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Essential Vermeer Newsletter no. 31

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July 2012

Dear Reader,

Almost 10 months have passed since you received the latest Vermeer newsletter, not for lack of news, but because in 2012 I am (happily) a castaway adrift in a sea of content: a small book on Vermeer, a slew of ambitious Essential Vermeer website projects (of which only a small portion has gotten online so far) and two complicated "reconstructions" of Vermeer paintings. Please excuse the delay. If you'd like to skip my ruminations and get directly to the news below, click here.

As for real news, yes, our seventeenth-century Dutchman still travels.

Milan's Corriere della Sera reports Rome is determined to organize a major Vermeer exhibition with seven or perhaps even ten works of the master in October.

Celebrating Vermeer or something else?

The Girl with a Pearl Earring will take a 17,500 mile saunter during 2012–1013 tour of Japan and the USA with foreseeable hoopla and who knows what else. The Japanese exhibition website "playfully" promotes (to use a politically-correct term) the success the exhibition with a special-edition "Miffy" doll decked out as in the painting in question as well as an astutely engineered 15 second video clip of the teenage actress Emi Takei garbed the same way as she turns to the spectator in musical crescendo. Ahimé, once a work of art becomes an icon its fate is bound to the moment's agenda and can practically no longer mean anything else. If we insist on iconocizing Vermeer's modest tronie we cannot but accept the risk of eventually having to bury her in bulletproof glass coffin like her Mediterranean elder sister, the Mona Lisa, which visitors can only pretend to have seen. Let us at least hope that Miss Takei's masquerade marks the last of a ceaseless line of Girl with a Pearl Earring dress-a likes.

À propos of Vermeer exhibitions, my modest contribution is a sortable online table of all Vermeer exhibitions (200 and counting), small and large, that ever have taken place. It lists date, city, name of exhibitions and museum host, as well as the list of pictures and eventual catalogue references. I hope that someone other than me will use this tool to do some investigation into a serious matter. I shall take bets that the distance Vermeer's painting have traveled since that first, fateful 1838 exhibition exceeds 700,000 miles (a round trip to the moon). Is a million miles approachable?

Best of all,
Jonathan Janson

PS. I have taken the liberty to feature below one image of my "reconstruction" of Vermeer's original version (derived from infrared radiographs) of Woman with a Pearl Necklace complete with map and cittern cancelled by the artist in a later stage of the painting process. Hopefully this version reflects with a minimum of fidelity the second stage of the common painting method, called underpainting, in which form, lighting and composition are first worked up in neutral pigments before approaching color, which was applied over the thoroughly dry.

click here to access this newsletter as a WORD Document



Ashmolean Museum of Art, Oxford
January 23–September, 2012

from the Ashmolean website:
Young Woman Seated at a Virginal will be installed in the Ashmolean's Dutch Art Gallery where it can be seen alongside other works from the Dutch Golden Age which include Portrait of a Woman by Frans Hals (also on loan from a private collection); paintings by Albert Cuyp, Jacob van Ruisdael and Gabriel Metsu; decorative arts and Delftware porcelain. Dr Christopher Brown, Director of the Ashmolean and Curator for Dutch and Flemish Art, said, "I am naturally thrilled that this important painting, the only work by the Delft master in a private collection, will be going on display at the Ashmolean. Thanks to the generosity of the owner, who has loaned the Vermeer and other works from his collection, this painting can be enjoyed by all our visitors, for free, for the next nine months."



