a type of narrative art. While genre paintings depict events of an everyday sort, history paintings depict famous events.

Dutch genre painting of the period, in its apparent preoccupation with the description of interiors and domestic scenes, was fundamentally different in character from contemporary Italian painting, with its narrative portrayals of events, typically from classical mythology or the Bible. Svetlana Alpers argued that the descriptive Dutch painting should not be subjected to analytic and critical methods, such as Panofskian iconography, which had been developed for use in the interpretation of the narrative imagery of Italian painting. She particularly castigated a favorite method of some of the recent scholars of Dutch painting, which was to use the imagery they found in emblems to interpret, by extension, the subject matter of the genre paintings. To her, subjecting the immediacy and simplicity of Dutch painting to minute, iconographical analysis was an aberration.

Modernists largely rejected narrative art.

Although Vermeer worked within an accepted iconographic framework, the specific narrative content of many of his paintings remains unclear. Perhaps Vermeer deliberately left the narrative of his works open so as to not exclude the viewers' eventual participation or perhaps he wished to investigate more fundamental and universal human values.


A method of representation in the fine arts and literature in which reality is the result of sensory experience rather than theory, and is represented as realistically and scientifically precise as possible.

The uncertainties provoked by the iconographical interpretations of Vermeer's painting have led to different reactions. "Painting is different from emblem books and other literary genre and its principal aim, unlike these and other forms of cultural production, was not didactic. While today it seems obvious that paintings of domestic interiors are not a mere mirror of reality, as occurred in the nineteenth century., it is helpful to call attention, as Svetlana Alpers has done, to the fact that one of the main motivations of this kind of painting is a curiosity of the world, which is expressed in visual terms and is accessible through sight. This interpretation establishes parallels between painting and the interest which existed at the time in acquiring information about the natural world through scientific instruments such as the microscope (a Dutch invention), different types of lenses, the camera obscura and cartography. It also relates the realism of Dutch genre paintings to other spheres of contemporary thought such as the theories of sight proposed by Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) or writing on the visibility of knowledge by Francis Bacon (1561–1626)."Alejandro Vergara, ed., Vermeer and the Dutch Interior (Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado), 215.20

Negative Shape/Negative Space

See also, Positive Shape

drawn from Wikipedia, "Negative Shape":

negative shape
The so-called "Rubin's vase" is a well-known optical illusion in which the negative space around the vase forms the silhouettes of two faces in profile, a well-known example of figure-ground reversal.

Negative space, in art, is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image. Negative space may be most evident when the space around a subject, and not the subject itself, forms an interesting or artistically relevant shape, and such space is occasionally used to artistic effect as the "real" subject of an image. The use of negative space is a key element of artistic composition. The Japanese word "ma" is sometimes used for this concept, for example in garden design.

In a two-tone, black-and-white image, a subject is normally depicted in black and the space around it is left blank (white), thereby forming a silhouette of the subject. However, reversing the tones so that the space around the subject is printed black and the subject itself is left blank causes the negative space to be apparent as it forms shapes around the subject, called figure-ground reversal.

Elements of an image that distract from the intended subject, or in the case of photography, objects in the same focal plane, are not considered negative space. Negative space can be used to depict a subject in a chosen medium by showing everything around the subject but not the subject itself. Usage of negative space will produce a silhouette of the subject. Most often, though, negative space is used as a neutral or contrasting background to draw attention to the main subject which is then referred to as the positive space.

The use of equal negative space, as a balance to positive space, in a composition is considered by many as good design. This basic and often overlooked principle of design gives the eye a "place to rest," increasing the appeal of a composition through subtle means. The term is also used by musicians to indicate silence within a piece.

The Love Letter, Johannes Vermeer The Love Letter (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1667–1670
Oil on canvas, 44 x 38.5.cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Many art critics maintain that Vermeer was highly conscious of the importance of negative shape in his finely gauged compositions even though there is no documentary evidence that negative shape was contemplated by seventeenth-century artists. In many of his paintings, especially of those of the mid-1660s, the viewer becomes aware that the pieces of background wall are not simply "leftovers" formed by foreground objects, but rather positive shapes in their own right capable of evoking an expressive response. Lawrence Gowing (Vermeer, 1950) certainly had the play of negative and positive shapes in mind when he stated: "Nothing else evokes the impression, certainly no printed reproduction, nothing but the canvas itself: we see, large and plain, a mosaic of shapes which bear equally on one another. They are clasped together by their nature, holding each other to every other in its natural embrace. We see a surface that has the absolute embedded flatness of inlay, of tarsia. And in an instant we recognize its shapes as emblems which carry in their stillness the force of the real world."


The Death of Socrates, DavidThe Death of Socrates
Jacques-Louis David
Oil on canvas, 130 x 196 cm.
Current location
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Neo-classicism literally means "new classicism" or a revival of classical values. The word is used as a style label and is applied to aspects of the arts of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. At that period there was a conscious revival and appropriation of classical models of art and architecture. The word classical is used in this context to imply both ancient works of art, especially architecture and sculpture, and those by painters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries such as Raphael (1483–1520) and Poussin (1594–1665) who were inspired by antique precedents, and in turn, established ideals in their work which came to be regarded as "classic."

A renewed emphasis—both inside and outside the academies—on the public and didactic function of art was an important factor in the rise of Neo-classicism, as were the excavations of ancient sites in Italy and elsewhere painters, for instance, were a part of the Arte dei Medici e Speziali, the doctors' and spice merchants' guild. Elsewhere they were associated with sculptors. In the Netherlands, painters on cloth sometimes belonged to different guilds from painters on wood.

"In many neoclassical paintings there is a clear, logical, planimetric structure to the composition: that is, a series of implied horizontal and vertical planes (straight layers or 'slices' through the imagined three-dimensional space of the painting) along which the whole is structured so that the composition remains taut, stable and balanced. This stability was often achieved partly through the use of the straight horizontal lines of classical architecture, which locked figures and objects into a geometric "grid." Figures, derived from antique statuary, are idealized rather than realistic, and arranged hierarchically so that heroes and protagonists and the planes on which they are located are clearly dominant. Neoclassical compositions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries express the traditional values of a classical style: simplicity, unity, order, idealism, balance, symmetry and a general respect for rules and reason. They also adhere to the traditional classical practice of studying antique statuary and the posed academic model as a basis for figure drawing: if "nature" was to be "imitated" this had to be in a highly selective, idealizing and refining way. The neoclassical style developed and championed by Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) offers a particularly striking version of the classical characterized by stark linearity: clearly delineated, outlined or contoured figures and objects, standing out from a neutral, non-distracting background, and often arranged horizontally so that they line up directly in front of the viewer."Open University, "2: The Death of Sardanapalus, 2.5: Neoclassical–the established style," , http://resources.jorum.ac.uk/xmlui/bitstream/handle/123456789/607/Items/A207_6_section7.html.

Neutral Color

A color which in color theory is neither warm nor cool. Neutral colors are said to result from the combination of two complementary colors (e.g., red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple). Neutral colors can also be mixed by other means. (See also complementary colors, and color temperature).

Vermeer used neutral color with great expertise. Although a great many areas of his compositions are painted with neutral grays and low-key ochers, one never has the sense that his compositions are lacking color.

Non Finito

Flaying of Marsyas, Titian Flaying of Marsyas
c. 1570–1576
Oil on canvas, 212 x 207 cm.
National Museum, Kroměříž

A non finito, or unfinished, painting is referred to as non finito when the artist deliberately stopped working before the painting was finished in order to create an effect. Some art historians maintain that non finito had been invented by other Italian renaissance artists including Donatello (c. 1386–1466), and Michelangelo (1475–1564), who left rough-carved surfaces in their works. Titian's (c. 1488/1490–1576) Flaying of Marsyas, and his other late works, are other examples of renaissance works left intentionally unpolished, rough, non finito.

But in general, the non finito is a Romantic idea; the nineteenth-century Romantics were in love with partial things, fragments, pieces, lost parts and orphaned forms. For a Romantic viewer, the tenuous, unpolished, wavering, dappled surface was far more evocative than the veneered and polished surface.

drawn from:
James Elkins, "Exploring Famous Unfinished Paintings in Google Art Project | Cézanne, De Kooning, Ofili (PHOTOS)," in The Huffington Post, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-elkins/post_1691_b_819376.html

Northern Light

See also Light, Darks and Lights, Lighting and Portrait Lighting.

Rembrandt's studio in the Rembrandt Hosue, Asmterdam Rembrandt's studio in the Rembrandt Hosue, Asmterdam

Studio lighting is a most important factor for a painter, and it is narrowly connected with the architecture of the studio, more especially with the source of light. Whether a window faces north, east, south or west makes a noteworthy difference in the type of light it receives. If one prefers morning sunlight to spray across the breakfast table, the breakfast room window should face east, but if one wants to paint, the window must face north. Painters have always preferred a northern exposition for their studios because northern light is cooler than southern light, but above all, because it is diffused and constant throughout the great part of the average working day. Thus, the amount, intensity and temperature of light that falls on any object or model will be roughly the same. The direction of direct rays of the sun coming from the east, west and south shift angles from one minute to the next creating fascinating but hopelessly complex patterns of dark and light. Within little time, much of the scene needs to be repainted. Moreover, for the great part of painting styles, direct sunlight produces such a wide range of lights and darks that it is practically impossible to capture them with artists' pigments.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) seems to have been the first to have recognized the advantages of northern light for the painter.

Nude/Nudity in Art

from Wikipedia:
The nude figure has a strong, if uneven, tradition in Western art, and has been used to express ideals of male and female beauty and other human qualities. It was a central preoccupation of Ancient Greek art, and after a semi-dormant period in the Middle Ages it returned to a central position in Western art with the Renaissance. Athletes, dancers and warriors are depicted to express human energy and life, and nudes in various poses may express basic or complex emotions such as pathos. In one sense, a nude is a work of fine art that has as its primary subject the unclothed human body, forming a subject genre of art, in the same way as landscapes and still life. Unclothed figures often also play a part in other types of art, such as history painting, including allegorical and religious art, portraiture, or the decorative arts.

Nude female figures called Venus figurines are found in very early prehistoric art, and in historical times, similar images represent fertility deities. Representations of gods and goddesses in Babylonian and Ancient Egyptian art are the precursors of the works of Western antiquity.

In Ancient Greece, where the mild climate was conducive to being lightly clothed or nude whenever convenient, male athletes competed at religious festivals entirely nude. The Greeks associated the male nude form with triumph, glory and even moral excellence. Although the Greek goddess Aphrodite was always pictured clothed, in the mid-fourth century B.C., Praxiteles made a nude Aphrodite, called the Knidian, which established a new tradition for the female nude, having idealized proportions based on mathematical ratios as were the nude male statues. The nudes of Greco-Roman art are conceptually ideals, visions of health, youth, geometric clarity, and organic equilibrium. The art historian Kenneth Clark considered idealization the hallmark of true nudes, as opposed to more descriptive and less artful figures that he considered merely naked.

The Three Graces, RUbensThe Three Graces
Peter Paul Rubens
Oil on canvas, 221 × 181 cm.
Prado Museum, Madrid

The development and dominance of Christianity in late antiquity changed the exigencies of patrons and art production. Unlike paganism, Christianity required no images of naked divinities, and new attitudes cast doubt and opprobrium on nude athletics, public bathing, and the very value of the human body. Christian emphasis on chastity and celibacy further discouraged depictions of nakedness, even in the few surviving Early Medieval survivals of secular art. Completely unclothed figures are rare in medieval art, the notable exceptions being Adam and Eve and the damned in Last Judgment scenes, and the ideal forms of Greco-Roman nudes are completely lost, transformed into symbols of shame and sin, weakness and defenselessness.

By the late medieval period, female nudes intended to be attractive edged back into art, especially in the relatively private medium of the illuminated manuscript, and in classical contexts such as the Signs of the Zodiac and illustrations to Ovid. The shape of the female "Gothic nude" was very different from the classical ideal, with a long body shaped by gentle curves, a narrow chest and high waist, small round breasts, and a prominent bulge at the stomach. The rediscovery of classical culture in the Renaissance restored the nude to its preeminent status in art. Donatello (c. 1386–1466) made two statues of the Biblical hero David, a symbol for the Republic of Florence: his first (in marble, 1408–1409) shows a clothed figure, but his second, probably of the 1440s, is the first freestanding statue of a nude since antiquity, several decades before Michelangelo's massive David (1501–04). Nudes in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling reestablished a tradition of male nudes in depictions of Biblical stories; the subject of the martyrdom of the near-naked Saint Sebastian had already become highly popular. The monumental female nude returned to Western art in 1486 with The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli for the Medici family, who also owned the classical Venus de' Medici, whose pose Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510) adapted.

The Dresden Venus of Giorgione (c. 1477/8–1510), also drawing on classical models, showed a reclining female nude in a landscape, beginning a long line of famous paintings including the Venus of Urbino (Titian, 1538), the Rokeby Venus (Diego Velázquez, c. 1650), Goya's Nude Maja (c. 1798) and Manet's Olympia (1863). Although they reflect the proportions of ancient statuary, such figures as Titian's Venus and the Lute Player and Venus of Urbino highlight the sexuality of the female body rather than its ideal geometry. In addition to adult male and female figures, the classical depiction of Eros became the model for the naked Christ child.

Louise O'Murphy, BoucherLouise O'Murphy
François Boucher
c. 1752
Oil on canvas, 59 x 73 cm.
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Raphael (1483–1520) in his later years is usually credited as the first artist to consistently use female models for the drawings of female figures, rather than studio apprentices or other boys with breasts added, who were previously used. Michelangelo's suspiciously boyish Study of a Kneeling Nude Girl for The Entombment (Louvre, c. 1500), which is usually said to be the first nude female figure study, predates this and is an example of how even figures who would be shown clothed in the final work were often worked out in nude studies so that the form under the clothing was understood. The nude figure drawing or figure study of a live model rapidly became an important part of artistic practice and training and remained so until the twentieth century.

In the early part of the Renaissance apprentices posed for both male and female figures; the use of women models was extremely rare and probably limited to the master's own wife or daughters. Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), who apprenticed in Andrea del Sarto's (1486–1530) workshop and disliked Andrea's wife, Lucrezia, observed that every woman Andrea painted looked like Lucrezia. In this case, however, Vasari attributed the resemblance to Andrea's devotion, not simply studio practice.

In baroque art, the continuing fascination with classical antiquity influenced artists to renew their approach to the nude, but with more naturalistic, less idealized depictions, perhaps more frequently working from live models. Both genders are represented; the male in the form of heroes such as Hercules and Samson, and the female in the form of Venus and the Three Graces. Rubens (1577–1640), who with evident delight painted women of generous figure and radiant flesh, gave his name to the adjective rubenesque.

In the later Baroque or Rococo period, a more decorative and playful style emerged, exemplified by François Boucher's Venus Consoling Love, likely commissioned by Madame Pompadour.


(or "œuvre" - plural "œuvres": also "opus")

A substantial body of work constituting the lifework of a writer, an artist, or a composer.

Vermeer's oeuvre forms a far from homogenous group of oil paintings. The 35 (?) paintings that constitute his oeuvre were presumably made over a period of little more than twenty years, between his entry as a master into the Delft Guild of Saint Luke in December 1653 and his death in December 1675. They include the historically imaginative (such as Christ in the House of Martha and Mary in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), the overt personification and allegorical (such as the Allegory of Faith in the Metropolitan Museum, New York and The Art of Painting in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), the plausibly realistic, such as his two cityscapes (The Little Street in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and the View of Delft in the Royal Cabinet of Pictures Mauritshuis, The Hague) and the majority of his scenes of domestic interiors with between one and three figures. Among them are works that appear to be hybrid: that is, paintings that combine the characteristics of the plausibly realistic with the allegorical or emblematic. These include the Woman Holding a Balance (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), and the A Lady Standing at a Virginal.

Through more than one hundred and fifty years of rather painstaking study beginning in 1850, scholars have identified 35, perhaps 36 paintings they now safely attribute to Vermeer. Their task was made difficult for a variety of reasons: Vermeer's varied and changeable painting style; the range of his choices of subject matter; the fact that he signed less than half of those works which yet survive and dated only one; and that, for several hundred years after his death in 1675, no one knew the true extent of his oeuvre. In addition, his contemporary reputation probably did not extend much beyond Holland, in all likelihood because only a small number of local connoisseurs collected his relatively few paintings. According to scholarly estimates, Vermeer completed perhaps no more than forty or sixty works, and he left behind no drawings or preliminary works of any kind.

