Essential Vermeer 3.0
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Did Vermeer make mistakes? What is the Milkmaid preparing in her kitchen? Is the Girl with a Pearl Earring really a masterpiece and is her pearl a fake? Why did the artist's reputation vaporize so quickly after he died and why is he so famous today? What tricks and special colors did he use? Bolstered by his lifelong study of Vermeer and decades of experience as a professional painter, Jonathan Janson reveals Vermeer's life and art in human, down-to-earth terms.

For anyone interested in Vermeer the man and Vermeer's art, rather than his myth, 25 Things You Didn't Know about Vermeer offers rare glimpses into the artist's day-to-day experiences and struggles both inside and outside the confines of his studio.


25 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know about Vermeer: Tricks, Troubles and Triumphs of a Great Dutch Master
Jonathan Janson
2021 | PDF | $6.95

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Vermeer's Palette: Azurite


Origin, History and Characteristics

(Cendree, Mountain blue, Copper blue, Ongaro, Azure Biadetti of Spain, Azure of the Magna)

Latin borrowed a Persian word for blue, labored, which in the form of lazurium became azurium, and gave us our word azure. Azurite is composed of a basic carbonate of copper, found in many parts of the world in the upper oxidized portions of copper ore deposits. Azurite mineral is usually associated in nature with malachite, the green basic carbonate of copper that is far more abundant. Azurite was the most important blue pigment in European painting throughout the middle ages and Renaissance by contrast, despite the more exotic and costly ultramarine having received greater acclaim. Azurite—then commonly called azzuro d'Alemagna—was often used for draperies, particularly in works by Duccio and his circle.

>A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling, Hans Holbein the Youngerfig. 1 A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (Anne Lovell?)
Hans Holbein the Younger
c. 1526-8
Oil on oak, 56 x 38.8 cm.
National Gallery, London

The background of Holbein's portrait, which is particularly well preserved, reveals the strong greenish tone of azurite. The background was painted with two separate layers of grainy azurite, the most colorful variation of the pigment, mixed with lead white. The pigments were bound by linseed oil.
Powdered azurite

To prepare a color from it, lump azurite is ground into a powder, and sieved. Coarsely ground azurite produces dark blue, and fine grinding produces a lighter tone; however if not ground fine enough, it is too sandy and gritty to be used as a pigment. The medieval system included washing it to remove any mud and then separating the different grains by some process of levigation. If plain water is used it is a slow, laborious process, so they used solutions of soap, gum and lye. When azurite is washed, the very fine particles are rather pale, greenish sky-blue, and not much admired for painting. The best grades of azurite for painting were coarse: not sandy, but so course that it could be quite laborious to lay them on.

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder is a comprehensive study of the materials and painting techniques that made Vermeer one of the greatest masters of European art. But to gain the clearest picture of Vermeer's day-to-day methods we must not only look at what went on his inside studio but inside the studios of his most accomplished colleagues as well.

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder, then, lays out in clear, comprehensible language every facet of 17th-century and Vermeer's painting practices including training, canvas preparation, underdrawing, underpainting, glazing, palette, brushes, pigments and composition. Also investigated are a number of key issues as they relate specifically to Vermeer such as the camera obscura, studio organization as well as how he depicted wall-maps, floor tiles, pictures-within-pictures, carpets and other of his most characteristic motifs.

Bolstered by his qualifications as a practicing painter and a Vermeer connoisseur, the three-volume PDF format permits the author to address each of the book's 24 topics with requisite attention. By observing at close quarters the studio practices of Vermeer and his preeminent contemporaries, the reader will acquire a concrete understanding of 17th-century painting methods and gain a fresh view of Vermeer's 35 works of art, which reveal a seamless unity of craft and poetry.

While not written as a "how-to" manual, realist painters will find a true treasure trove of technical information that can be apapted to almost any style of figurative painting.

author: Jonathan Janson
date: 2020 (second edition)
pages: 294
format: PDF | 3 volumes
illustrations: 200-plus illustrations and diagrams

3 Volumes: $29.95 | $14.95

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder

VOL I (11MB)

1 / Vermeer's Training, Technical Background and Ambitions
2 / An Overview of Vermeer’s Technical & Stylistic Evolution
3 / Fame, Originality & Subject Matter
4 / Reality or Illusion: Did Vermeer’s Interiors ever Exist?
5 / Color
6 / Composition
7 / Mimesi & Illusionism

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder


8 / Perspective
9 / Camera Obscura Vision
10 / Light & Modeling
11 / Studio
12 / Four Essential Motifs in Vermeer’s Oeuvre
13 / Drapery
14 / Painting Flesh

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder


15 / Canvas
16 / Grounding
17 / “Inventing,” or Underdrawing
18 / “Dead-Coloring,” or Underpainting
19 / “Working-up,” or Finishing
20 / Glazing
21 / Mediums, Binders & Varnishes
22 / Paint Application & Consistency
23 / Pigments, Paints & Palettes
24 / Brushes & Brushwork

Glue size was often used as a binder to hold the pigment grains firmly in place. It was necessary to apply several coats of azurite to produce a solid blue (fig. 1), but the result was quite beautiful. The actual thickness of the crust of blue added to the richness of the effect, and each tiny grain of the powdered crystalline mineral sparkled like a minute sapphire, especially before it was varnished. Due to the coarseness of azurite, it was difficult to use in detail.

The Little Street, Johannes Vermeerfig. 2 The Little Street (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1657–1661
Oil on canvas, 54.3 x 44 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Azurite in Vermeer's Painting

In the Officer and Laughing Girl, azurite is found under a layer of natural ultramarine mixed with lead-tin yellow and traces of lead white in the area corresponding to the shadowed area of the green table clothe. Azurite was also detected in some of the light gray areas of A Maid Asleep. Azurite is also found mixed with lead-tin yellow in the window green shutters of the Little Street (fig. 2).

Vermeer seems to have used azurite in light grays and mixtures of green where the brilliance of ultramarine would not have been appreciable. Like other painters of the time, Vermeer may have used azurite as a base color on which the far more costly natural ultramarine was painter over, for economical reasons.

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