Over the next two years, the Mauritshuis will be expanded and renovated, becoming a modern home for the museum's old masters. During that time, a selection of masterpieces will tour Japan and the United States. In Japan, 48 paintings will be exhibited, including Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring and Diana and her Companions, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, As the Old Sing, So Twitter the Young and Girl Eating Oysters by Jan Steen, Laughing Boy by Frans Hals and Rembrandt's Self-Portrait.

venue one:
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
June 30-September 17, 2012

venue two:
Kobe City Museum
29 September, 2012–6 January, 2013

press release:


Among special gifts is a Miffy doll dressed up as Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring


The first venue in the U.S. tour is the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Both the de Young and the second venue, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, will display 35 works by Dutch masters. The final venue on the tour, New York's Frick Collection, has a more intimate character, and will exhibit a selection of ten paintings. Amongst the works traveling to the United States are masterpieces by Johannes Vermeer (Girl with a Pearl Earring), Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan Steen and Jacob van Ruisdael. The painting Vase of Flowers by Rachel Ruysch, one of the few female painters of the Dutch Golden Age, is being restored especially for the American tour.

venue one:
de Young, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco
January 26, 2013, through June 2, 2013

venue two:
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
June 22, 2013, through September 29, 2013

venues three:
The Frick Collection, New York
October 22, 2013, through January 12, 2014


Detroit Institute of Art
August 8–Labor Day (about), 2012

On loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Vermeer's Woman Holding a Balance will take center stage in a tightly focused exhibition, flanked by two similarly intimate scenes painted by Gerrit ter Borch and Pieter de Hooch, two of Vermeer's contemporaries and stars of the DIA's Dutch collection. The painting is the first Vermeer to visit Detroit in probably 65 years.

(Vermeer and the Golden Age of Dutch Art)
Scuderie del Quirinale
Rome, Italy
October 2012–20 January, 201

(see special Essential Vermeer exhibitions pages about Vermeer in Italian)


from the exhibition website:
Vermeer and the Golden Age of Dutch Art is the first large-scale exhibition dedicated to one of the foremost Dutch painters of the seventeen century, and perhaps one of the general public's most beloved artists.

Organized by the Azienda Speciale Palaexpo and co-produced with MondoMostre, the exhibition is curated by Arthur K. Wheelock, Curator of Northern Baroque Paintings - National Gallery of Art in Washington, Walter Liedtke, Curator of European Paintings Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Sandrina Bandera, Soprintendente per il Patrimonio Artistico Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantopologico di Milano.

Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera reports that seven works by Vermeer (listed below with perhaps two or even three more) and many paintings by the key protagonists of the seventeenth-century Dutch genre school will be on display.


St Praxedis
The Girl with a Wine Glass
Girl with a Red Hat
Woman with a Lute
Lady Standing at a Virginal
Allegory of Faith
A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals
Little Street

26 June–8 September, 2013
Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery of Art, London (admission free)

This exhibition explores the concept of music as a pastime of the elite in the northern Netherlands during the seventeenth century. Vermeer and Music: Love and Leisure in the Dutch Golden Age will bring together for the first time the National Gallery's two paintings by Vermeer, Young Woman Standing at a Virginal and Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, and Vermeer's Guitar Player, on exceptional loan from the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House.

The exhibition aims to enhance viewers' appreciation of these beautiful and evocative paintings by Vermeer and his contemporaries by juxtaposing them with musical instruments and songbooks of the period. Visitors will be able to compare seventeenth-century virginal, guitars, lutes and other instruments with their painted representations to judge the accuracy of representation and what liberties the painter might have taken to enhance the visual or symbolic appeal of his work. In seventeenth-century Dutch paintings, music often figured as a metaphor for harmony, a symbol of transience or, depending on the type of music being performed, an indicator of one's education and position in society. Musical instruments and songbooks were also included as attributes in elegant portraits to suggest that the sitter was accomplished in this area.


THE RIJKSMUSEUM BULLETIN 2012 - 1 (with two essays on the recent restoration of Vermeer's Woman in Blue Reading a Letter)
The bulletin may be ordered online at:

The most recent Rijksmuseum Bulletin provides a insightful report on the conservation and reframing of their Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, both lavishly illustrated in breathtaking details.

The restoration of Woman in Blue Reading a Letter by Johannes Vermeer

The first essay, "The restoration of Woman in Blue Reading a Letter by Johannes Vermeer" by IGE VERSLYPE, gives a complete overview of the restoration process. The stunning results offer a new view of the picture, now a symphony in natural ultramarine blue. A few minor details of the map were uncovered, the second string of pearls depicted after Vermeer was removed and a row of small brass buttons on the foreground chair's fore side now peep out of the darkness after centuries. Curiously, the blue of the lady's garment is distinctly different from that of the chair upholstery.