When so little is known about an artist, the science of artistic attribution becomes a weaving of a few threads of hard historical data with the fabric of informed but subjective interpretive analysis based upon a shared sense of the artist's style, technique, composition and subject matter. An attribution's authenticity is greatly strengthened if it can establish direct links over time to the artist himself or to an ownership during the artist's lifetime or fairly soon after his death. And this is precisely what Vermeer scholars have attempted to do. In examining relevant records of art and estate auctions of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, they have rather confidently connected those documents with about two dozen extant Vermeer paintings. There also appear to be another nine (or maybe eleven) paintings that have survived for which no contemporary corroboration in Vermeer's time has yet been found. Conversely, there seems to be at least six, and perhaps eight or ten, Vermeer paintings identified by historical records which today either remain hidden or have not survived. This latter group is known as the "missing Vermeers."

The Young Girl with a Flute at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., was likely begun by Vermeer but finished or restored by another; its lack of Vermeer's characteristic refinement has discouraged most scholars from making a firm attribution. For an informed discussion of this painting, see Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.'s article, Young Girl with a Flute, in the catalogue of the 1995–1996 National Gallery of Art Johannes Vermeer Exhibition, pages 204–207. It is therefore cited by the National Gallery of Art itself as a work merely "attributed" to Vermeer.

Another work, the Young Woman Seated at the Virginal, which had languished in a critical limbo of defaced, has made headway amongst art historians and is now accepted as a secure addition to Vermeer's oeuvre by Walter Liedtke, one of the foremost Vermeer experts.

Another painting, Saint Praxedis, has generated much controversy over the last 20 years as a possible addition to Vermeer's oeuvre. However, an overwhelming consensus among scholars has emerged recently backed by persuasive analytical evidence which argues against the inclusion of this work as a genuine Vermeer.

The present-day account of Vermeer's oeuvre is very close to that established in 1948 by Ary Bob de Vreis V (A. B. de Vreis, Jan Vermeer van Delft, London/New York (2nd.ed.), 1948) In his penetrating study of the artist Lawrence Gowing. Vermeer. Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 1997.), Gowing set an example followed by nearly all scholars afterward by not listing rejected works. Ben Broos has been argued that any significant dispute was been laid to rest (until the case of the Saint Praxedis) with the publication of Albert Blanket's book on the artist, Vermeer, Oxford, 1978).

Oil Out

Depending on the absorbency of a painting's ground and the medium used to temper paint, the paint on the canvas will usually sink in as it dries. Thus, half-tones and especially darks will dry a lighter and more matte than when originally applied. Because it is fundamental to be able to judge value and color relatively of a painting during the working process, oiling-out allows the painter to correctly gauge the true values of his tones and color restoring the original values and luster. Oiling out consists in brushing on a very thin layer over the area that has sunken in (the whole surface of the painting can also be oiled out). For small paintings, the oil may be spread out and thinned by using a badger brush or the ball of the hand.

Unfortunately, earth tones, which are among the most extensively used pigments in oil painting, and dark values are especially prone to sinking in. Once the oiling-out layer has thoroughly dried, it can be painted upon again. Oiling out too much or too may times will create long term problems such as yellowing and an unworkable glossy finish. A thin layer of dammar varnish will normally suffice. Too much varnish will cause the brush to drag and cause problems when large areas of paint must be blended with one another.

Oiling-out may also be used to create a surface that can be painted into fluidly while the surface is still wet.

Oil Paint

A painting medium in which pigments are mixed with drying oils, such as linseed, walnut, or poppy. Though oils had been used in the Middle Age, it was not until the Van Eyck brothers in the early fifteenth century that the medium became fully developed. It reached Italy during the 1460s and by the end of the century had largely replaced tempera. Oil paint was preferred for its brilliance of detail, its richness of color, and its greater tonal range. Oil painting also has the great advantage that colors may be blended with great accuracy since they do not dry as quickly as water-based paints.

"The complicated process of preparing oil medium and its subsequent instability may have frustrated painters who had much experience with painting in tempera, which has a comparatively straightforward preparation and a stable interface with pigments. In contrast to viscous oils, paint bound in egg yolk and diluted by water forms a liquid of a consistency between water and jelly, and thus allows the painters who were concerned with fine craftsmanship to achieve precise forms with certainty. In addition, the paint film in tempera is arguably the toughest and most long-lasting achievable with any medium, if the pigment-to-medium and water-to-medium ratio are correctly gauged. Therefore, unlike oil painting, considering their age, the astonishingly fresh tints of many medieval works is notable. Thus, to many fifteenth-century Italian painters, tempera remained a favorable option, even when oil was available as a serious alternative."Jeongmu Yang, "Giovanni Bellini; Experience and Experiment in Venetian Painting, c. 1460 to 1516" (PhD diss., University College London, 1998), http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1318058/1/321952.pdf.

Only 35 (?) works by Vermeer have survived. Scholars hypothesize that he may have painted perhaps forty but no more than sixty. All of his extant works were painted oil on canvas except for the tiny Girl with a Red Hat and the Girl with a Flute, both on panel, and there exists no historical evidence that he worked on other mediums such as drawing, etching, fresco or watercolor.

Old Master

In fine art, the term "Old Master" traditionally refers to great European painters practicing during the period roughly 1300–1830. This era begins with the Proto-Renaissance, exemplified by the Florentine artist Giotto (1266–1337) and thereafter encompasses art styles and movements of the fifteenth-century, such as the Early Renaissance (Piero della Francesca (c. 1415–1492), Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), the Northern Renaissance of Flanders, Holland, Germany and England (Jan Van Eyck), the sixteenth-century which included the High Renaissance (Michelangelo (1475–1564), the Venetian Renaissance (Tintoretto (1518–1594) and Mannerism (El Greco), the seventeenth-century featuring the baroque style (Rubens (1577–1640), and the Dutch Realism School (Vermeer), and finally the eighteenth-century which saw Rococo (François Boucher (1703–1770)), Neoclassicism (Jacques Louis David (1748–1825) and Romanticism (Francisco Goya (1746–1828).

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the term was often understood as having a starting date of perhaps 1450 or 1470; paintings made before that were "primitives," but this distinction is no longer made. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as "A pre-eminent artist of the period before the modern; esp. a pre-eminent western European painter of the thirteenth to eighteenth centuries." The first quotation given is from 1696, in the diary of John Evelyn: "My L: Pembroke..shewed me divers rare Pictures of very many of the old & best Masters, especially that of M: Angelo..,& a large booke of the best drawings of the old Masters."[3] The term is also used to refer to a painting or sculpture made by an Old Master, a usage datable to 1824.[3] There are comparable terms in Dutch, French and German; the Dutch may have been the first to make use of such a term, in the 18th century, when oude meester mostly meant painters of the Dutch Golden Age of the previous century. Les Maitres d'autrefois of 1876 by Eugene Fromentin may have helped to popularize the concept, although "vieux maitres" is also used in French. The famous collection in Dresden at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister is one of the few museums to include the term in its actual name, although many more use it in the title of departments or sections. The collection in the Dresden museum essentially stops at the Baroque period.

How good a painter must be to qualify as an Old Master, is not clear. In practice, all of the well-known artists from the above period fall into the category. While avoided by most art historians for its vagueness, the term is regularly employed by galleries and art auctions to brand and separate the great European artists of yesteryear from the famous painters of the modern era.


A breakfast piece—an ontbijtje—is a still life painting that depicts simple foodstuffs, such as herring, ham or cheese with a bread roll and a glass of beer or wine. Though ontbijtje translates literally from the Dutch as "little breakfast," paintings categorized as such do not necessarily depict elements of a typical Dutch breakfast. Breakfast pieces were especially popular in the Netherlands during the 1620s and 1630s, and Pieter Claesz. (c. 1597–1660) Willem Claesz Heda (1593/1594–c. 1680/1682), and Osias Beert (c. 1580–1623/24), among others, are remembered for their production. By the 1640s the simple breakfast piece had been transformed into a banquet, a Pronkstilleven: a rich painting of opulent spreads of lobster, oysters, imported fruits and expensive tableware.


Opacity is the measure of a substance's impenetrability to visible light. An opaque object is neither transparent (allowing all light to pass through) nor translucent (allowing some light to pass through). An opaque object allows no light to pass through it.

In oil paint each pigment, by its own chemical nature, will tend to be either transparent, translucent (semi-transparent) or opaque. A paint is said to be opaque when it hides what's underneath it. Titanium white, vermilion and the whole range of modern cadmiums are extremely opaque. Opaque paint is primarily used for modeling, as it creates, especially in the lights, a sense of physical nearness and solidity. Shadows, instead are best painted with translucent paint as to imitate the shadow's natural lack of substance. An opaque paint can be made translucent, or even transparent, by adding more medium.

Optical Illusion/Visual Illusion

An optical illusion is an illusion caused by the visual system and characterized by visually perceived images that differ from objective reality. Such illusions occur when our eyes send information to our brains and when processed by the visual system tricks us into perceiving something that does not match reality. However, in order to describe these unusual phenomena, the term "optical illusion," may not be the best as scientists make a distinction between optical illusions and what they call "visual illusions." An optical illusion suggests that the illusion arises because of some properties of the eye, such as floaters, those small specks, spots or shadowy shapes that occasionally seem to cross over the field of vision. But since optical illusions are rare, the term "visual illusions" is more accurate because this helps to explain why these perceptions happen.

rabbit-duck illusionRabbit-duck illusion

To make sense of the world it is necessary to organize incoming sensations into meaningful information. Gestalt psychologists believe one way this is done is by perceiving individual sensory stimuli as a meaningful whole. Gestalt organization can be used to explain many illusions including the rabbit–duck illusion where the image as the whole switches back and forth from being a duck then being a rabbit and why in the figure–ground illusion the figure and ground are reversible.

There are three main types of such illusions.

All is Vanity
Charles Allan Gilbert

A literal illusion is when the brain depicts an image that is completely different than the objects that create it. One of the most well-known literal illusions is a painting by Charles Allan Gilbert titled All is Vanity. In this painting, a young girl sits in front of a mirror that appears to be a skull. There isn't actually a skull there, however, the objects in the painting come together to create that effect.

Physiological illusions, such as the afterimages following bright lights, are presumed to be the effects on the eyes or brain of excessive stimulation or interaction with contextual or competing stimuli of a specific type—brightness, color, position, tile, size, movement, etc. The theory is that a stimulus follows its individual dedicated neural path in the early stages of visual processing, and that intense or repetitive activity in that or interaction with active adjoining channels cause a physiological imbalance that alters perception.

Pathological visual illusions arise from a pathological exaggeration in physiological visual perception mechanisms causing the aforementioned types of illusions. Cognitive illusions are assumed to arise by interaction with assumptions about the world, leading to "unconscious inferences," an idea first suggested in the nineteenth-century by the German physicist and physician Hermann Helmholtz.

Ordinantie (composition)

The following information on ordinantie was drawn from the excellent:
Paul Taylor, "Composition in Dutch art theory," in Pictorial Composition from Medieval to Modern Art, ed. Paul Taylor and François Quiviger, London and Turin (Warburg Institute and Nino Aragno) 2000, pp. 146–171

Even though no European country had such a high production of paintings than the Netherlands, Dutch art theory, which had never evolved as an organic whole and was based on ideas reformulated in former times, is fundamentally encapsulated in five volumes written over a span of one hundred years. In good part, Dutch concepts of pictorial composition elaborated in these volumes overlap those of Leon Battista Albert in De pictura (On Painting, 1435). The seventeenth-century Dutch painters and art theorists Karel van Mander (1548–1606) and Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711) furnished the most exhaustive account fof pictorial composition or, ordinantie.

According to these art theorists, composition and narrative were indissolubly linked. For de Lairesse, ordinantie, was "first and foremost the attempt to tell a story clearly and logically." Key elements for a good composition were the disposition of figures, probability, force of narrative and posture. The centrality of narrative was so important that de Lairesse boasted he could compose a historia as well as any other painter notwithstanding the fact that he was blind.

On "probability," a term completely extraneous to any modern concept of pictorial composition, de Lairesse wrote, "Probability (waarschynelykheid) is the most important thing to bear in mind when composing a picture." One must make probability "evident not only in the general disposition, but also in each particular object, and attentively reject things which are in conflict with it." "To give an example: de Lairesse tells us that if we are painting a dining room we should make it clear whether a meal is about to take place, or has already taken place; if the latter, we should depict empty vessels lying in disorder, empty plates, a dog gnawing a bone, chairs strewn around and the table cloth pushed to one side, and so forth. We should also avoid painting details which are obviously improbable; thus he writes disparagingly of an artist who made a painting of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, in which the patriarch used a curved sword, but had a straight scabbard."

Organic Shape

We typically think of a shape as a closed by contour. A free-flowing, curvilinear shape frequently occurs in nature, and so dominates all other kinds of shapes in the art of painting. Organic shapes and forms are typically irregular or asymmetrical. Organic shapes are associated with things from the natural world, like plants and animals.

Orthogonal Line

Orthogoal lines that converge at the vanishing point (VP) of Vermeer's A Lady Standing at a Virginal Orthogonal lines that converge at the vanishing point (VP) of Vermeer's A Lady Standing at a Virginal

The term "orthogonal" means "at right angles," and is related to orthogonal projection, a method of drawing three-dimensional objects on a flat surface with linear perspective. Orthogonal lines, also known as "convergence" or "vanishing lines," are those lines that are at right angles to the picture plane when observing an object in one-point perspective, and which converge to the vanishing point. These imaginary lines help the artist maintain coherent perspective in their drawings and paintings and ensure a highly illusionist view of the scene and the objects the scene contains.

In paintings that make use of linear perspective with appropriate architectural features, it is sometimes possible to project the orthogonals to the vanishing point through a process called "reverse perspective analysis." In optimal circumstances, it is then possible to deduce the real dimensions of the objects that appear in a painting on the condition that the actual size of one or more geometrically based objects—typically furniture, wall-maps or tiles—represented in the painting is known. Various authors have reverse reconstructed the rooms which are pictured in Vermeer's paintings, although not all are in complete agreement. Among the most accurate reconstructions are those of the London architect and Vermeer/camera obscura expert Philip Steadman who discovered that all the pictures depict the same room—the painter's studio in Delft—and the geometry of six of them was consistent with their being projected on to the back wall of the room using a lens and then traced. His conclusions caused controversy, dividing art historians while convincing many scholars in the history of science, technology, optics and photography.

The term "orthogonal line" often has a different meaning in the literature of modern art criticism. Many works by painters such as Piet Mondriaan (1872 1944) and Burgoyne Diller (1906–1965) are noted for their exclusive use of "orthogonal lines"—not, however, with reference to perspective, but rather referring to lines that are straight and exclusively horizontal or vertical, forming right angles where they intersect.


See also, spatial depth.

When one object partly obscures another, the first object is said to overlap the other.

There are two kinds of overlapping in mimetic painting, the overlapping of one illusionist object with respect to another and real, physical overlapping of paint layers. The overlapping object partially obscures the object behind it another.

Overlapping is the most primitive but, nonetheless, unequivocal manner of creating the illusion of depth on a flat surface. Overlapping can be found in Paleolithic cave drawings, Egyptian art and Mesoamerican wall paintings. However, by itself, overlapping tells us only that one object is in front of the other but it does not tell us how distant the two objects are from each other. To achieve a more convincing illusion of space, changing size and placement, linear perspective, relative hue and tonal value and the degree of detail are necessary. Linear perspective is the most rational method of creating space.

Physical overlapping of paint layers compliments illusionist overlapping. This explains the logic of painting "back to front" recommended by Dutch art theorists. This method ensures that the contour of the object nearest the viewer physically overlaps the paint surface of the object behind it.

Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711), the Dutch art theorist and painter, wrote:

If a picture be well dead-colored, and have a good harmony and decorum, we certainly render the second coloring the more easy; for then we can unbend our first general thoughts, and apply them solely to lay neatly and finish particular parts, and so to work on the former good ground. But, to do this in the best manner, we must, as I have said, begin from the greatest distance, the sky, and work forwards from thence: by this means we have always a wet ground to melt in with the out-lines of the forward figures, which otherwise they would not have; besides another pleasing advantage, that the piece goes forward, all parts well supported, and a good harmony in the whole; whence the eye must be satisfied, and the mind continually spurred.


