Essential Vermeer Newsletter no. 19


Dear Reader,

You may have noticed that it has been some time since last Vermeer Newsletter has been issued. This has hardly been a matter of my own choice, but rather the relative scarcity of Vermeer-related news during this period. No doubt, during 2006 the Rembrandt 400th Anniversary celebrations most likely monopolized much of the energy and attention necessary to stage exhibits and promote cultural events in his honor. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to visit the Netherlands to savor what the year had to offer but am just the same blissfully enjoying some of the scholarly publications and exhibit catalogues that were issued. One of my favorites—must for Rembrandt aficionado—is The Rembrandt Book by Gary Schwartz. However, I count on scheduling a short trip to the Netherlands the upcoming April to do some research in Amsterdam and perhaps take in the brand new Delft Vermeer Center will likely be inaugurated then. I'll let you know exactly when it does open.

Other navigators may have noticed that after the multi-page collaborative study concerning music in Vermeer's time published at the end of the past summer, there have been few significant website additions to the Essential Vermeer. This was due to the fact that a good deal of my creative energy has gone into the final editing of a book on Vermeer's painting technique recently published (reviewed briefly below). I hope that it may be of interest to both the practicing fine artist and to any reader interested in discovering the mysterious relationship between painting technique and individual expression.

But please expect significant additions to the Essential Vermeer including new interactive catalogue studies, an in-depth look at Constantijn Huygens and last, but not least, a close look at the carillon. Let's not forget that Vermeer had his home and studio a mere stone's through away from one of the finest carillons in the Netherlands (the tallest tower in Vermeer's View of Delft) whose music must have been a constant accompaniment during his paining sessions. Also upcoming is a photographic study of Vermeer places in Delft.

All the best,
Jonathan Janson


April 15–July 15, 2007
Galleria Estense
Modena, Italy

Magie fiamminghe (Flemish Magic)
After The Love Letter in Rome, another Vermeer will be traveling to Italy. The London Lady Seated at a Virginal and other paintings from Delft will be exhibited at the Galleria Estense in Modena. The initiative is promoted by the superintendent of the gallery Maria Grazia Bernardini in collaboration with Bert Meijer, noted specialist active in the Dutch Institute of Florence. The exhibit will feature the works of about 25 other Dutch masters in the collections from The Hague, London, Vienna, Amsterdam, Washington, Los Angeles, Boston and Florence. The exhibit will be organized in three sections. The first is dedicated to Delft and its immediate environs. The second will present various facets of daily life of the second half of the seventeenth century focused around some works of Pieter de Hoogh. The third section features Vermeer's late Lady Seated at a Virginal with two other pictures by Jan Steen and Gerrit Dou of analogous theme.

8 March, 2007–3 June, 2007
Aachen, Germany

The still life painter Willem Kalf is among the few major painters from the Dutch Golden Age who have never been awarded a monographic exhibition. Three years ago, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam and the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen have decided to Holland's most famous still life painter with a fitting tribute: an exhibition of his major paintings, without interference of lesser gifted contemporaries, emulators and followers. The magnificent exhibition presents 41 paintings in all and is accompanied by a handsome catalogue, with many illustrations in colour, and scholarly contributions on Kalf and his paintings. Unfortunately, the catalogue has not been translated in English. In any case, it includes a complete biography of the artist, with new discoveries, written by Friso Lammertse and Mickaël Szanto, as well as several essays, contributed by Jeroen Giltaij, Fred G. Meijer, Alexandra Gaba-Van Dongen and Françoise Joulie. The catalogue entries were written by Sylvia Böhmer, Jeroen Giltaij and Fred G. Meijer.