The second essay, "A Question of Framing: On Vermeer's Woman in Blue Reading a Letter" by GREGOR J. M. WEBER, relates about the problems of re framing the painting. It was, in my modest opinion, wisely decided to conserve the muffled gilt of the Règence frame, which has be on the painting since 1710. (Attentive, very attentive readers will note in Weber footnotes that the senior conservator of frames and guilding in the Rijksmuseum Hubert Baija, found it "helpful" to see how all Vermeer's paintings are currently framed by consulting the Essential Vermeer website pages which display all Vermeer paintings in their frames. Please excuse this bit of self-promotion).

Gerhardt, Robert. Francis Quint.
Amsterdam, Museum van Loon,
Zwolle, 2012 (paperback, pp. 64, col. ill., 24 x 27 cm.)

While Vermeer lovers might remember Michiel Van Musscher's emulation of Vermeer's Art of Painting, perhaps only a few have given this lesser-known seventeenth-century Dutch painter the full attention he deserves. To rectify the situation, on March 9, 2012 the Museum Van Loon opened an exhibition Michiel van Musscher (1645–1705) the Wealth of the Golden Age, the very first exhibition dedicated to this talented artist.

The exhibition catalogue can be ordered at:



Google has added seven new high-resolution images of Vermeer's painting to their Google Art Project, bringing the total works of this master to fourteen. The Art of Painting is quite good in color but at maximum magnifications it is notably out of focus. The Music Lesson is more or less a disaster: it is overexposed, rotated slightly to the right and not even all that large. The Young Woman with a Water Pitcher is the same image already available on the Metropolitan website. The two Dresden paintings, for some reason, are both very poor in color and out of focus. The Christ in the House of Martha and Mary is only acceptable. That leaves the Washington Woman Holding a Balance and the Lady Writing, both which are in focus and perfectly registered in color, useful for the scholar and first-tier Vermeer admirer alike.

Why Google might add to their Art Project so many mediocre images that can be easily had from other sources has yet to be explained. One might suspect the guiding corporate philosophy essentially boils down to a very un-van der Rohe, "more is more." It's all about quantity.

links to Google hi-res images:


With none of Google's corporate can-can, the National Gallery has just quietly published a high-resolution zoom of Vermeer's Guitar Player. This new image reveals a number of details and nuances that are barely visible, if not invisible in the Kenwood House where the work is permanently housed and where the elegant deep Bordeaux curtains are usually kept closed making study of this fine work problematic.

Vermeer's fingerprintVermeer's finger print?

Among my little delights are Vermeer's largish signature which can only be barely made out at the Kenwood and something a bit more peculiar; what looks very much like a fingerprint (two to be exact) on the uppermost edge of the painting. Please don't' get me wrong, my life quest is not to find Holy Grail contents or secret codes hidden in paintings. But oddly, during my last visit at the Kenwood I had a long and pleasurable talk to a staff member who told me that during the last routine "check-up" of the painting, a strong raking had reveled a fingerprint in the very spot where the hi-res image seems to suggest. Well, it's another matter if the finger print(s) is Vermeer's but still, picture looking does have its curiosities.

Like many museums, the National Gallery's hi-res images cannot be downloaded but must be viewed piece by piece which gives little idea of the whole picture. However, if one learns the ropes and has infinite patience, like myself, it is possible to take sequential screen shots of the image at maximum magnification and then "stitch" them together manually with an image manipulation program like Photoshop or Gimp with layers. The prize is a stunning 4,000 x 4,500 pixel image, I assure you, well worth the trouble. In any case, the colors of the National Gallery image look perfect and the level of definition quite satisfactory for serious study or appreciation.