Overpainting can mean the final layers of paint, over some type of underpainting, in a system of working in layers. It can also mean later paint added by restorers, or an artist or dealer wishing to "improve" or update an old image—a very common practice in the past. The underpainting gives a context in which the paint-strokes of the overpainting become more resonant and powerful. When properly done, overpainting does not need to completely obscure the underpainting. It is precisely the interaction of the two that gives the most interesting effects.

It can be difficult to distinguish overpainting from underpainting in finished historical artworks in the absence of scientific tests. X-rays are often used to examine paintings because they allow the conservation technician to see what is hidden beneath a surface without having to damage it, depending on the materials used. By using different intensities of X-rays, experts can see different layers of paint and determine whether a canvas was ever painted over.

Overpainting was used extensively in many schools of art. Some of the most spectacular results can be seen in the work of Jan van Eyck (before c. 1390 1441).


"During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the paint used by artists was prepared in the studio. The painter purchased pigment from apothecaries, and apprentices, who also prepared panels and grounds for the master painter, then prepared it for use as paint. To obtain a smooth spreading paint the pigments had to be ground into particles of fairly uniform size. Most pigments were ground as smoothly as possible to improve their color and to make a better flowing paint. The pigment was then mixed with sufficient medium to make an easily workable paint. The recipes or instructions used by painters were handed down from master to pupil. Many survive as manuscripts and printed books, such as Theodore de Mayerne's seventeenth-century notebooks on painting and Cennino Cennini's fourteenth-century treatise, Il Libro dell'Arte.

"The oil paint used by artists from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries consisted primarily of pigment and vegetable oil, although sometimes gums, proteins and resins were added for particular passages in a painting. Preparing oil paint involved mixing oil, typically linseed or walnut oil, with pigment that had been previously prepared by merchants or artists' apprentices. The pigment and oil were mixed on a flat stone slab into a smooth paste with a muller. The paint was then placed into shells for immediate use or in pigs' bladders for later use."George O'Hanlon, "Traditional Oil Painting: The Revival of Historical Artists' Materials," Natural Pigments, 2012, http://www.naturalpigments.com/vb/content.php?255-Traditional-Oil-Painting-The-Revival-of-Historical-Artists-Materials.

Because some paints were rare and costly, painters learned to economize. Roger de Piles (1635–1709), who made important contributions in the seventeenth century to the understanding of color, wrote in his Dialogue sur le colori "(Dialogue on colours"):

We can make an observation here that makes use of certain oil colors in the underpainting with common colors sparing those colors of too great a price. For example, when one wants to finish a drapery with fine lake, you can use common colors in the underpainting. Similarly, a drapery that we must finish with the best ultramarine can be started in underpainting with the most common ultramarine. Finally, instead of ultramarine in the first hue shade and even in halftones, we can use willow charcoal, which is a little bluish, or bone black in the underpainting, and then finish with ultramarine, but the practice is not so good and the tints not so fresh.

It is a conventional belief that artists' paint began to be commercially produced during the Industrial Revolution. Until then, painters had to make their own paints by grinding pigment into oil. The paint would harden and would have to be made fresh each day. However, there is growing evidence that reveals that some tools of the painter's craft were already being produced industrially in seventeenth-century Netherlands, including prepared canvas and pigments.

Paint consists of small grains of pigment suspended in oil. Although it appears smooth to the naked eye, on a microscopic level, particles of pigment are suspended in oil. Oil paints do not "dry" by evaporation (as do watercolor paints); rather they harden through chemical reaction Contact with the air causes oils to oxidize and to crosslink. The paint sets and hardens over time. Paints of different pigments dry at different rates. Charcoal black retards the drying (creating a slow-drying paint); ochre accelerates the drying (producing a quick-drying paint).

Modern paint is different from older paints. In order to increase the covering power of a pigment, particle sizes are reduced to the smallest possible. The smaller the particles, the more the color nuances of the pigment are absorbed into its basic hue, as in inks that have no texture. Particles that are more consistent in shape and size also tend not to settle quickly and separate from their binder once inside a container. This increases the shelf life and thereby marketability of paint but does not necessarily increase its desirability as a color for artists.

Historical evidence suggests that paint was already being commercially produced in the mid-seventeenth-century in major artistic centers in Holland. However, it is not to know exactly to what extent painters employed such paint since production methods are unknown and thus cannot be determined by laboratory analysis. However, if we consider Vermeer's highly perfectionist approach to the thematic, and technical components of his art, it might be safely assumed that he was more apt to have made his own paint in order to ensure the exact quality he desired. This attitude is confirmed by his use of the finest grade of the costly ultramarine (crushed natural lapis lazuli) instead of the cheaper and more common azurite.

Paint Layer

A paint layer is a single, individual layer of paint that has been applied by one means or another to a ground or previously applied layer of paint. A paint layer is dry to such a degree that a fresh paint layer can be applied upon it without it mixing or disturbing the ground or previous paint layer.

Working intentionally in layers has been utilized by many schools of art over many centuries, although the overall trend in Western art since the Middle Ages has been towards a simplified and quicker technique (e.g., alla prima). For example, in the early fifteenth century, Cennino D'Andrea Cennini describes how to paint in layers in the egg tempera medium. In contrast, his directions for painting in fresco, done in one session on damp plaster, offer a different system although even here, there is some layering employed. The important distinction is that in fresco, a second layer of paint will physically blend with the first, whereas in egg tempera, which dries rapidly, a second layer will cover and optically blend with the first layers. When a new layer is added to a still-wet earlier layer, this is called wet-in-wet painting. A significant change in the history of Western painting occurred in the course of the Renaissance when the white grounds of earlier painting were replaced by dark ones, and darker underpainting.

Working in layers was used extensively practiced in Renaissance and the Baroque. For a painting that develops over several days, or even weeks or months, allowing for the oil paint to dry for a given layer, it is helpful to work with explicit painting layers. The first layer was a ground, usually a dull monochrome applied evenly all over the whole surface of the canvas. Then an underdrawing in a thin outline followed to position the main compositional elements and their shapes. Then came underpainting, a monochrome blocking-in of the main (mass) shadows. This was followed by working-up and finally, the semi-transparent glazes and unifying varnish. All of these layers affected the appearance of the final painting.

Conservators sometimes use cross sections, a slice of paint which shows its layer structure, in order to study the sequence of paint layers in multi-layered paintings. This technique can tell us exactly which pigments, as well as their precise sequence, were used by an artist. Such analysis is useful for dating a picture, understanding a painter's working methods and making matching pigments for retouching damaged areas.


from Wikipedia:

Dutch Girl in White, Robert HenriDutch Girl in White
Robert Henri
Oil on canvas, 61 x 50.8 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Painterliness is a concept based on the German term malerisch (painterly), a word popularized by Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin (1864–1945) to help focus, enrich and standardize the terms being used by art historians of his time to characterize works of art. It is the opposite of linear, plastic or formal linear design.

An oil painting is painterly when there are visible brushstrokes, the result of applying paint in a less than completely controlled manner, generally without closely following carefully drawn lines. Works characterized as either painterly or linear can be produced with any painting media: oils, acrylics, watercolors, gouache, etc. Some artists whose work could be characterized as painterly are Rembrandt (1606–1669), or the moderns August Renoir (1841–1919), Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890), Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), Robert Henri (1865–1929) and Francis Bacon (1909–1992).

In contrast, linear could describe the painting of artists such as Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510), Michelangelo (1475–1564), and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780–1867, whose works depend on creating the illusion of a degree of three-dimensionality by means of "modeling the form" through skillful drawing, shading and an academic rather than impulsive use of color. Contour and pattern are more in the province of the linear artists, while dynamism is the most common trait of painterly works. The Impressionists, Fauvists and the Abstract Expressionists tended strongly to be painterly movements.

Painterly art often makes use of the many visual effects produced by paint on canvas such as chromatic progression, warm and cool tones, complementary and contrasting colors, broken tones, broad brushstrokes, sketchiness and impasto.


Paintings are made of organic and inorganic materials which are put together by an artist to create a specific image. They form a simple construction consisting of one or more paint layers and a support for those layers. However, the structure of a painting can be very complex within these two general layers. Supports can themselves be supported. For example, a piece of paper could be attached to a canvas or panel. There can be additions or changes made by the artist or by another hand. With careful observation a trained eye should be able to detect many of these elements. The materials found in and on paintings are best considered layer by layer. Easel paintings are defined as paintings not attached to an immovable object and therefore portable (albeit often with difficulty). There exist many other kinds of paintings such a watercolor, guache, tempera and fresco.

The increasing tendency to privilege painting, and to a lesser degree sculpture, above other arts has been a feature of Western art as well as East Asian art. In both regions, painting has been seen as relying to the highest degree on the imagination of the artist, and the furthest removed from manual labor—in Chinese painting the most highly valued styles were those of "scholar-painting," at least in theory practiced by gentleman amateurs. The Western hierarchy of genres reflected similar attitudes.

Paintings age at different rates depending on the way they are created and with what materials have been used. Paint layers may dry and become brittle, eventually cracking, the varnish may yellow as well as the oil contained in the paint itself. Pigments can alter in color; oil paint becomes more transparent and underneath drawings may show through; the canvas may become brittle or weak, or slack; and the painting may become coated with a layer of dirt, nicotine, finger marks, etc. Not all the effects of aging necessarily impair our aesthetic enjoyment of the work of art although restoration may bring back some of the painting's initial appearance.

Painting Sequence

After having completed the underdrawing and monochrome underpainting, in what sequence did the seventeenth-century painter work up in full color the different passages of his composition? Conventional prescriptions entailed depicting the background first, leaving flat, unmodulated reserves or parts of the underpainting for the subjects located in the foreground. In this manner, when painted, the edges of the foreground objects would ever-so-slightly overlap those of the background, thereby accentuating the sense of spatial distance and facilitating roundness. The only objective way to understand sequencing is to find evidence of physical overlapping of paint layers, which can be best accomplished with laboratory investigation—in some instances it may be observed with the naked eye. The idea of a proper sequence must have been important seeing that the Dutch painter and art theoretician Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711) railed, "many painters indeed err, in not knowing where to begin rightly, and, only consulting what objects they like best, heedlessly fall on them first: for instance, if it be a gold vase, they begin with that, and then proceed to a blue drapery, then a red one, &c. Others begin with the nudities, and so run through all the nakeds in the picture; by which strange disjunction, the work becomes misshapen, and the painter made more uneasy..." It is no easy task to understand if Dutch painters followed de Lairesse's advice to the letter or if they proceeded according to a different logic.

Although to some degree it is possible to hypothesize how Vermeer might have worked up individual passages of his compositions, the sequence in which they were executed gives rise to more doubts than certainties. Sometimes, adjacent areas of paint in Vermeer's paintings do not overlap but subtly intermingle where they meet, and sometimes a small sliver of the brownish underpainting can be detected between them (e.g., the lower contour of the head of Study of a Young Woman or left-hand contour of the gown of Woman Holding a Balance).

On the basis of a recent examination of The Art of Painting, the conservator Robert Wald was able to provide a partial account of how various compositional elements were sequenced. While lamenting the lack of the physical overlapping of paint layers, he nonetheless opines that black-tiled floors, the chandelier and the figure of Clio were painted without any painted surround, followed by the tabletop, and the tapestry including the chair. Furthermore, "the order of all these elements cannot be exactly determined as there is little overlapping of form between them. They must, however, have been positioned after the black tiles and before the following passages: the painter with his mahlstick and stool, followed by the canvas and the easel, the chair against the back wall follows (with the painter—the black of his jacket is applied before the white—and the red leggings before the white of the socks); the ceiling is painted after the tapestry and the chandelier; the sequencing of the elements on the table begins with the plaster cast (face)—followed by the blue/ochre textile and the open book; then comes the blue-green textile followed by the standing book; the table leg is added after the blue/ochre textile; the map is painted around the chandelier and figures; last is the white wall—at the upper section and between the map and tapestry—as with the white tiles in the floor."iii One of the last areas to be painted was the triangular piece of wall between the curtain and the map. Wald further suggests that the final layer of the whitest passages were painted lastly for reasons linked to paint stability. As informative as Wald's observations may be, they suggest no particular logic of a broader sequencing scheme that might have applied to other works. But it would seem only logical that a methodical painter such as Vermeer would have devised some sort of system for the working-up sequence.

Although unconfirmed by any objective data, Vermeer's whitewashed wall may have been among the first areas to be completed during the working-up phase. De Lairesse wrote that the best way to proceed in the working-up stage of a landscape was "to start from the back…for all things have to suit the lightness and darkness of the sky…" Obviously, in nature the colors and brightness of the sky influence those of the landscape and not the other way around, and these nuances must be captured by the painter if the picture is to be truly lifelike. For example, on a bright day the greens of the foliage will be more intense. The shadows will be sharp and take on a bluish cast of the sky. On a gray overcast day, instead, the same foliage will appear duller, the shadows will be softer and less colorful. For the landscape painter the most efficient manner to calculate the colors of the landscape is to paint the sky first so that those of the landscape can be evaluated more accurately.

By analogy, one might conjecture that the background walls of Vermeer's scenes constitute the "sky" of his interiors, being as they are the element farthest from the spectator and that which registers more faithfully than any other the amount, direction and the quality of the incoming light. Once the sense of lightfall on the wall had been captured, those of the surrounding objects could be more accurately gauged. Likely, the dark backgrounds of Girl with a Pearl Earring and Study of a Young Woman were blocked in before the artist approached the working-up phase. A number of unfinished seventeenth-century portraits show that the dark background was blocked in before the head.


The surface on which a painter will mix his colors. Also the range of colors used by an artist.

The palettes that are represented in paintings of Vermeer's time are surprisingly small in dimension with relatively few pigments placed on them, always in an orderly fashion. Wood was preferred because it was lightweight, rigid and could be easily shaped. Another advantage of wood was its warm brown tone. It may be that the brown color of the wooden palette is a heritage from the time of bole grounds when it was appropriate because it was in keeping with the color tone of the canvas. If one paints on a gray or a white ground while using a brown palette, one is forced to translate the color values. The difficulty of working correctly on white grounds is due in no small measure to the opposing tone value of the brown palette, which has an influence on every tone and makes it appear quite different from what it will on a white ground. Since the perception colors are strongly influenced by the dominating tone that surrounds them, the paint that was mixed on the palette did not change perceptibly when applied to the canvas.

The earliest palettes were small and remained so until the end of the nineteenth century when they were about 10 to 12 inches long. Only in the nineteenth century did they assume the half table-top size which permitted artists to have available every pigment as well as areas for mixing a variety of specific tones during every phase of the working process. This larger palette allowed the artist to work on any area of the composition. Before the nineteenth century, instead, painters employed smaller palettes primarily because they worked on only one area of the painting at each painting session and thus their palettes contained only those pigments necessary for the day's work.

Representations of palettes often display pigments necessary for painting flesh tones. The flesh palette had a particular significance. Willem Beur wrote:

Just as we humans consider ourselves the foremost amongst animals; so too, are we the foremost subject of the art of paintings, and it is in painting human flesh that its highest achievement are to be seen, whenever a painter succeeds in rendering the diversity of colors and string hues found in human flesh and particularly in the faces, adequately depicting the intricacy of the diversity of people or their different emotions.

The layout of the pigments, from light to dark, was common.

Vermeer most likely used a wood palette like every painter of his time. In the 1676 death inventory of Vermeer's house in the front room of the first floor of the Oude Langendijk, there were listed twee schilders eesels, drye paletten (two painters easels, three palettes). In Vermeer's time the familiar painter's palette with a hole for the thumb had replaced the older rectangular kind with a handle. The artist held the palette with his thumb inserted into the hole leaving the rest of his fingers free to comfortably hold a number of brushes and the mahlstick on which he steadied his hand.

It is curious to note that in the representation of the artist at work in The Art of Painting, Vermeer has hidden the palette behind the artist's body as well as a great part of the easel's left-hand leg.

The following pigments have been detected in Vermeer's paintings. For a detailed study of Vermeer's palette and pigments, click here.