Gemaltes Licht: die Stilleben von Willem Kalf (1619–1693) (Painted light: the still life paintings of Willem Kalf (1619–1693)
Wilhelmstraße 18
D-52070 Aachen
T +49 241 479 800
F +49 241 37075

In the News


Investigators in the US have launched a fresh attempt to solve the world's biggest art robbery, in which hundreds of millions of dollars worth of works by Rembrandt, Vermeer (The Concert) and others were stolen from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Eric Ives, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's major theft unit, said he planned to appeal for information about the 1990 theft through a billboard campaign next year across the US and possibly even in London. The agency plans to appeal for information about the 1990 theft through a billboard campaign next year. The theft, in which two robbers conned their way into the museum by dressing as police officers, has become infamous for its scale and audacity.

The plan highlights the FBI's tightening focus on art crimes and its enthusiasm to solve a notorious case that has dogged its reputation for more than 15 years. Mr. Ives said in an interview that the planned Gardner information campaign followed an FBI internal review of the case last year. The billboard drive would be a "major undertaking" and could go international "if my resources are commensurate with my ideas," he added: "We have had a lot of tips," he said. The theft, in which two robbers conned their way into the museum by dressing as police officers, has become infamous for its scale and audacity. More than a dozen works were stolen, including five Degas drawings, Vermeer's The Concert and Rembrandt's 1633 paintings A Lady and Gentleman in Black and The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.

The FBI has been criticized in the past over its investigations of the theft, which some close observers think is linked to organized crime in Boston. Charles Hill, a private investigator and former police officer who has worked on many art crime cases, said the FBI had "lost the plot" for a time during the investigation. In the mid- 1990s a number of agents were entangled in a scandal over the tipping off of James "Whitey" Bulger, an alleged Bostonian crime boss who appears on the FBI's 10 "most wanted" list.

The Gardner museum, which advertises a $5m reward for information leading to the return of its stolen works in good condition, says it has "every confidence" the FBI is making the case a high priority. For now, though, a decade and a half's frustration shows in the museum's official response to a question on whether any of the items at all have been recovered.


by Harriet Stone

Descartes believed that his analytic model applied to all fields of research and that all branches of science lead to truth. His many analogies with literature and art notwithstanding, Descartes offers an entry into knowledge that fails nevertheless to take into account how in the seventeenth century Dutch painters such as Vermeer similarly order a view of the world by concentrating on the properties of individual objects. Descartes' celebrated scientific method offers a protocol for conducting experiments; Harriet Stone argues that this method can also serve as a guide for classifying the findings obtained from experiments. Tables of Knowledge shows that Dutch genre paintings and still lifes enact in visual form a process of recording information similar to that of science, with intriguing results.

Stone investigates such diverse topics as seventeenth-century advances in optics and the attendant explosion of data about the natural world; the proliferation of material goods in prosperous Dutch homes; and the compelling realism of Golden Age paintings.

Vermeer and his contemporaries, she contends, transform a potentially threatening consumerism into the viewer's aesthetic pleasure. The artists' depictions of rooms where framed images and maps adorn walls and where fruit, shimmering glassware, gold pieces, and other precious items are set out on tables constitute an inventory of middle-class life. Appealing to both the eye and the mind, Dutch paintings convey meaning by accentuating the luxury of objects displayed in all their specificity. While not without its voyeuristic, sensual and even lascivious overtones, art offered the Dutch, who labored under the moral austerity of the Protestant Church, a way of bearing witness to ordinary experience that was unmistakably satisfying and surprisingly Cartesian.

Illustrated with sixteen pages of color reproductions of Dutch masterworks, as well as five black-and-white images, "Tables of Knowledge" will interest intellectual and cultural historians of the early modern period, art historians, and historians and philosophers of science.

"'Tables of Knowledge' is one of the most original recent contributions to seventeenth-century studies. Harriet Stone's book presents in stunning juxtaposition Descarte's writings that revolutionized Western philosophy with Vermeer's stunningly transcendent paintings. Stone uses the hook of Holland—the country in which, without ever coming in direct contact with each other, these two titans lived—to draw her reader into an exploration of the ways Western perceptions of reality were gradually and inexorably being shifted from one representational universe to another. Informing her readings of Descartes and Vermeer is a solid grounding in seventeenth-century politics, theology and culture. Stone's book interweaves literature, philosophy, art history, and visual studies.