Essential Vermeer Website Additions


As a part of Philip Steadman's game-changing study on Vermeer and the camera obscura (Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces, 2001), the London architect produced an axonometric bird's eye view, plan and side view drawings for each interior by Vermeer could that could be reasonably reconstructed through reverse geometry. Steadman graciously allowed me to feature his drawings (in high-resolution) on the Essential Vermeer which I believe bring the viewer closer to the reality of Vermeer's studio and working habits.



This page presents a sortable table of all known exhibitions in which one or more paintings by Vermeer are displayed from 1838 to the present day. By clicking on the table's header, the exhibitions can be can be sorted by chronological order, by city, country or by the number of Vermeer paintings in each exhibition. Also included are all ongoing and announced future exhibitions.



This page lists the provenances of Vermeer's complete oeuvre.



This page presents a list of Vermeer paintings in chronological order each with exhibitions of that work.


A Treatise on the Art of Painting in all its Branches

Although Gérard de Lairesse's seventeenth-century treatise on the art of painting (published in English 1817) has been scanned by Google and is available online, the PDF format makes it particularly cumbersome to consult, search and store. I have in the past months reformatted the entire book in a downloadable WORD document so that it can be searched and read with greater ease.

I hope readers comprehend that when one OCR's a poorly defined PDF such as the text in question, variances in font clarity and horizontal alignment of the text produce thousands of misspelled words and wrongly inserted characters. Naturally, I have proof read the text to the best of my ability although such a large document is a serious challenge to anyone who, like myself who does no possess out-of-the-ordinary editing skills. All attempts were made to preserve the formatting, punctuation and spelling of the original as closely as possible. Please feel free to notify me with any observations or corrections, I will be only be too glad to improve the quality of the transcription, formatting or illustrations on which I continue to work on from time to time..

If one wishes resolve eventual questions of transcription errors or use this book for scholarly research and citation, it is best to consult the original version, available online at:



The image below represents a reconstruction of the second stage of the traditional seventeenth-century painting process called underpainting. The main scope of the underpainting (no longer used in the twentieth century) is to provide a tonal and compositional guide over which the final colors and glazes were applied once the underpainting is thoroughly dry. Rembrandt expert Ernst van der Wetering aptly termed the underpainting a "safety net." In the underpainting stage, the artist defines the composition, lights and form.

I though it might be interesting to show how Vermeer had in the Woman with a Pearl Necklace originally included a map (like the one in The Art of Painting), a cittern propped up against the back on the foreground chair and a few floor tiles which were revealed an infrared radiograph made of the paintings some years ago. Careful viewers will note that the decorative elements of the table was defined by using the table of the Vermeer's own Woman Holding a Balance, which features the same table. The underpainting was executed on a warm brown ground with raw umber and black. Once dry, pure white was used to bring up the strongest lights. This methods is based on my own study of Vermeer's paintings, obviously approximate, and above all what I have been able to glean from technical literature and discussions with knowledgeable conservators. Any comments would be gratefully received.

This image is one in the sequence which will illustrate in my upcoming book how Vermeer's worked up his paintings following the methodical three-step method. My ambition is to bring the reader a bit closer to how a painting physically comes to being in the studio of an artist. Perhaps only a practicing painter is aware of the significance of studio life with its the cold, silence, soar backs, stubborn base materials, fickle light and the intricacies of the slow, three-step painting technique. Perhaps we know far more about what a Vermeer means, rather that what a Vermeer is, and it may be time to begin to re-balance the situation.

Underpainting of Vermeer's Woman with a pearl Necklace, Jonathan janson


I have been working for the last year largely behind the scenes on the Essential Vermeer researching and building new resources that I hope with begin appearing the coming months. Other that a slavish recoding the entire website, which most readers won't notice although absolutely essential to making the site more flexible and easier to expand the coming years, I am at work on a number of web projects that I believe will facilitate Vermeer study and appreciation. Among them are an in-depth reference guide to Vermeer literature, various investigations into the composition of Vermeer (including a compositional study of each work), the "problem" of Vermeer's fame and a deeper look into Vermeer's painting technique including two hypothetical "reconstructions" of Vermeer painting s from the first touches to the final glazes. That's just for starters.

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