  • WELD

Panel Painting

Until the introduction of canvas in the fifteenth century, wooden panels were the standard support in painting. In the Netherlands, France and England, oak panels were most common. Lime, beech, chestnut and cherry as well as oak were used in Germany and Austria. A seasoned plank, which had been allowed to dry out for some time, was layered with several coats of size, a glue made from animal skins. In Italy, the planks used for panel paintings were most often made of native poplar, a widely available wood that was, however, soft and vulnerable to warping. A piece of linen soaked in size was often laid over the front of the panel to conceal any surface flaws. Over this, coats of gesso were applied. Gesso, a mixture of powdered calcium sulfate (commonly called gypsum) and animal glue, provided the ground for preliminary drawings. Although canvas had become more popular, Dutch painters continued to employ panels as well. The extremely smooth surfaces of panels make them particularly adapted for fine detail.

Only two of the surviving 35 paintings by Vermeer are painted on panel: The Girl with a Red Hat and The Girl with a Flute (whose authenticity is not accepted by some scholars). However, in Vermeer's death inventory there were listed ten canvases and six panels in the front room of his house, a fact that would lead us to believe that he may have used more panels than is generally believed. It is most likely that panels were used for quick extemporaneous works, that might be easily sold to visiting collectors.


In the time of Vermeer, about a quarter of the population of Delft was Catholic. Some Catholics resided in the so-called Papenhoek, or "Papists' Corner" adjacent to the Nieuwe Kerk. The Papist Corner was not a ghetto because many families chose to live there by their own free will, and were prosperous. Although Catholics were not actively repressed, they were not altogether free to act as they wished.

Jesuit Church on the Oude Langendijk, Abraham RademakerJesuit Church on the Oude Langendijk
Abraham Rademaker
c. 1670
Brush and gray ink, 13.2 x 20.2 cm.
Gemeentearchief, Delft

According to the research of John Michael Montias, by 1686, the Papist Corner included 15 houses in all. One was the Catholic "hidden" church, as it was called, and another a Jesuit school. The image to the right shows the Jesuit church in the early eighteenth century. From left to right would be the Jesuit school, a house, the church where two people can be seen standing, and seen partially on the edge of the drawing, the Thins' house, or possibly one just to the right of it, beyond the edge of the drawing.

We know that by 1660, Johannes Vermeer and his family had been living together in his mother-in-law's (Maria Thins) house at Oude Langendijk, in the heart of Delft's Catholic community, the "Papenhoek," or Papists' Corner adjacent to the Nieuwe Kerk. The first document which unequivocally proves that the Vermeer and his wife Catharina had changed living quarters is dated 27 December 1660 although it is possible he made his move somewhat earlier. We do not know where they lived prior to this move but the house and inn owned by his father, Mechelen on the Groote Markt (Market Place) is the most likely candidate. From a topographical point of view, the move from Mechelen to Oude Langendijk was a short one, perhaps no more than 120 paces across the Market Place. But from a social point of view, it was a world apart.


A pantograph is a mechanical linkage connected in a manner based on parallelograms so that the movement of one pen, in tracing an image, produces identical movements in a second pen. One arm of the pantograph contained a small pointer, while the other held a drawing implement, and by moving the pointer over a diagram, a copy of the diagram was drawn on another piece of paper. By changing the positions of the arms in the linkage between the pointer arm and drawing arm, the scale of the image produced can be changed. If a line drawing is traced by the first point, an identical, enlarged, or miniaturized copy will be drawn by a pen fixed to the other. Using the same principle, different kinds of pantographs are used for other forms of duplication in areas such as sculpture, minting, engraving and milling.

The first pantograph was constructed in 1603 by Christoph Scheiner, who used the device to copy and scale diagrams, but he wrote about the invention over 27 years later, in Pantographice (Rome 1631).

These mechanical tracing devices (German: Storchenschnabel, or "stork's beak"!) have been used for copying images and paintings for centuries.

Il Paragone

The Italian term il paragone (the comparison) refers to various theoretical discussions which include the comparison between the differing aesthetic qualities of the Italian and Venetian schools of painting (the so-called disegno/colore paragone) and whether painting or literature was the more effective medium. However, the term most often refers to debate about the relative merits of painting and sculpture. This debate unfolded primarily in Italy but also in the Low Countries (Flanders and the Netherlands) and protracted well into the seventeenth century.

Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472), in his treatise on painting of 1435 (De Pictura), set forth many of the arguments in favor of painting. Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), the painter and author of Le Vite, a fundamental art historical text, and Benvenuto Cellini, one of Italy's most celebrated sculptors, are among those who argued most eloquently for the superiority of their respective arts. However, the debate, which today has no more than historical importance, was also taken up by a significant number of artistic and literary theorists and practicing artists including Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Michelangelo (1475–1564), Pompino Gaurico (c. 1482–1528–1530), Paolo Pino (1534–1565), Vicenzo and Raffaello Borghini (1537–1588, Angelo Bronzino (1503–1572), Giancristofero Romano (1456–1512), Baldassare Castiglione (1478–1529)and in the following century, Federico Zuccari (c. 1540/1541–1609), Galileo Galilei and Giulio Mancini (1559–1630). Although Leonardo had committed significant energy to uplifting painting from of the charge of being a "mechanical art," thereby elevating the artist from\mere artisan to the status of the poet and man of letters, in the 1350s the Italian poet Petrarch had already extolled the durability of sculpture over painting. Leonardo extended the comparison between painting and sculpture into the realms of poetry and music to argue that painting was the most noble and superior of all the arts.

In 1546, Benedetto Varchi (1502/1503–1565), the Italian humanist writer and historian, canvassed eight prominent artists on the question. All eight responded in a predictable manner (the painters proclaimed the primacy of painting, while the sculptors) "but the main impression left by their letters is that they were genteel, skilled in the use of the pen, and well versed in the classic arguments on either side. This is further proof…that artists were no longer humble craftsmen but cultivated letterati whose opinions were worth having." "Only Michelangelo, eminently qualified in both fields, seemed a little irritated by the question."Peter Hecht, "The paragone debate: ten illustrations and a comment," Semiolus 14 (1984): 125.

The Dutch art writer, Philips Angel (1616–1683), commented on why painting is superior to sculpture:

[Painting] is capable of imitating nature much more copiously, for in addition to depicting every kind of creature, like birds, fishes, worms, flies, spiders and caterpillars it can render every kind of metal and can distinguish between them, such as gold, silver bronze, copper, pewter, lead and all the rest. It can be used to depict a rainbow, rain, thunder, lightning, clouds, vapor, light, reflections and more of such things, like the rising of the sun, early morning, the decline of the sun, evening, the moon illuminating the night, with her attendant companions, the stars, reflections in the water, human hair, horses foaming at the mouth and so forth, none of which the sculptors can imitate.

Those who favored the superiority of SCULPTURE argued that:

  • Sculpture is more durable.
  • Painting created only shallow illusion while sculpture shows objects in three dimensions and can be see from different angles.
  • Painting was only good insofar as it imitated the three-dimensional qualities of sculpture (Michelangelo).
  • While painters could improvise and retouch their works, there was no room for error in sculpture and therefore required greater skill.

Those who favored PAINTING argued that:

  • Painting has greater potential for naturalistic representation because of its ability to render color and texture to create the illusion of any material or object.
  • Painting could represent an entire scene as if viewed through a window (Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472)
  • The ability to create an illusion of reality on a flat surface required greater ability than sculpture
  • Painting involved the intellectually demanding science of perspective.
  • Painting was suited for depicting complex narratives (which Alberti considered the noblest type of subject matter).
  • Painting required more mental ability than physical effort which was important in painters' attempts to elevate their art to the level of a learned, scholarly endeavor.

    Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) also noted that painters sit while sculptors stand, and in their studios they are elegantly garbed while sculptors are covered head to foot with stone dust. Painting requires no greater physical effort so he can listen to poets reciting sonnets, or scholars reading aloud from the classics, or singers and musicians.

The debate over the merits of painting and sculpture also appears in works of art from the period. These examples often involve paintings that imitate sculpture and sculptures that imitate painting, a strategy of undermining claims about the unique advantages of one art over the other. Sculptors—first and most notably Donatello for his Feast of Herod and marble schiacciato reliefs, and Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378–1455) for his Gates of Paradise—employed systems of linear and aerial perspective in narrative scenes, which painters had claimed as essential components of good painting. These reliefs are some of the most admired works of the early Renaissance, and had a great impact on the next generation of sculptors and painters alike. In works like his Nativity, Petrus Christus (c. 1410/1420–1475/1476) juxtaposed a rich, colorful scene, made possible by the recent adoption of the medium of oil painting among Flemish painters, and a fictive stone arch with grisaille statues and reliefs. Christus contrasts the naturalistic colors and textures that could be represented in painting with the monochrome sculpture, while showing that a painter can also create the effects of sculpture on a flat surface. Titian (c. 1488/1490–1576) used a similar device in his Portrait of a Woman ("La Schiavona"), including a fictive stone relief of his subject in profile next to the colorful, vividly rendered portrait. To show that painters could also depict figures from multiple angles, they incorporated reflective surfaces into their compositions (also a virtuoso demonstration of illusionistic skill). According to a fifteenth-century source, Jan van Eyck (before c. 1390–1441) composed a magnificent painting (now lost) showing a nude woman emerging from her bath, her back reflected in a mirror on the wall. Titian's Venus with a Mirror was likely inspired by the written description, and likewise responded to the argument in favor of sculpture that only a figure sculpted in the round could be seen from multiple viewpoints."Renaissance Paragone: Painting and Sculpture," Benezit: Thematic Guide: Oxford Art Online, , http://www.oxfordartonline.com/public/page/benz/themes/Renaissance.

In The Art of Painting, Vermeer may have made reference to the il paragone with the inclusion of the plaster cast of an antique sculpture (Apollo, the god of light?).

In the same picture, Vermeer may have made reference to il paragone via the inclusion of the plaster cast of an antique sculpture (Apollo, the god of light?). The handsome slashed velvet bodice and ballooned pantaloons worn by the seated artist, already somewhat anachronistic when Vermeer executed the work, could have conceivably been a reference to Michelangelo's idea that the painter was superior to the sculptor since the former could work comfortably in his peaceful studio while the latter in a noisy, dirty studio. In any case, Vermeer clearly presents to his public the painter as a person of refinement and learning.


Patina is a tarnish that naturally forms on the surface of copper, bronze and similar metals and stone. It is also a sheen on wooden furniture produced by age, wear and polishing; or any such acquired change of a surface through age and exposure. Patinas can provide a protective layer to materials that would otherwise be damaged by corrosion or weathering and are sometimes considered aesthetically appealing. Artists and metalworkers often deliberately add patinas as a part of the original design and decoration of art and furniture, or to simulate antiquity in newly made objects.

The changes caused by natural aging of the materials, are intrinsic to the materials used by the painter, are also referred as patina. Some painters of today prefer varnishes made of traditional organic resins because with age they tend to lend their works an "Old Master" look.

The word "patina" derives from the Latin for plate, the paten for the wafer in a mass, or the varnish used for coating shoes.Randolph Starn, "Three Ages of 'Patina' in Painting," Representations 78, no. 1 (2002): 86–115. In his art dictionary (Vocabolario toscano dell'arte del disegno, 1681) the Italian painter and art historian Filippo Baldinucci calls patina a "term used by painters, otherwise they call it 'skin' (pelle), and it is that universal darkening that time makes on pictures." As early as 1660 Marco Boschini maintained that "the patina of time," la patina del tempo, makes colors ever more perfect and heightens the value of the facture, the work, of painting.

"About the middle of the nineteenth century, a flurry of lengthy controversies arose almost simultaneously in England, France and Bavaria. Artists, connoisseurs, art dealers, collectors and amateurs of art found themselves embroiled in an artistic ideological debate on the aging of paintings. Toward the end of the seventeenth century, a theory had emerged and continued to gain currency through the eighteenth, that 'Time' improved and mellowed paintings, increasing their beauty, harmony, subtlety and mystery."Sheldon Keck, "Some Picture Cleaning Policies Past and Present," JAIC 23, no. 2 (1984): 73–87, http://cool.conservation-us.org/jaic/articles/jaic23-02-001.html.

The London National Gallery has been at the center of various controversies regarding their conservation policy and were violently accused on stripping great works of art of their patina, considered by some quarters an essential aspect of great paintings of the past.

In 1978, the National Gallery of Art in Washington became embroiled in a heated debate regarding what was called "tasteless" cleaning of their paintings.

The restoration policy of the Louvre is one of the most conservative among major art institutions. Many of their old-master works still possess a patina that is no longer seen in many museums. Nonetheless, following of the accusations that the Louvre had overcleaned a masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), leaving it with a brightness that the renaissance master had presumably never intended, Ségolène Bergeon Langle and Jean-Pierre Cuzi—eminent former specialists in conservation and painting respectively at the Louvre—resigned causing major embarrassment. There were also disputes over whether an area dismissed as removable repaint was, in fact, a glaze applied by Leonardo.

According to Sheldon Keck, a pioneer in the field of art conservation, "Careful study of the documents of these controversies suggests that at times the clamor and criticisms were motivated less by genuine concern for the condition of the paintings, than by politics, self-aggrandizement or jealousy on the part of the most persistent complainants."

Patron (Spanish: Mecenas)

The concept of the patron which is still with us originated in the times of Rome and designated a Roman citizen who was a protector ( patronus) of a foreigner who had settled in Roman territory (the clients). The relationship between the patron and his client (clientla) was an especially close one and involved many of the terms found in feudal contracts between lords and vassals. This Roman concept of the patron was extended into the medieval and Renaissance times, during which artists were afforded protection and sponsorship by various nobles and merchant princes.

In contemporary society the word "patron" has lost some of its original connotation. Today we usually reserve the term for one who is specifically a "patron of the arts." Certainly, the closeness of the original relationship between a patron and his client is no longer implied in the term.

The scholar John Michael Montias has shed the most light upon Vermeer's social and economic situation. His seminal research has shown there was at least a small number of people who acquired Vermeer's paintings during his lifetime or shortly thereafter and that at least one of these, a wealthy collector named Pieter Claesz. van Ruijven, may have been a significant patron, protecting Vermeer and his family during his lifetime from the vicissitudes of the national economy.

After reviewing the records that Montias and others have uncovered, two facts become apparent. First, Vermeer's paintings commanded relatively high prices when compared to those of many of his contemporaries. The price of six hundred livres that the baker thought reasonable for his painting compares favorably with the six hundred livres that Gerrit Dou (1613–1635) asked from Balthasar de Monconys for his Woman in a Window, "clearly also a painting with only one figure." Evidently, a painting by Vermeer had the same market value as a work by Dou, whom King Charles II of England had invited to become his court painter in 1660. Dou, one of Rembrandt's prized students, commanded very high prices for his work throughout his career.

For an in-depth study of Vermeer's clients and patrons, click here.


A pattern can be described as a repeating natural or man-made unit of shape or form, but in the visual arts it can also be thought of as a "skeleton" that draws together the parts of a composition or design, that is, an underlying structure that organizes the surface of an artwork in a consistent, recognizable and non-arbitrary manner. When we think of patterns, we quickly think of checkerboards, bricks and floral wallpaper, but patterns in painting may also be much broader or completely non-repetative.

At any scale, whenever we look at the world it is full of predictable or semi-predictable cycles, rhythms and patterns. The planets revolve around the sun and electrons revolve around the nucleus of an atom. The earth moves through cycles, rhythms and seasons, as do all the plants, animals and insects. Even our social, economic and political history moves through semi-predictable cycles and patterns. By understanding the behavioral patterns of wild animals we are ableto hunt them or avoid being hunted by them. Later, by recognizing the recurring patterns of nature allowed mankind to develop agriculture.

Pattern recognition and pattern making—for the artist—are particularly significant because human survival is dependent on the ability of the mind to extract patterns from natural stimuli and events, and transform these into concrete, actionable information. Recognizing patterns allows us to deal with observations of never-seen objects and never-experienced events in a sensible way based on already experienced patterns, bringing with it biological advantages.

