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Essential Vermeer Newsletter no. 6

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October 12, 2003


Optics, Optical Instruments and Painting: The Hockney-Falco Thesis Revisited
Ghent University
12–15 November, 2003

David Hockney's claim (in Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, 2001) that he has rediscovered a lost trade secret of art's grand painters has been buttressed by Charles Falco's assertion that he has proved the Hockney thesis scientifically. Both the claim and the "proof"' have incited much heated controversy and the responses touch upon a broad range of topics. The ensuing debates have been particularly striking in the way they have involved those of diverse disciplines to look closely at areas normally outside their parameters. The Ghent conference will no doubt shed further light on the subject.

Of special interest will be Philip Steadman's (author of Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces 2001) speech entitled "Idealism, Realism and Vermeer's Use of the Camera Obscura" which will be delivered Wednesday 12 after the introduction by Charles Falco and the artist David Hockney (London) the same day.

Antoni Malet, Raz Chen-Morris, Eileen Reeves, Wolfgang Lefevre, A. Mark Smith, Alan E. Shjapiro, Jan Dijksterhuis, Sven Dupre, Max Martens, Natasja Peeters, Sara Schencherner, Christoph Luethy, Filippo Camerota, Hugo Van der Velden, Marianne Marcussen, Jeanne Peiffer, Yvonne Yiu, Michael J. Gorman, Jim Bennett and Michel Hochmann will also speak of a number of very interesting topics regarding optics and the use of optical instruments throughout the history of European painting.

Vermeer and the Camera Obscura on NHK

The Japanese state television NHK will be re-broadcasting a programme about Vermeer and the camera obscura 19th October at 2:45 local time. It seems that they have re-built the front room studio where Vermeer presumably worked in his mother-in-law's (Maria Thins) house at full size, installed a big booth camera in an attempt to recreate the world as Vermeer saw it.

Essential Vermeer Website Additions

Vermeer's Palette

The number of pigments available to the seventeenth-century Dutch painter were few indeed when compared to those available to the modern artist. While the current catalogue of one of the most respected color producers (Rembrandt) displays more than a hundred pigments, less than twenty pigments have been so far detected in Vermeer's 36 works. In this study, each pigment's origin, history and characteristics are discussed individually as well as of how Vermeer used the in his paintings. Also discussed are the anatomy of paint, hand grinding paint, the purchase of materials, the use of selected palettes and, of course, the well know wooden palette itself.


Vermeer's Painting Technique

Unfortunately no surviving documents directly reveal anything regarding Vermeer's painting materials and techniques. However, through what we know of traditional painters' methods coupled with traditional and recent methods of scientific investigation, scientists and scholars have been able to reconstruct a fairly reasonable picture Vermeer's basic painting procedure. This six part study examines what was most likely Vermeer technique in relation to the typical painting procedure of the seventeenth-century European artist. Other than a brief description of Vermeer's technical evolution, each individual phase of the artist's working procedures is discussed individually.


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