Her book's seduction lies in the ways this interweaving of discourses brings to the fore in the example of these two very different men the underlying epistemic changes that so intrigued Michel Foucault in his own analyses of the great shift in Western representation that occurs during the seventeenth century and that ushered in what we now call 'modernity.'"
-Mitchell Greenberg, Cornell University

HARRIET STONE is Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the author of The Classical Model: Literature and Knowledge in Seventeenth-Century France and Royal DisClosure: Problematics of Representation in French Classical Tragedy.

by Jonathan Janson
available at:

Who would have not wanted to look over Johannes Vermeer's shoulder while he was painting? Which materials and techniques did he use to create his masterpieces? And is it possible to emulate those methods today? HOW TO PAINT YOUR OWN VERMEER is a straightforward, practical guide on how to reproduce Vermeer's painting procedures for today's practicing painter and an in-depth examination of painting practices in and outside of Vermeer's studio. Thus, it will not only be of interest to the practicing artist, but to any reader interested in discovering the mysterious relationship between technique, individual expression and prevailing visual and pictorial culture of the times of Vermeer.

In the first section, each passage of Vermeer's method is thoroughly explained and framed within its historical context so that the reader may not only grasp the correct materials and procedures but comprehend the rationale behind established artistic and technical concepts of Dutch seventeenth-century painting. Grounding, underpainting, working-up, glazing, mediums, palette, brushes and mediums are just a few of the topics explored. The second section contains valuable insights into the crucial stylistic components which make a Vermeer a Vermeer, such as color, composition, camera obscura vision and perspective.

JONATHAN JANSON is a professional painter and author of numerous art history websites. He also maintains the most comprehensive art website dedicated to a single painting master on the internet, Essential Vermeer, a site dedicated to Vermeer's masterwork Girl with a Pearl Earring as well as an extensive website of the life and work of Rembrandt van Rijn. In 2003 he was commissioned to paint the centerpiece "Vermeer" for Hallmark Hall of Fame's TV version (Brush with Fate) of Diana Vreeland's best-selling novel, Girl in Hyacinth Blue.



Happily, a growing number of art museums have begun displaying their finest woks taking advantage of state-of-the-art digital image on their websites. The National Gallery of London, which has two later Vermeer's in its collection, has in the last years enhanced their own with a number of zoomable images of their most representative paintings. The navigator has only to click on the link, wait a bit and access an excellent high-resolution digital image. One of the latest additions has been Vermeer's A Lady Seated at a Virginal (A Lady Standing at a Virginal was one of the first zoomables). Although we can be only grateful to the gallery for this excellent feature, we would nevertheless like to express our continued disappointment of the gallery's reproduction policy. As soon as the image of fully loaded and we begin to scroll around to explore the painting in detail, we can't help but notice the repeated watermark of the National Gallery which, less than discreet, interferes with a fully satisfying viewing experience. This is a pity because the quality of the image, its color and degree of detail leave little to be desired. Click on the link below to access the painting or cut and paste the URL to your browser window.

"Lady Seated at a Virginal " bin/WebObjects.dll/CollectionPublisher.woa/wa/zoomImage?workNumber=NG2568&collectionPublisherSection=work

Essential Vermeer Website Addition


Spurred by the enthusiasm with which the other interactive studies have been accepted, I have just added The Lacemaker and A Lady Seated at a Virginal to the list. This particular feature presents a large high quality image of Vermeer's painting and three related topics in text. By rolling your cursor over the questions, or any one of the dozens of different areas of the painting, you will access and instantaneous tooltip-popup boxes that furnish detail images and information.

The Lacemaker

A Lady Seated at a Virginal

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