In the arts, the human mind is somehow satisfied when it is able to discern rhythmic patterns. However, if the pattern proves too repetitive or too easy to recognize, it quickly becomes boring, for this reason repetition is not made too apparent or left unaccompanied by unexpected "irregularities." If no pattern can be detected in a work of art the effect may be that of estrangement. Artistic engagement is based on the artist's ability to propose new patterns and creative deviations. The recognition of the patterns in music, painting or literature is a very challenging problem because the same pattern in any given work of art may not be recognized by all observers, making it difficult to evaluate patterns objectively. Moreover, the patterns experienced by the observer may be very different from the ones that are intentionally sought by the creator.

Patterns may also be seen in a series of works or in the entire body of work of an artist as well. The techniques, media, approaches and subject matter they choose can show a "pattern" across a lifetime of work and it often defines their signature style. In this sense, pattern becomes a part of the process of an artist's actions, a behavioral pattern.

Seeing recognizable objects or patterns in otherwise random or unrelated objects or patterns in nature is called pareidolia, a purely physiological effect caused by a human tendency to seek, usually in images—particularly faces—or in sounds, a familiar pattern where none exists. Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces or objects in cloud formations, the Man in the Moon, the Moon rabbit, hidden messages within recorded music played in reverse or at higher- or lower-than-normal speeds, and hearing indistinct voices in random noise such as that produced by air conditioners or fans. This capability is probably the result of natural selection whereby people who are most able to quickly identify the mental state, for example, of threatening people, have an opportunity to flee or attack pre-emptively. In other words, processing this information subcortically—therefore subconsciously—before it is passed on to the rest of the brain for detailed processing accelerates judgment and decision making when an immediate reaction is needed. The ability to experience pareidolia is more developed in some people and less in others.

In his notebooks, Leonardo Da Vinci (1452–1519) wrote of pareidolia as a device for painters, writing, "If you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see divers combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well-conceived forms." This tendency also is active when exploring works of art, we end to see in anonymous brushwork and simplified forms recognizable patterns.

A LAdy Seated at a Virginal (detail), Johannes VermeerA Lady Seated at a Virginal (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1670–1675
Oil on canvas, 51.5 x 45.5 cm.
National Gallery, London

The design—the pattern, so to say—of certain of Vermeer's works is superlatively beautiful. This excellence is the more remarkable as it is a quality that does not appear in the work of most of the other Dutch painters. Their pictures are often admirably composed; they convey their motive and their story, yet even the ablest of them were uninterested, as a rule, in the underlying pattern of their compositions.

In Vermeer's best works, pattern is immediately clear. He was, although in all probability unconsciously, closer to the Oriental pattern sensitivity in that he frequently created pattern by positioning dark masses upon light grounds while Dutch painters based almost exclusively their design on light objects on dark backgrounds. In the late works, especially, forms are frequently broken down into curious, calligraphic patterns, somewhat akin to unconscious doodling rather than mimetic description.


Pendant is the name given to one of two paintings conceived as a pair. Pendants were often works intended for a particular domestic setting—perhaps to hang either side of a fireplace or window. By far the most popular subject of pendants display married couples. The word "pendant" can also be used for sculptures, pieces of furniture and other objects that are made in pairs. Usually, pendants are compositionally and thematically related; for example, the landscape pairs of Claude Lorrain (1600–1682) share similarly structured compositions, but depict the light at different times of day and male and female portraits might respond to one another in pose. Dutch painters were capable of conceiving pendants in a highly original manner. Willem van de Velde the Elder (c. 1611–1693), one of the most refined of Dutch marine painters, depicted two ships in completely different weather and lighting conditions.

While Vermeer seems to have painted various couples of paintings that are strongly related to each other in theme and composition, for some reason modern scholars are reluctant to consider them as true pendants which were explicitly painted to be hung side-by-side. Among these couples are The Geographer and The Astronomer, The Girl with a Pearl Earring and the Study of a Young Girl; The Girl with a Red Hat and the Girl with a Flute; and A Lady Standing at a Virginal and the Lady Seated at a Virginal.


Changes undertaken by an artist in the course of painting a picture. They are usually visible under the final version only with the help of X-rays, though they are sometimes revealed when the top layers of paint are worn away or become translucent.

Although in Vermeer's oeuvre there are a number of clearly visible pentimenti, most of the significant changes that he made during the course of painting can only be revealed through laboratory analysis methods such as IR or X-ray photography. One of the most striking pentimenti can be seen in the lower left-hand corner of the Young Woman with a Water Pitcher. The profile of the upper part of the typical lion head chairs which can be seen in many of his interiors, can be fairly well discerned. It would seem that Vermeer had brought the chair to a rather advanced stage of finish before he eliminated it from the composition. Other changes are only visible through close scrutiny. In the same painting, the left-hand edge of the hanging map of Europe once was fell to the right-hand side of the woman's head. One can only perceive a very shift in tone which runs vertically from the top of the canvas to the edge of the woman's headdress. For a detailed study of on the changes he made in this painting, click here.

Perceptual Constancy

In order to ensure biological survival, the brain is only interested in obtaining knowledge about the permanent, essential or characteristic properties of objects and surfaces that allow it to categorize them properly. Every time we move or every time what we are looking at moves, the image it forms on the retina changes. Yet the object remains the same object. These real properties of what we see are not explicitly available in the retinal image and must be extracted by visual processing. For example, depending on the real color of a piece of fruit we can judge if it is edible, poisonous, ripe or immature. But the information that reaches the brain through the senses for these objects and surfaces is in incessant flux due to changing environmental conditions and points of view. Perceptual constancies, then, allows us to perceive familiar objects as having standard shape, size, color and location regardless of changes in the angle of perspective, distance and lighting. The perceptual impression tends to conform to the object as it is assumed or as we know it to be, rather than to the actual stimulus presented to the eye, which, moreover, is often evidenced in photographic images. For example, although a human figure seen at a great distance may in fact be much smaller in comparison to a finger of our outheld hand, we do not perceive the figure as objectively small as he with respect to the objects within our view, but simply distant.

There are five important constancies: color constancy, brightness constancy, shape constancy, size constancy and location constancy; the first four of which are of vital importance to the visual artist. In a certain sense, the evolution of mimetic painting traces the battle to undo, or decode, hard-wired perceptual constancies. In order to create a precise illusion of realty the painter must learn how selectively "turn off" or "ignore" what certain perceptual mechanisms that automatically provide him actionable information, and, so to speak, return to a sort of original optical image forgoing what he knows about reality, a task that is decidedly counterintuitive and arduous. That is, instead of painting a figure seen at a great distance in the same size as the foreground figure, the landscape painter must paint the background figure much smaller and (generally) higher on the picture plane. The ability to decode perceptual constancies and formulate teachable pictorial conventions that would allow himself and other artists to systematically represent reality required hundreds of years of trial-and-error experimentation, beginning in the 1400s and reached a state of near perfection in the last quarter of the seventeenth century in the Netherlands.

The decoding of the different perceptual constancies developed gradually and simultaneously. Steps in understanding shape constancy was led by line drawing, which itself then led to the possibility of creating dramatic foreshortening, thereby greatly reinforcing the sensation of localized perspective. The development of linear perspective offered the artist a consistent mathematical way to place figures securely anchored in space. Varying systems of chiaroscuro allowed the painter to obtain impressive illusions of light, shadow and relief.

brightness constancyIllustration by David Heeger

Brightness constancy a perceptual phenomenon by which a visual object is perceived as having the same brightness under widely different conditions of illumination. Brightness constancy depends on extracting the percent of light (albedo). This can be done by comparing the amount of light from the coal and from the paper to the average amount of light from their surroundings. The paper reflects more light than its surrounding; the coal reflects less. So, even though the total amount of light from white paper (or black coal) can vary greatly, the relation of light from white paper (or black coal) to light from the surroundings remains (relatively) unchanged—a higher-order stability. So the visual system compares light from each object to the light from its neighbors. This comparison gives an accurate estimate of the per cent of light that each object reflects. A well-known example of brightness constancy is that a white piece of paper indoors reflects considerably less light than does a black lump of coal outside on a bright sunny day, yet the paper looks white, and the coal black.

In a few cases, the perception of brightness depends on the context (mean/average light level) may produce counterintuitive results broadly termed "optical illusions." For example, compare the brightnesses of the two gray squares. The one on the right appears brighter. In fact, this is an optical illusion because the two central gray squares are physically identical, one surrounded by white and the other surrounded by black. This illusion can be explained by what we know about the visual processing in the retina. Retinal responses depend on the local average image intensity. On the right, the background is black so the average intensity there is pretty small. Here we divide by a small number yielding a brighter percept. On the left, however, the background is white so the average intensity there is pretty large. Here we divide by a large number yielding a darker percept.

color constancyColor constancy (image copyright James Gurney)

Color constancy is a feature of the human color perception system that ensures that the color of an object is perceived as the same under varying conditions. A banana will look yellow during a sunny picnic, by candlelight and under fluorescent lights. In each of those situations, the light illuminating the banana differs considerably. To show how powerful is color constancy, in the illustration to the left the cyan square in the bottom corner of the red-lit block is exactly the same color mixture as the red square in the upper corner of the green-lit scene.

Shape Constancy
Shape constancy

Shape constancy is the tendency to perceive an object as having the same shape regardless of its orientation or the angle from which we view it.. For example, regardless of changes to the door opening illustrated to the left, the shape of the object, which is objectively rectangular, as viewed at different angles is perceived the same.

Size constancyShape constancy (copyright image IllusionWorks, L.L.C.)

Size constancy is the tendency to perceive an object as being the same size regardless of whether it is close or far away. The illustration to the left shows two men on a level surface at differing distances. The man in the background, although objectively smaller, looks perfectly normal when compared to the man in the foreground. However, when the more distant man is copied and pasted to the lower right he seems unacceptably small.

Moviemakers use a lack of distance cues to make you think a small object is large. In effect, they reverse Emmert's Law. If you don't know how far away a model is, you cannot determine its actual size. A moviemaker surrounds a model of the Titanic or a spaceship with a featureless background (ocean or sky) so you have no definite information about the distance of the object. Then the spectator can assume the small model is something huge. In the various Star Trek series, for example, starships and space stations are usually models a foot or two across. They are surrounded by a sky full of stars (actually a curtain on the television set) that contains no depth cues. Therefore the small models are readily interpreted as large objects.

Location constancy refers to the relationship between the viewer and the object. A stationary object is perceived as remaining stationary despite the retina sensing the object changing as the viewer moves (due to parallax). Location constancy is largely influenced by the context in which the object is found. An example of this would be looking at a parked car as you walk towards a building; the car is perceived as remaining stationary as you move forward.


Perspective creates an illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional picture plane. Objects in the background appear smaller than those in the foreground. Differently than other pictorial conventions, linear perspective evolved only in one place and in one time in history. Before that, the earliest paintings and drawings typically sized many objects and characters hierarchically according to their spiritual or thematic importance, not their distance from the viewer, and did not use foreshortening. The most important figures are often shown as the highest in a composition leading to the so-called "vertical perspective," common in the art of Ancient Egypt, where a group of figures closer to the viewer are shown below the larger figure or figures. The only method to indicate the relative position of elements in the composition was by overlapping, of which much use is made in works like the Elgin Marbles.

Giotto (c. 1267–1337) and Duccio di Buoninsenga (c. 1255–1260–c. 1318–1319) were among the first Italians to explore the idea of depth and volume and can be credited with introducing an early form of perspective, using shadowing to great effect to create an illusion of depth, but it was still far from the kind of perspective we are used to seeing in art today. Analysis reveals that Giotto had implemented the idea of convergent parallels without the use of an accurate vanishing point.

The "single point" system (linear perspective) was invented by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446) in Florence in relation to his architecture. Linear perspective is mathematically constructed so that all receding parallel lines appear to converge towards each other (orthogonals), eventually meeting at a single point, called the vanishing point. This system was used by artists from the early fifteenth century in Florence, and years later it was codified by Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) in De Pictura. Not only was perspective a way of creating the sensation of spatial depth, it was also a new method of composing a painting. Paintings began to show a single, unified scene, rather than a combination of several.

Netherlandish painters in the early fifteenth century seem to have created a convincing illusion of three-dimensional space empirically, employing some elements of linear perspective although not the rational system devised in Italy. Unlike the Italian Renaissance artists, Northern European artists were absorbed in capturing every detail in nature through direct observation, and by following only what they observed, in some cases came very close to the effect of central perspective with orthogonals that recede in space. However, while all the orthogonals in Italian painting converged at a unique point, those of the Northern artists converged, sometimes only roughly so, at different vanishing points.

It is believed that in about 1413 Brunelleschi demonstrated the geometrical method of perspective, by painting the outlines of various Florentine buildings onto a mirror. When the building's outline was continued, he noticed that all of the lines converged on the horizon line. According to Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), he then set up a demonstration of his painting of the Baptistery in the incomplete doorway of the Duomo. He had the viewer look through a small hole on the back of the painting, facing the Baptistery. He would then set up a mirror, facing the viewer, which reflected his painting. To the viewer, the painting of the Baptistery and the building itself were nearly indistinguishable. Soon after, nearly every artist in Florence and in Italy used geometrical perspective in their paintings, notably Paolo Uccello (1397–1475), Masolino da Panicale (c. 1383–c. 1447) and Donatello (c. 1386–1466). Although largely ignored in perspective histories, the central vanishing point appears to have been first used in 1423 by Masolino, and is well-illustrated by his painting from the same period of a double scene of miracles of St. Peter, which has a strong perspective construction.

In Vermeer's time, the study and practice of perspective were held in high esteem throughout Europe. Correct representation of perspective went hand in hand with accurate draftsmanship, careful rendering of the play of light and the description of texture which were employed in order to achieve the most illusionistic portrayal of reality as possible. This was considered one of the highest goals of art. Vermeer's own paintings were once praised by the young Dutch connoisseur Pieter Teding van Berkhout as "curious and exceptional perspectives." There existed at the time various guides to aid the artist in perspective drawing for artists such as those of Samuel van Marolois (c. 1572–c.1627), Hendrick Hondius (1573–1649), Francois Desgagues (1593–1662), and Hans Vredeman de Vreis (1526/1527–1606). It is likely that Vermeer was familiar with the principles of perspective drawing expounded in these manuals.

It is usually assumed that for practical purposes, complicated perspectives were first worked out in preparatory drawings on paper. The drawing could then be transferred efficiently to the painter's canvas with the pin-prick and dust method. Another, highly practical method of creating perspective was with the pin-and-string method.

Recent scholarship has called attention to the importance of perspective in Vermeer's painting. In fact, one of the three contemporary testimonies of Vermeer's art describes one of his pictures, perhaps The Art of Painting, as a "perspective." Jørgen Wadum of the Mauritshuis has noted that 13 paintings by Vermeer, including Woman Holding a Balance, "contains evidence of Vermeer's system, by which he inserted a pin, with a string attached to it, into the grounded canvas at the vanishing point. With this string, he could reach any area of his canvas to correct orthogonals, the straight lines that meet in the central vanishing point." This system was widely used among painters of the time. In Wadum's opinion, Vermeer had most likely had fully assimilated the laws of perspective perhaps using various extant guides.

Perhaps the modern eye has become somewhat jaded to the magic of perspective due to the literal flood of photographic images in which the camera resolves automatically correct perspective.

Perspective Box (or peep box)

The perspective box, "peep box" or "peepshow," as it is incorrectly termed, is an optical device that enables an artist to create a convincing illusion of interior (or, more rarely, exterior) space. Using a complex perspectival construction, the four inside walls of a wooden box are painted to simulate the space and the scene is then viewed through a carefully positioned eyehole. The eye is deceived into believing that this is really the inside of a room.

The perspective box was popular among Dutch seventeenth-century artists, reflecting a fascination with perspectival and optical devices. Of the six perspective boxes which survive from the seventeenth century the best is that by Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678) in the National Gallery. The inside of the box is painted in such a way that when viewed through either of the peepholes, located at each end, it gives the illusion of a three-dimensional interior of a modest Dutch room, sparsely furnished and with views through into other rooms.

The perspective box was only a short-lived phenomenon. However, the effect that such boxes had on contemporaries can be judged by John Evelyn's account of a perspective box he saw in London in 1656:

[...] was shew'd me a pretty Perspective & well represented in a triangular Box, the greate Church at Harlem in Holland, to be seene thro a small hole at one of the Corners, & contrived into a hansome Cabinet. It was so rarely done, that all the Artists and Painters in Towne, came flocking to see & admire it.

