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Essential Vermeer Newsletter no. 5

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June 18, 2003

Essential Vermeer Website Additions

Interviews with Ivan Gaskell and Philip Steadman

Ivan Gaskell (Margaret S. Winthrop Curator, Department of Paintings, Sculpture and Decorative Arts, at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University) is the author of Vermeer's Wager: Speculation on Art and the editor of editor of Vermeer Studies, a volume in which twenty-three scholars, conservators and scientists, including Gaskell himself, investigate Vermeer's art and the milieu in which he worked. In this interview Dr. Gaskell affords a number of finely articulated thoughts about how we might view the variegated contributions made to of Vermeer studies in the last century, the difficulties in interpreting Vermeer's enigmatic art and other arguments as well.

Dr. Gaskell's interview can be accessed from the home page of the Essential Vermeer or by clicking here.

Interview with Philip Steadman

Philip Steadman is the author of one of the most discussed books (Vermeer's Camera: The Truth behind the Masterpieces) about Vermeer in recent times which deals Vermeer's use of the camera obscura, a kind of precursor to the modern photographic camera. Prof. Steadman's arguments are so carefully articulated and rationally tested, that he has probably come as close as theoretically possible to proving that the camera obscura was in fact an integral part of the elusive Dutch master's working method. His theories are now widely accepted by Vermeer's scholars. In this exclusive interview, among other arguments, Prof. Steadman generously provides a number of thoughts regarding Vermeer's expressive intentions and his place within Dutch seventeenth-century philosophic, scientific or cultural context in the light of the artist's methodical use of the camera obscura. Prof. Steadman's interview can be accessed form the home page of the Essential Vermeer or by clicking here.

The Young Woman with a Water Pitcher: A Virtual Reconstruction

It is widely known that Vermeer made many alterations in his compositions during the painting process. In one of his finest paintings of the 1660s, the Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, Vermeer made two very significant changes were made In original concept of the painting: a lion's head finial chair, similar to the ones seen in many of his pictures was included in the lower left-hand and the map of the Seventeenth Provinces of the Netherlands was placed behind the young woman's head instead of its present location to the right and was originally perhaps larger in scale. These two changes can be observed with the aid of the recently developed infrared reflectography. The painting can be virtually reconstructed to an acceptable degree since there exist indications of the nature, sizes and positions of the objects which Vermeer later deleted or altered. By comparing the virtual reconstruction original compositional concept to the painting we see today, it is perhaps possible to shed some light on the reason for which he made these changes.

Click here.


Proust e Vermeer: Apologia dell'imprecisione
Lorenzo Renzi

Proust's Remembrance of Things Past contains a well-known passage in which the elderly writer Bergotte visits a Dutch art exhibit and, while examining a detail of Vermeer's View of Delft, falls ill and dies. That scene, that painting, that detail have attracted the attention of a multitude of critics: Bergotte's final thoughts before dying faithfully reflect Proust's idea of art. But, in Vermeer's painting, what is the real meaning of the "petit pan de mur jaune," the small piece of wall of which Proust speaks? The philologist's passion - or the puzzle-solver's, or the detective's—and perhaps the obstinacy typical of all Proust scholars leads Lorenzo Renzi to carefully examine every bit of evidence in Remembrance, in Proust's life, and in Vermeer's art which might lead to a constantly fleeting identification. But is it worth the effort? Is this the duty of a critic? Once we identify the wall, what will we have learned about Proust and his novel? Renzi's book is an investigation, but at the same time a reflection on the investigation itself, an ironic ship's log of a philologist who is an enemy of excess and interpretative perseverance. At the end of the quest we discover that Proust was imprecise and that his imprecision cannot be addressed with the weapon of precision: exactness and truth do not necessarily go together. * Lorenzo Renzi teaches Romance Philology at the University of Padua.

Dutch paintings in the Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België

Liesbeth De Belie, attaché Old Masters Department, has kindly informed the Essential Vermeer that for some years now the museum has been preparing an extension of the museum galleries in a renovated building which will include a large room and two "salons" dedicated to Dutch art (in all the museum counts Dutch 324 paintings) in addition to the actual space. Many paintings were selected from storage and were restored. They will be permanently on view in the gallery from now on (September/October). You can find more information about the activities of the institution on this web-site: http://www.fine-arts-museum.be

* from the Ledizine del Mulino website http://www.mulino.it/edizioni/

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