Pictor Doctus

Pictor doctus, amoris causa, and alter deus are all terms used by scholars in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to characterize painters, however the ideas they encapsulate also circulated in the seventeenth century.Denise Giannino, "Gerrit Dou: Seventeenth-Century Artistic Identity and Modes of Self-Referentiality in Self-Portraiture and Scenes of Everyday Life" (PhD diss., 2006), 3, note 12, http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1651&context=etd. The pictor doctus, is one who paints amoris causa, skillfully imitating nature his paintings so that he might surpass nature itself. The figure of the pictor doctus was epitomized both by sophisticated artist-gentlemen like Rubens's (1577–1640), Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), and Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). The Dutch painters Gerrit Dou (1613–1675) and Rembrandt (1606–1669) would have been aware of the tradition of pictor doctus although Rembrandt might be considered by some of his contemporaries as a pictor vulgaris, whose crude working clothes are soiled with paint. The image of the scholarly painter is frequently expressed through self portraiture. Dou, who lived in the university atmosphere of Leiden, made a number of such self portraits in which he consistently surrounded his own image with props and accouterments that reflect diligent study and erudition.

Both the pictor doctus and pictor vulgaris derive from Horace's Ars Poetica of 18 B.C. as positive and negative ideals within the creative life—the Learned Poet and Vulgar Poet. The development of the artist as pictor doctus, which began during the Renaissance, reflects a long struggle by artists and theorists to retrieve the fame, glory and honor of the profession enjoyed by the ancients.

Despite the many literary and visual topoi designed to elevate the status of the artist in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Dutch artists of the Golden Age were all too often reported as misbehaving. Instead of emulating the noble exempla offered by the model of the pictor doctus, Dutch painters drank (Jan Steen (c. 1626–1679) and reveled in public (Van Laer), could not pay their bills (Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) and eschewed conventions of dress and gentlemanly comportment (Brouwer). [Philip] Angel complained in his speech that drinking and carousing derailed artists from articulating the Renaissance topoi of the artist as an intellectual, famed, respectable gentleman. He emphasized the ideas that drinking made artists inelegant ("you walk with splayed legs"), indolent ("devote your useful time/To the service of painting, not squander it uselessly"), dim-witted ("[you] celebrate…until the brainpan knows neither rule nor law") and unworthy of fame ("This would give you great honor, now you have great shame"). Instead of "brutish carousing," Angel encouraged artists to "perfect the praise of painting with your scholarly writings."Ingred Cartwright, "Hoe schilder hoe wilder: Dissolute self-portraits in seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish Art" (PhD diss., University of Maryland, 2007), 113.

Pictorial Convention/Schemata

A widely used or accepted device, technique or "trick" in painting. Pictorial conventions can be purely technical (e.g., the use turpentine sediments to create cheap grounding material) organizational (i.e., compositional) or narratative (e.g., the use of historical costume to enhance the dignity of a (portrait historié).

Pictorial conventions determine the characteristic form of art in every age. For example, ancient Egyptian figures are almost exclusively viewed from the side while in the overwhelming number of cases light originates from the left in Western paintings following the Renaissance use of a single directional light. Until the twentieth century, when the realistic image was no longer an overriding priority, a stock of pictorial conventions allowed each painter to represent natural phenomena and explicate narratives as was consistent with current temporal and geographical concepts of art. In Europe, the discovery of a new pictorial trick spread rapidly and soon became common stock of any skilled artist.

The approximations of early forms of illusionism were gradually refined and new solutions spread from studio to studio until any sufficiently talented painter was able to perform tricks that would have shocked even his greatest predecessors. Some conventions perdured unaltered for centuries, while some were challenged and replaced with those more effective. Some conventions, especially anatomical proportion, perspective and foreshortening, were amply codified in print, but the great part was transmitted verbally within the studio environment. However, while pictorial conventions may enable a painter to create images impossible only a generation before, they may also restrict or even disqualify the work of a painter or school of painters if they are unable to apply them creatively.

Some conventions are created via trial-and-error experimentation, and some by logical deduction. However, even though it is generally not considered sufficiently, chance played a fundamental role in spawning new conventions that might lead to ever more realistic images. In fact, it is well known among artists of all fields that chance events plays a key part in the creative endeavor (modern watercolor painters commonly call these events "happy accidents"), and, as some studies have shown, in scientific discovery as well. The scientists Kevin Dunbar and Jonathan Fugelsag maintain that somewhere between 33% and 50% of all scientific discoveries are unexpected. The English painter Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) would eventually affirm the positive role of chance in painting wrote, "Work produced in an accidental manner, will have the same free, unrestrained air as the works of nature, whose particular combinations seem to depend upon accident." Thus, the better painter immerses himself in the physical and mental process of painting and responds positively to change and the fortuitous, while the mediocre painter fearfully clings to his tried-and-proven conventions he has learned by rote.

Pictorial conventions include linear perspective, catchlights on the eyes, forceful chiaroscuro, the use of impasto for the lights and translucent paint for shadows, cool half-tones, the variation of soft and hard edges to enhance spatial depth and hundreds, if not thousands more that, if complied in writing, would produce a hefty tome.

In the seminal Art and Illusion (1960), the art historian Ernst Gombrich gave a clear account of progress in mimetic forms of art. In order to represent nature artists did not simply engage in a process of naively looking at their motif and copying it one-to-one—nature, he held, cannot be imitated without being taken apart and put together again. Instead, the skilled artist manipulated a compendium of what he termed "schemata," a term that corresponds roughly to pictorial convention. As Gombrich put it, "The artist, no less than the writer, needs a vocabulary before he can embark on a "copy" of reality."

In each age painters employed a distinct set of pictorial conventions, rejecting some and discovering, perhaps, a new convention that allowed him to attain a hitherto unknown aesthetic or thematic effects. The vocabulary of pictorial conventions is not discovered individually by each artist—this is impossible—but passed on through a prolonged master/apprentice relationship. By the Renaissance, the number of pictorial conventions had grown to such a point that many of the effects of nature, but certainly not all nor to the same degree of efficacy, could be satisfactorily represented. Many new conventions required years to perfect, but once understood, they could be taught or imitated quickly. The process is revealed in Giorgio Vasari's comment on the paintings of Taddeo Gaddi (c. 1290–1366) and Giotto (1266/7–1337). "Taddeo always adopted Giotto's manner but did not greatly improve it except for coloring, which he made fresher and more vivid. Giotto had paid so much attention to the improvement of other aspects and difficulties of this art that although he was adequate in coloring, he was not more than that. Hence, Taddeo, who had seen and learned what Giotto had made easy, had time to add something of his own by improving coloring."

As of yet, there has been no attempt by art specialists to codify pictorial conventions, without which, European mimetic painting could not have made such impressive strides.

It should be remembered that each culture has its own set of pictorial conventions which may differ enormously from one another. For example, Western painting may be described an ever-increasing search to create the illusion of spatial depth and physical plasticity and the pictorial conventions necessary to those ends while, for all practical purposes, both were utterly ignored in Oriental painting.

Pictorial Space

In a painting or other two-dimensional art, illusionary space that appears to recede backward into depth from the picture plane. The principal task of the realist painter is to find an artistically meaningful way to collapse the three-dimensional world onto the flat pictorial plane.

Picture Plane

The plane occupied by the physical surface of the picture. In most representational painting, all the elements in the picture appear to recede from this plane, while trompe l'œil effects are achieved by painting objects in such a way that they seem to project in front of the picture plane. Conceptually, it acts as a transparent window into illusionistic space.

One of the representational painter's principal tasks is to "collapse" the real three-dimensional world he wishes to represent onto the bi-dimensional picture plane. This transposition must take into account that what may appear to be an agreeable and significant arrangement of objects in the real world may not seem equally significant once it is flattened onto the canvas, a fact which many amateur photographers are painfully aware of. The illusion of depth is usually obtained by the use of geometrical or aerial perspective.


In the eighteenth century, the term "'picturesque"' was applied to a landscape that looked as if it had come straight out of a painting, but now the word has changed to mean that a scene is charming and quaint and would make a good picture. In the eighteenth century, the Picturesque, particularly in reference to landscape gardening, was a type of beauty characterized by an irregular and rough naturalism, most famously exemplified in the work of the English landscape gardener Capability Brown. As an aesthetic concept applied to painting, it looks back to the "classical picturesque" style seen in the works of Claude Lorrain (1600–1682) and Poussin (1594–1665), and the Romantic picturesque derived from Adam Elsheimer (1578–1610) and Salvator Rosa (1615–1673).


A Wedding Breakfast, PalamedeszA Wedding Breakfast (detail)
Anthonie Palamedesz.
Oil on panel, 48.4 x 73 cm.
Private collection, New York

Art historians use the term "picture-within-pictures" to describe framed paintings that appeared in the backgrounds of many seventeenth-century Dutch interior paintings, particularly numerous in the 1650s and 1660s. Evidently, paintings had become such a ubiquitous commodity in the Netherlands—certainly more than in any other country in Europe—that it was inevitable that they would become a subject of paintings themselves. Many art historians hold that aside from functioning as straightforward portrayals of common household objects, the subject matter of the pictures-within-pictures was exploited to comment on the principal scene of the painting. Given that they were generally hastily depicted, pictures-within-pictures may have had the more prosaic function as handy decorative fillers.

In Vermeer's interiors, pictures-within-pictures are portrayed 16 times. Three works, The Love Letter, A Lady Standing at a Virginal and The Concert, feature two pictures-within-pictures. One picture-within-a-picture, an oversized Cupid, originally appeared in four different works, partially or entirely: A Maid Asleep, Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window, Girl Interrupted in her Music and A Lady Standing at a Virginal. In Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window it was overpainted by Vermeer himself. The same bordello scene appears in both The Concert and A Lady Seated at a Virginal.

The symbolic meanings attributed to Vermeer's pictures-within-pictures are as numerous as they are variegated—a few are outright contradictory. Some interpretations are more specific, referring to period texts, emblematic literature, popular sayings or common beliefs. On the other hand, some critics propose that the artist purposely left their meanings "open ended" so that they could be read in different ways according to the personal inclination and cultural background of individual viewers. However, the uncommon technique that Vermeer developed for this motif has been almost completely neglected. Only Lawrence Gowing commented how Vermeer's pictures-within-pictures were actually depicted, noting that for Gabriel Metsu's (1629–1667) and Jan Steen (c. 1626–1679) pictures-within-pictures of are "little, conceptual replicas," but for Vermeer they are "pure visual phenomenon, a flat, toned surface." Gowing did not explain why the painter adopted such an idiosyncratic approach, which, in the present writer's opinion, is not only a question of style, but of concept. In any case, readers interested the symbolic contents of Vermeer's pictures-within-pictures are encouraged to immerse themselves in the small mountain of art historical literature dedicated to this topic.


See also palette and hand grinding paint

The pigment is the element in paint that provides its color. Pigments can be made of a wide range of materials, including minerals, natural and synthetic dyestuffs, and other man-made compounds. Paint consists of pigment bound in a medium. The ratio of pigment to medium affects the malleability, color and drying time of the paint. Different pigments deteriorate over time in different ways and at different rates. Many pigments in utilized in the past were very expensive and difficult to acquire. Their history is fascinating and can be very romantic. True ultramarine blue, for instance, is made from ground lapis lazuli and Indian yellow was made from the urine of cows fed on mangos in India, a practice which has been banned as it harms the cow. Red lakes come from the secretion of the females and eggs of the cochineal beetle and dragon's blood was long thought to be a mixture of dragon and elephant blood. It is, in fact, a dark resin from an eastern Asian tree (Calamua draco). Mauves and purples were difficult to obtain from the seventeenth-century palette except by mixing since no pure purple-colored pigment was available for oil painting. A successful color could be obtained by combining ultramarine with red lake, with or without white, or by glazing one over the other, but at considerable expense on account of the ultramarine content. Azurite combined with red lakes tends to make more muted grayish mauves.

Some pigments require great quantities of drying oil to transform them into a workable paste for the painter. These pigments produce paint that is structurally weaker than those denser, more highly pigmented paint. Some paints are heavy or coarse while some are light and fluffy. Alizarin, a ruby red lake, comes in the form of a fluffy light-weight powder. The particles of smalt are so coarse and heavy that they slide down the canvas if it is set vertically on the easel. One pound of it will almost fill a half-gallon (1.9 liters) pound of vermilion will go into a four-ounce (.11 liters) jar.

Pigments are named for their color, resemblance to objects in nature, for their inventors, their places of origin, the purpose for which they are used or for their chemical compositions or derivations. For centuries, the nomenclature of pigments was confusing and unsystematic. The term "lake," which now comprises an array of transparent pigments of different colors, was until the eighteenth century intended only for red lakes only. Some colors had dozens of names.

By the early nineteenth century, most of the colormen were producing color from traditional pigments, manufactured by traditional methods. Advances in the chemical industry at the close of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century produced an enormous expansion in the range of pigments. Some of these new pigments made valuable additions to the artists' color range by providing less expensive alternatives for expensive traditional pigments, for example, artificial ultramarine.

"Modern pigments are developed on a quantitative basis for the paint industry, in which producing paints for artists plays an insignificant role. They are formulated for maximum tinting strength, covering power and stability in paint without concern for their chromatic diversity and novel consistency. To achieve maximum desirability in modern paints, pigments are made homogenous in shape, size and composition.

Paint made with traditional pigments result in paint with chromatic diversity. The heterogeneous size and shape of traditional pigments gives a novel and unique behavior to oil paint. Modern additives alter the behavior of paint, reducing or eliminating the individual effects created by pigments, and granular, crystalline pigments give a certain pleasing quality to paint films that cannot be had from fine, well-dispersed pigments such as are produced for the modern paint industry.George O'Hanlon, 2012.

Many pigments have had dubious histories. Being an artist and handling dangerous, and in some cases lethal compounds, should have given an artist pause to consider alternatives. However, knowledge of the depth of the inherent danger of pigments, to some degree, was misunderstood. In the 15th through 17th century, industrial progress had limited impact on the art materials trade.

Pigments Throughout the Ages

Stone Age
Basic earth pigments like yellowish, brownish or reddish clay ochres, along with mineral oxides and charcoal

Ancient Egypt
Egyptian blue frit, orpiment, realgar, malachite, hematite, azurite, gypsum and chalk

Ancient Mesopotamia
Smalt (cobalt glass)

Ancient Greece and Rome
Lead white, dragons blood, vermilion, indigo, madder lake, Tyrian purple, verdigris, green earth, massicot and Naples yellow

Carmine, natural ultramarine, lead-tin yellow and gamboge

No new colors were discovered after the Renaissance until the 1850s when Prussian blue, cobalt blue, veridian, cerulean blue, cobalt green, cadmium yellow and red, alizarin crimson, manganese violet and emerald green were discovered. More recently, hansa yellow, permanent orange, napthol scarlet, quinacridone orange, crimson, red scarlet and violet, dioxazine purple, phthalo blue and green, manganese blue, aurolin, arylide yellow, titanium and zinc white and many other synthetically produced pigments were added to the artist's palette.

Vermeer used the same pigments as his contemporaries. The only significant difference was his preference for thecostly natural ultramarine (lapis lazuli) instead of the common azurite. About 20 pigments have been detected in Vermeer's works although he probably employed not more than 10 or 12 systematically.

For an in-depth study of Vermeer's pigments, click here

Pigment Analysis

Pigment analysis is undertaken to establish the contents of an artist's pigments. The identification of pigments provides information about the artist, era, history and style of an object or painting, and allows accurate pigment selection for restoration. Some pigments change chemically, so accurate pigment identification is important to help return a painting to its original color after restoration. Their chemical identification is also crucial for finding safe conservation treatments and environmental conditions for display, storage and transport of valuable art.

In general, only a minute sample of paint is taken from the edges of pre-existing losses or other areas of damage. These samples can then be viewed under high magnification with a microscope. This helps to identify the painting materials present, particularly the pigments. Other laboratory techniques can in turn be applied to identify the paint binding medium.

An experienced researcher who has seen many cross-section samples, and who is familiar with the rather small number of pigments generally used in traditional painting, will be able to identify most of those pigments with nothing more than an optical microscope. Identifying the media within which the pigments are bound, however, is impossible with the naked eye; and there are too a few cases where natural and synthetic varieties of a pigment are visually indistinguishable. When the eye is no longer able to answer our questions, other methods have to be brought into play. There are a number of chemical and physical techniques which are used by conservation scientists. Commonly used methods at present include gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, Raman spectrometry, Fourier transform infrared spectrometry, scanning electron microscopy, energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and infrared microscopy.Paul Taylor, "Condition: The Ageing of Art" (forthcoming, 2014), 10.

Studio techniques may involve a two-way system: identifying the pigments by carrying out a number of the chemical reactions with powdered pigment particles under a microscope (dissolving in acids or observation of the characteristic crystals created as a result of the chemical reaction with reagents) or secondly visual observation of pigment dispersions (pigment powder, mounted in a clear-setting resin) with a polarizing light microscope, using gemological and mineralogical optical analytical processes.

Each type of pigment reacts differently to the polarized light rays so that every single particle can be identified.

Pin & String Method (for creating linear perspective)

Although Vermeer was likely familiar with the principles of linear perspective described in contemporary perspective manuals, in daily practice, he very likely employed the so-called pin-and string-method to work out and verify the perspectival construction of his interiors during the planning and working stages of the working process.

"Remarkably, thirteen paintings still contain physical evidence of Vermeer's system, by which he inserted a pin, with a string attached to it, into the grounded canvas at the vanishing point. With this string he could reach any area or his canvas to create correct orthogonals, the straight lines that meet in the central vanishing point. The vanishing point of the central perspective in The Art of Painting is still visible in the palm layer just the end of the lower map-rod, below Clio's right hand.

To transfer the orthogonal line described by the string, Vermeer would have applied chalk to it. While holding it taut between the pin in the vanishing point and the fingers of one hand, his free hand would have drawn the string up a little and let it snap back onto the surface, leaving a line of chalk. This could then have been traced with a pencil or brush. Such a simple method of using a chalk line to make straight lines was probably used by Vermeer's Delft colleagues Leonard Bramer (1596–1674) and Carel Fabritius (1622–1654) to compose wall paintings and is still used today by painters of trompe l'oeil interiors."Jørgen Wadum, "Vermeer in Perspective," in Johannes Vermeer, eds. Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Ben Broos (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 67–68.

Little or no trace of Vermeer's method remains except the pinhole, revealed in X-ray images.


A piskijken ("pee looking") is a subgenre of the Dutch domestic interior painting which typically shows a woman with a doctor or quack performing a pregnancy test by looking at a sample of her urine. Although uroscopy was an accepted diagnostic tool the gene paintings which depict it highlight the discord between the physician's social status and his inspection of the reeking contents of a urinal.


The external appearance of a person, in particular the face.

It has often been noted that Vermeer, with respects to his contemporaries, generally did not pursue his sitters' individual physiognomy or psychology at length. None of them, even the Girl with a Pearl Earring or A Study of a Young Woman are considered to be true portraits, at least in the seventeenth-century meaning of the term.

One modern critic went so far as to state that Vermeer seems to have lost his patience while painting faces and treated them as if they were still lifes. In any case, Vermeer preferred to generalize (differently than idealize) his sitters' features in order to convey a more universal meaning to his compositions. Credible comparisons of the faces found in Vermeer's oeuvre are very difficult to make because the woman are portrayed in different lighting conditions, poses and presumably ages.

Planar Perspective

Planar perspective is the use of overlapping planes to create the sensation of depth on a flat plane. Planar perspective was widely used in landscape history or landscape painting whereby the foreground plane of vegetation or architecture overlaps the middle ground plane, where the most important subject matter was usually located. The middle ground typically overlapped the distant plane of the mountains or horizon, which lastly overlapped the most distant of all planes: the sky. Although the fact that objects near the viewer obfuscate the view of distant objects appears obvious, overlapping constitutes the most unambiguous depth cue of all. Ancient Egyptian and Oriental artists used planar perspective almost exclusively to indicate distance between the vast landscapes and complex multi-figure scenes. Effective planar perspective often requires that each of the overlapping planes is simplified into broad shape, often by narrowing the range of tonal variations of each plane. Thus the nearest plane would be dark, the middle ground medium-light, the distance light, and the sky, the lightest of all. Planar perspective was often employed in conjunction with aerial perspective by rendering the foreground planes with saturated colors while those more distant were progressively desaturated.

Plaster Cast

A plaster cast is a copy made in plaster of another three-dimensional form. The original from which the cast is taken may be a sculpture, a building, a face, a fossil or other remains such as fresh or fossilized footprints—particularly in paleontology.

Julius ExnerFrom the Art Academy's Plaster Cast Collection
Julius Exner
Oil on canvas
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Plaster is applied to the original to create a mold or cast, that is, a negative impression of the original. This mold is then removed and fresh plaster is poured into it, creating a copy in plaster of the original. Very elaborate molds were usually made out of several to even dozens of pieces, to cast the more difficult undercut sculptures. Plaster is not flexible, therefore the molds were made as three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles for easy removal of the original and the cast from the mold. Later gelatin, rubber and silicone molds were used, backed by plaster or polyester for support.

Plaster casts have been formative for many artistic movements such as Renaissance, Baroque or Neo-Classicism. From the fifteenth century on, casts were part of private collections of scholars, artists, aristocrats and royals in Europe. The replicas constituted an early canon of what were considered masterworks of the ancient Greek and Roman world. The latter formed the basis for the establishment of the royal or courtly academies of arts, the first of which were several precursors of the later Académie des Beaux-Arts founded in Paris in the second half of the seventeenth century. Casts enabled artists to study human anatomy and to learn "the idea of beauty."

The practice of reproducing famous sculptures in plaster originally dates back to the sixteenth century when Leone Leoni (c. 1509–1590), an Italian sculptor of international outlook who traveled in Italy, Germany, Austria, France, Spain and the Netherlands, assembled a collection of casts in Milan. He collected "as many of the most celebrated works… carved and cast, antique and modern as he was able to obtain anywhere." Such private collections, however, remained modest and uncommon until the eighteenth century. The use of such casts was particularly prevalent among classicists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and by 1800 there were extensive collections in Berlin, Paris, Vienna and elsewhere. By creating copies of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures held at various museums across Europe in this way, a reference collection of all the best and most representative sculptural types could be formed, at a fraction of the cost of purchasing original sculptures, which scholars could consult without necessarily having to travel abroad to see all the originals.

In the French and Italian academies, students attended lectures on anatomy, foreshortening, geometry and perspective and gradually advanced from making drawings from others' drawings to drawings of plaster casts of classical sculpture. "The plaster casts were essential study material. "It will be absolutely necessary," wrote Willem Goeree (1635–1711), 'that one make drawings after copies in the round and plaster casts of good masters; such as one can come across very easily, some being very common and familiar; many of these can be bought for a modest sum and used to great advantage in the practice of art." Examples of plaster casts cover the standard Greek and Roman examples such as the Spinario and Farnese Hercules and Medici Venus, as well as the work of modern sculptors, not just Michelangelo (1475–1564) and Giambologna (1529–1608).

Examples of plasters casts can be seen in many depictions of Dutch artists' studios. Rembrandt (1606–1669) had "eight large pieces of plaster, cast from life," one of a moor, two others of Prince Maurits, including a death mask." A plaster cast of a large classical head lies on the table in Vermeer's The Art of Painting and was recently identified by the art historian Sabine Pénot as the head of Apollo, who was, among other things, the god of light.

En Plein Air

See also: naer het leven

En plein air simply means that the artist painted outside, literally "in empty (or open) air," instead of in the studio. Occasionally one also sees the derivative term pleinairisme, which is nothing more than a grammatical inflection of the same idea. For example, Claude Monet (1840–1926)—or whoever painted en plein air during the period in which pleinairisme was in fashion. Even though Dutch landscape painters achieved a truly amazing sense of naturalism, their paintings were largely created inside their studios and not en plain air. Artists employed monochrome sketches done from nature, the knowledge of many pictorial conventions, memory and imagination. Portrait painters often worked from mannequins clothed in the sitter's elaborate dress in order to avoid long and tiring hours of posing for the sitter.

Many scholars believe that Vermeer employed a camera obscura as an aid to paint his View of Delft and that he had most likely had situated himself on the upper story of a building slightly outside the Delft city walls. Judging by the perspective construction of The Little Street, the artist seems to have painted from a window of the second story of a building presumably across a canal. Had Vermeer actually looked out of the windows while painting in both or either of the two landscapes, he would in essence have painted them en plein air. Even though there is no historical evidence that he did so, the perspective accuracy and refined renderings of the play of light of his works may have well been the fruit of direct observation. Many Dutch painters were known to have worked largely from drawings.


Pointillé is a decorative technique in which scintillating patterns are formed on a surface by a means of punched dots. The technique is similar to embossing or engraving but is done manually and does not cut into the surface being decorated. Pointillé was commonly used to decorate arms and armor starting in the fifteenth century.

The Allegory of Faith, Johannes VermeerAllegory of Faith (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1670–1674
Oil on canvas, 114.3 x 88.9 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The term "pointillé" was borrowed by art historians to describe tiny small globs of thick light-colored paint seen in Vermeer's paintings that seem to dance above the surface of the canvas.. Pointillés are presumably a pictorial equivalent of what in photographic jargon are termed "disks of confusion," "circles of confusion" or "halations." The same optical phenomenon is produced on the screen of a camera obscura in the place of pinpoint highlights, especially on shiny surfaces such as glass or polished metal. If a small highlight of this type, whatever its shape, is not brought exactly into focus at the viewing plane of the camera obscura or the lens is imperfect, as in the case of seventeenth-century lenses, its image becomes spread out into a circle. In photography, the circle of confusion is used to determine the depth of field, the part of an image that is acceptably sharp.

For reasons unknown, Vermeer deliberately imitated disks of confusion of the camera obscura which cannot be perceived by the naked eye in normal circumstances. Pointillés, although detectable in many mature works by Vermeer, are particularly abundant in the View of Delft, The Milkmaid and The Lacemaker. Vermeer's pointillés are usually pure white or slightly yellowish in tone but sometimes they are the same color, but lighter, as the underlying local color, such as in the tapestries of The Art of Painting and The Allegory of Faith. Pointillés are present in about half of Vermeer's 35 paintings. The maker their first appearance in the early Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.

However, the overwhelming part of the pointillés in Vermeer's paintings—there are literally thundered of them—must be considered as a sort of pictorial artifice, or stylistic device, in that the disks of confusion which they supposedly imitate would not have occurred on the camera's screen in such relatively lighting conditions as are represented in Vermeer's interiors., no matter how unfocused the lens of his camera obscura was. It is highly unlikely that Vermeer would have seen any disks of confusion on the screen of his camera when looking at the hanging tapestries or Turkish carpets, and absolutely impossible in shadowed areas.


See, three-quarters portrait, portrait historié, portrait lighting and tronie

Mrs. William Shakespeare, John Singer SargentMrs. William Shakespeare
John Singer Sargent
c. 1896
Oil on canvas, 74.6 x 62.2 cm.
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester NY

from Wikipedia:
A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression are predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality and even the mood of the person. For this reason, in photography a portrait is generally not a snapshot, but a composed image of a person in a still position. A portrait often shows a person looking directly at the painter or photographer, in order to most successfully engage the subject with the viewer. Many painters have worked almost exclusively in portraiture.

Profile view, full-face view, and three-quarters view are three common designations for portraits, each referring to a particular orientation of the head of the individual depicted. Such terms would tend to have greater applicability to two-dimensional artwork such as photography and painting than to three-dimensional artwork such as sculpture. In the case of three-dimensional artwork, the viewer can usually alter their orientation to the artwork by moving around it.

Most early representations that are clearly intended to show an individual are of rulers, which tend to follow idealizing artistic conventions, rather than the individual features of the subject's body, though when there is no other evidence as to the ruler's appearance the degree of idealization can be hard to assess. Nonetheless, many subjects, such as Akhenaten and some other Egyptian pharaohs, can be recognized by their distinctive features. The 28 surviving rather small statues of Gudea, ruler of Lagash in Sumeria between c. 2144–2124 B.C., show a consistent appearance with some individuality.

Some of the earliest surviving painted portraits of people who were not rulers are the Greco-Roman funeral portraits that survived in the dry climate of Egypt's Fayum district. These are almost the only paintings from the classical world that have survived, apart from frescos, though many sculptures and portraits on coins have fared better. Although the appearance of the figures differs considerably, they are considerably idealized, and all show relatively young people, making it uncertain whether they were painted from life.

The Roman portrait bust survived in the form of life-sized reliquaries of saints, but it was in fifteenth-century Florence that the individual features and character of a contemporary sitter were accurately recorded by sculptors such as Donatello (c. 1386–1466), Desiderio da Settignano (c. 1428 or 1430–1464), Mino da Fiesole (c. 1429–1484) and Bernardo Rossellino (1409–1464). A similar degree of realism occurs in fifteenth-century tomb sculpture. Portraiture, visual representation of individual people, distinguished by references to the subject's character, social position, wealth, or profession. Owning a portrait of him/herself was a clear demonstration of taste, prestige and wealth of the patron. Usually, to mark this idea, the person who commissioned the work of art was portrayed with possessions, buildings of his property, jewelery and rich clothes (Schroeder et al., 2010)

Portraitists often strive for exact visual likenesses. However, although the viewer's correct identification of the sitter is of primary importance, exact replication is not always the goal. Artists may intentionally alter the appearance of their subjects by embellishing or refining their images to emphasize or minimize particular qualities (physical, psychological, or social) of the subject. Viewers sometimes praise most highly those images that seem to look very little like the sitter because these images are judged to capture some non-visual quality of the subject. In non-Western societies, portraiture is less likely to emphasize visual likeness than in Western cultures.

As R. H. Fuchs has pointed out, "...no category in pictorial art is so conservative as portraiture. A portrait is not just a likeness of an individual to be preserved for posterity; it was also an image of pride, a projection of social position. A man who wants his portrait painted cannot but attach a certain importance to himself, in whatever sense, and he is not likely to take chances; he is concerned about his appearance. Normally, and the history of portraiture testifies to this fact, he opts for the classic formula—the formula which has proved its efficiency." It is all too obvious that it was the commissioner who had a fundamental role in determining the painting's final aspect. He chose the sitter, attire, dimension, technique and often the type background and surroundings props as well. The painter's role was essentially to give life to the clients' vision of himself via the technical and expressive means which had initially attracted the client's attention to the artist.

The Dutch Portrait

drawn from:
"Portraiture," in Making, Meaning and Market: Seventeen-Century Dutch painting from the Huntarian Gallery website. http://dutch.arts.gla.ac.uk/index.htm

In the seventeenth century, there was an unprecedented range and number of portraits created in the Netherlands. This was the result of social and economic factors. Portraits were often the only steady source of income for an artist as virtually all portraits were commissioned with prearranged prices being set by them.

The market for portraits increased during the seventeenth century because the huge success of Dutch trade had resulted in the rise of a strong middle class who were eager for portraits to symbolize their new status. Portraiture became accessible to a much wider social group in the seventeenth century and all types of customers seem to have ordered portraits, from shopkeepers to local militias. Delft and The Hague were important centers for portraiture during the first part of the seventeenth century because the House of Orange had residences in both cities and The Hague was the seat of government for the united provinces, thus providing artists with wealthy patrons.

Dutch portrait painters produced an unprecedented number of paintings since the newly affluent middle class provided broad-based patronage. There were many different types of Dutch portraiture in the seventeenth century. Commissioned portraits of real people of varying sorts were popular as well as tronien, which were portraits of picturesque types for the open market. There was a big market for tronien, which would show a stereotypical peasant woman or similar subject. The most common of the commissioned portraits were marriage, family and group portraits. Portraits were commissioned on a variety of occasions, portraying their sitters from the cradle to the grave. Depictions of the elderly were common and pendant portraits of family founders became treasured family possessions, passed through the generations. Young students and graduates from universities and numerous people in their professional roles were portrayed. Portraits histories' showed their sitters as literary, allegorical, mythological or biblical characters, implying that those painted possessed the same qualities as the people they were playing. State portraiture was uncommon, given the prominence of the middle classes and the relative lack of an aristocracy. The last occasion in a person's life when a portrait would have been made was when someone was dying or recently deceased. This tradition seems strange to a contemporary viewer but was commonplace during the seventeenth century.

In the light of the above, even Vermeer's most deliberate renderings of female physiognomy, the Girl with a Pearl Earring and A Study of a Young Girl, are not to be taken to be portraits in the seventeenth-century sense of the term. Rather, they are considered examples of the Northern tronie tradition.

In any case, it is known that Vermeer painted at least one true portrait, or rather a self portrait, which however is missing. This self portrait was listed as item number 3 of the 1696 Dissius auction of 21 paintings by Vermeer. and described thus: "The portrait of Vermeer in a room with various accessories, uncommonly beautiful painted by him. "

Portrait Historié

See also, three-quarters portrait, portrait, portrait lighting and tronie

The portrait historié, (historical portrait) was a type of portraiture that was popular in the Golden Age of Dutch art. Many seventeenth-century people had themselves portrayed as mythological, biblical or historical figures. Differently from traditional portraits in which the sitter wore contemporary clothing and was set against a blank background or a familiar environment, the portrait historié represents the sitter in the guise of gods and heroes, and at times Biblical figures thereby drawing comparisons between the virtues of the sitters and the historical personalities.

The portrait historié, in effect, was a synthesis of history painting considered the highest theoretical category of painting, the Roman portrait acquired a higher status. Sometimes such portraits were meant to convey moralizing values.

The Banquet of Cleopatra, De Bray
The Banquet of Cleopatra
Jan de Bray
Oil on canvas, 170.7 x 165.8 cm.
Royal Collection Trust

Initially, portrait historié were reserved for princes and nobility, but in the seventeenth century less affluent citizens increasingly had themselves portrayed in such a manner. Some painters who made portraits historiés are Maerten de Vos (1532–1603), Hendrick Goltzius (\–1617), Rembrandt (1606–1669), Ferdinand Bol (1616–1680), Nicolaes Maes (1634–1693)\ and Jan de Bray (c. 1627–1697) De Bray is also known for the portrait historié of his own family, The Banquet of Antony and Cleopatra (1669, Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester). "In this family portrait, all members participate in the legendary banquet of Antony and Cleopatra. The painter is probably represented in profile at the left. His parents impersonate the Roman general and the Egyptian Queen, at a feast she organized in a bet that she could spend the largest fortune on a meal. Although the fare was simple, Cleopatra defeated Antony by dissolving one outsized pearl earring in acid and swallowing the drink. "Since several contemporaries commented on the humorous but reprehensible vanity of the story, de Bray's decision to make his family perform it may seem bizarre. In most family portraits, poses, gestures, costumes and attributes speak of harmony, good education, and modesty; the wife and mother in particular."Emil Kren and Daniel Marx, "The de Bray Family ('The Banquet of Antony and Cleopatra')," Web Gallery of Art, http://www.wga.hu/html_m/b/bray/jan/family.html.

Rembrandt was one of the most illustrious practitioners, with his so-called Jewish Bride, which probably represents a Dutch couple in the guise of Isaac and Rebecca. Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), probably the most sought-after portraitist of the age, set the benchmark for years to come for the portrait historié genre.

The portrait historié was especially widespread in eighteenth-century French and English art, when ladies of the nobility and female members of the royal families were depicted as goddesses in many paintings. French artists Nicolas de Largillière (1656–1746), Jean Marc Nattier (1685–1766) and Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842); English artists George Romney (1734–1802) and Sir Joshua Reynolds were among the artists working in this genre. Mythological figures such as Diana, Minerva, Venus, Hebe, Iris, Ariadne, Circe, Medea, Cassandra, Muses, Graces, Nymphs and Bacchantes inspired the artists and their sitters. Ladies were pictured with the attributes of these divine beings.

According to Kees Veelenturf, the early Middle Ages contributed to the development of the portrait historié of later times although not through visual expression but, through "a widespread practice of simile and typology in thought and writing, which usually can be labeled as a Christian allegory. The portrait historié would probably never have evolved since Antiquity if these features of ruler metaphysics had not blossomed in early medieval times."Kees Veelenturf, "In the Guise of a Christian: the Early Medieval Preliminary Stage of the Portrait Historié," (prepublication 30, 2011), http://www.kees-veelenturf.nl/.

Portrait Lighting

See also, catchlight. and flesh

Other than how well it is painted, the success of a truly expressive portrait is greatly dependent on pose and lighting. Effective lighting creates mood and defines the physical structure of the head as well as imparting expressive nuances to the facial features. Portrait lighting traditionally simulated the fall of natural sunlight because we are accustomed to seeing faces illuminated from above and to one side with shadows cast downward and on one side or the other. Light coming from below eye level casts shadows upward and produces an unnatural, even eerie effect. Painters have always lit their portraits with only a single light source while today's photographers require no fewer than two lights. Backlighting a portrait is extremely rare. Some of the most common schemes of portrait lighting, some of which are derived from painting, are currently termed: broad, short, butterfly, Rembrandt, split, flat and rim.

Portrait of a Man, Rembrandt van RijnPortrait of a Man
Rembrandt van Rijn
Oil on wood, oval, 75.6 x 52.1 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Flat lighting, or light that strikes the face directly from the front, was used in the Early Renaissance but avoided in later times as it tends to flatten the facial features and dampen physiological penetration, although in photography it may be useful to mitigate or eliminate acne or facial scars. Although there are infinite varieties of portrait lighting, by the seventeenth century in the Netherlands it was quite common that in husband-wife pendant portraits the husband was lit from the side, to accentuate the head's masculine plasticity, while the wife was lit more frontally, in order to create an evenly lit face with relatively little relief. This second lighting draws attention to the eyes, the entrance to the soul, and the mouth and renders the facial expression more delicately nuanced.

One of the most common portrait lighting schemes is, today, called Rembrandt lighting, in honor of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) who used this formula many times in his portraits. Rembrandt lighting calls for the main light to be placed high and to one side of the sitter at about a 45-degree angle with the head turned toward the painter/viewer. Rembrandt lighting creates a typical triangle-shaped area of light underneath the eye. One side of the face is well lit, accentuating the bony mass of the forehead, the prominence of the nose and the presence of the cheek bone, while the other side is in deeper shadows with a trademark triangle under the eye on the darker side created by the shadow cast by the nose on the cheek. The illuminated triangle under the eye—the eye is usually barely lit—is usually no longer than the nose and no wider than the eye. It is said that the movie director Cecil B. DeMille first used the term in 1915 while shooting the film, The Warrens of Virginia.

Another portrait lighting is called the split lighting pattern, which calls for the main light to be placed off to the side of the subject at about 90 degrees and positioned at face height or slightly above. The subject looks straight towards the painter-viewer. This arrangement lights up half the face and leaves the other half immersed in unforgiving shadow. This lighting is adapted for creating a dramatic portrait, ideal for artists or musicians. Split lighting creates a more masculine countenance and as such is usually more appropriate for men than women.

Positive Shape

See also negative shape.

In a picture, the shapes that the artist has placed are considered the positive shapes. The spaces around positive shapes are the negative spaces or negative shapes. Although beginner painters are usually only aware of positive shapes, it is just as important to consider the negative space in a picture as the positive shapes. Sometimes artists create pieces that have no distinction between positive and negative spaces. M. C. Escher (1898–1972) was a master at creating drawings where there was no distinction between positive and negative space.

Poussinists and Rubenists Debate

from Wikipedia:
In 1671 an argument broke out in the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris about whether drawing or color was more important in painting. On one side stood the Poussinists (Fr. Poussinistes) who were a group of French artists, named after the painter Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), who believed that drawing was the most important thing. On the other side were the Rubenists (Fr. Rubénistes), named after Rubens (1577–1640), who prioritize color. There was a strong nationalistic flavor to the debate as Poussin was French but Rubens was Flemish, though neither was alive at the time. After over forty years the final resolution of the matter in favor of the Rubenists was signaled when Antoine Watteau's The Embarkation for Cythera was accepted as his reception piece by the French Academy in 1717. By that time the French Rococo was in full swing.

The Poussinists believed in the Platonic idea of the existence in the mind of ideal objects that could be reconstructed in concrete form by the selection, using reason, of elements from nature. For the Poussinists, therefore, color was a purely decorative addition to form and drawing (design or disegno), the use of line to depict form, was the essential skill of painting. Their leader was Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), Director of the Academy, and their heroes were Raphael (1483–1520), the Annibale Carracci (1560–1609) and Poussin himself whose severe and stoical works exemplified their philosophy. Their touchstones were the forms of classical art. They were opposed by the Rubenists who believed that color, not drawing, was superior as it was more true to nature. Their models were the works of Rubens who had prioritized the accurate depiction of nature over the imitation of classical art. The Rubenists argued that the aim of painting was to deceive the eye by creating an imitation of nature. Drawing, according to the Rubenists, although based on reason, appealed only to a few experts whereas color could be enjoyed by everyone. The ideas of the Rubenists, therefor,e had revolutionary political connotations as they elevated the position of the layman and challenged the idea that had held sway since the Renaissance that painting, as a liberal art, could only be appreciated by the educated mind.

In 1672, Le Brun, Chancellor of the French Academy, attempted to halt the argument by stating officially that "the function of color is to satisfy the eyes, whereas drawing satisfies the mind." He failed, and the debate was continued in the pamphlets of Roger de Piles (1635–1709), who favored the colorists and set out the arguments in his 1673 Dialogue sur le Coloris (Dialogue on Colour), and his 1677 Conversations sur la Peinture (Conversations on Painting).

The argument was similar to the argument over the merits of disegno vs colorito in Italy in the fifteenth century but with a particularly French character as the importance of drawing was one of the key tenets of the French Academy and any attack on it was effectively an attack on everything the Academy stood for, including its political functions in support of the King.

To a certain extent, the debate was simply about whether it was acceptable to paint purely in order to give pleasure to the viewer without the nobler purposes typical of a "history" painting.

Primary Colors

The basic hues of the spectrum from which all of the other hues can be mixed. The primary colors actually differ from context to context, but in the classic formal language of much art writing, there are only the three: red, blue and yellow. Classical color theory asserts that admixtures of any two of these in the proper proportions will result in the creation of "secondary" colors which will be the "complementary" of the third primary color. For example, mixing the primary red and blue gives the secondary violet, which is the complementary of yellow; mixing red and yellow gives orange, the complementary of blue; and mixing yellow and blue gives green, the complementary of red. One of the curious optical phenomena attending this observation is that a hue will always seem its most vibrant when accompanied by its complementary. This is very easy to test with combinations of squares of the sort often reproduced in psychology survey texts: several small squares of an identical red will appear quite different when sent into larger squares of different hues, and the apparently most vibrant red will be the one surrounded by the hue closest to its complementary green. Painterly artists from Titian (c. 1488/1490–1576) to Matisse have long known and exploited this effect, although it was not theorized coherently until the nineteenth century publication of the works of Eugène Chevreul and other color theorists. There are, of course, further admixtures of hue one could call tertiary and quaternary colors, and so on down the line, but there are diminishing returns in terms of usefulness.

Correspondent Zachary Stadel offers an interesting corrective under the heading color theory. "It is interesting that, for all their experience and technical proficiency, Renaissance painters had no conception of primary colors in the sense in which we think of them today: as red, yellow and blue which, in various combinations, produce the secondary colors, orange, green and violet. Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472; De Pittura, 1435–1436) states that 'there are four genera of colors, and these make their species according to the addition of dark or light, black or white.' 'Red is the color of fire, blue of the air, green of the water, and of the earth gray and ash. Others colors such as jasper and porphyry, are mixtures of these.'"Eugene Clinton Elliott, "On the Understanding of Color in Painting," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 16, no. 4 (1958): 458.

The art historian's answer to the questions about primary colors is suggested this last statement: Alberti and his contemporaries thought that before being colors, specific pigments were substances used in the manufacture of paint. "The artist as craftsman, concerned with preparing his own colors, thought of each as a separate entity. No two greens are alike'"

By Vermeer's time, primary colors were understood. in Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711) wrote, "The number of the Colors is six; and these are divided into two Sorts. The former Sort contains the Yellow, Red and Blue, which are called capital Colors. The latter is a mixed Sort, consisting of Green, Purple and Violet; these have the name of broken Colors ..." The art theoretician suggests various lists of colors that go well with each other and some to be avoided although they were not ordered by a law but "as Experience teaches."


Still-Life with a Nautilus Cup, WIllem KalfStill-Life with a Nautilus Cup
Willem Kalf
Oil on canvas, 79 x 67 cm.
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Pronkstilleven (Dutch for "ostentatious," "ornate" or"'sumptuous" still life) is a style of ornate still life painting, which was developed in the 1640s in Antwerp from where it spread quickly to the Dutch Republic. Flemish artists such as Frans Snyders (1579–1657) and Adriaen van Utrecht (1599–1652) started to paint still lifes that emphasized abundance by depicting a diversity of objects, fruits, flowers and dead game, often together with living people and animals. The style was soon adopted by artists from the Dutch Republic. A leading Dutch representative was Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1606–1684, who spent a long period of his active career in Antwerp and was one of the founders of the style in Holland. Other leading representatives in Flanders and the Dutch Republic were Nicolaes van Verendael (1640–1691), Alexander Coosemans (1627–1689), Carstian Luyckx, (1623–c. 1675), Jasper Geeraards (c. 1620–between 16491654), Peter Willebeeck (fl. 1632–1648), Abraham van Beyeren (c. 1620–1690) and Willem Kalf (1619–1693).

Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts (c. 1630–c. 1675) developed the style further by incorporating pronkstillevens in the trompe-l'œil compositions for which he was known. An example is his Silverware in an Open Cabinet at the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.

Pronkstillevens are usually interpreted as a form of vanitas painting that conveys a moral lesson. The various objects in the compositions serve as symbols that can be read as an admonition or a life lesson. The objects usually refer to the transience and emptiness of wealth and possessions and the ultimate extinction and emptiness of earthly life. For instance, roses are often used as a vanitas motif, as they recall that all life and earthly beauty are fleeting. Hourglasses are an admonition that life is fleeting and will end. Empty containers such as glasses or vases point to the emptiness of earthly wealth and aspirations. The paintings remind the viewer of the need to practice moderation and temperance.


In painting, sculpture and architecture, the ratio between the respective parts and the whole work. The following are important: 1. the Canon of Proportion, a mathematical formula establishing ideal proportions of the various parts of the human body. The unit of measurement is usually the relationship of the head to the torso (1:7 or 1:10); 2. the golden section, a line C divided into a small section A and a larger section B, so that A:B are in the same relationship as B:C; the quadrature, which uses the square as a unit of measurement; 4. triangulation, which uses an equilateral triangle in order to determine important points in the construction; and 5. harmonic proportions, an analogy with the way sounds are produced on stringed instruments, for an example an octave = 1:2 (the difference in pitch between two strings, one-half the length of the other), a fifth = 2:3, a fourth = 3:4.


Provenance, from the French provenir, "to come from," refers to the chronology of the ownership or location of a historical object. The term was originally mostly used in relation to works of art but is now used in similar senses in a wide range of fields, including archaeology, paleontology, archives, manuscripts, printed books, and science and computing. The primary purpose of tracing the provenance of an object or entity is normally to provide contextual and circumstantial evidence for its original production or discovery, by establishing, as far as practicable, its later history, especially the sequences of its formal ownership, custody and places of storage. The practice has a particular value in helping authenticate objects. Comparative techniques, expert opinions, and the results of scientific tests may also be used to these ends, but establishing provenance is essentially a matter of documentation.

The objective of provenance research is to produce a complete list of owners (together, where possible, with the supporting documentary proof) from when the painting was commissioned or in the artist's studio through to the present time. In practice, there are likely to be gaps in the list and documents that are missing or lost. The documented provenance should also list when the painting has been part of an exhibition and a bibliography of when it has been discussed (or illustrated) in print.

Where the research is proceeding backward, to discover the previous provenance of a painting whose current ownership and location is known, it is important to record the physical details of the painting - style, subject, signature, materials, dimensions, frame, etc. The titles of paintings and the attribution to a particular artist may change over time. The size of the work and its description can be used to identify earlier references to the painting. The back of a painting can contain significant provenance information."Provenance," Wikipedia, accessed [date], http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provenance.

To consult all the provenance of all of Vermeer's paintings, click here.


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