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: Verdigris


Origin, History and Characteristics

(Grünspan, vert-de-gris, verderame)

Verdigris is the common name for a green pigment obtained through the application of acetic acid to copper plates or the natural patina formed when copper, brass or bronze is weathered and exposed to air or seawater over a period of time. It is usually a basic copper carbonate, but near the sea will be a basic copper chloride. Today, it is only rarely sold as an artists pigment due to its toxic nature. Verdigris was the most vibrant green available until the nineteenth century.

Green glazes of verdigris were commonly used in oil paintings of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries (fig. 1) for the depiction of saturated green colours of drapery and foliage. Today, these glazes are often covered with a brown layer and sometimes the whole glaze has become brown. Verdigris was consistency mixed with the same pigments; lead white, lead-tin-yellow and yellow ochre. Leonardo da Vinci had was not in favor of the use of verdigris in oil painting given that the pigment has a certain tendency to fade. He wrote around 1492:

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

The green colour made of rust of copper, Green made of copper, even when this colour is mixed with oil, loses its beauty like smoke if it is not quickly varnished. It not only goes up in smoke, but if it is washed with a sponge dipped in simple, ordinary water, the verdigris will disappear from the panel on which it has been painted, especially in humid weather. This comes about because verdigris is made from salt, which dissolves easily in rainy weather, and especially when it is bathed and washed with the sponge…

"In his encyclopedia of 1694, Pomet noted that French unrefined verdigris was mainly exported to Holland. After Pekstokk had refined it into a purer product it was re-exported to France. Thus Pomet claimed that all the distilled verdigris on sale in Paris actually came from either Holland or Lyon.

Jan van Eyckfig. 1 The Arnolfini Portrait
(detail of the green robe glazed with verdigris)
Jan van Eyck
Oil on oak, 82.2 x 60 cm.
National Gallery, London

"Yet, until well into the seventeenth century, it appears that artists seldom purchased this remarkably pure ready-to-use distilled verdigris. A price-list of pigments purchased by painters in the De Mayerne manuscript only mentions 'ordinary' verdigris and not the distilled pigment. Inventories of four seventeenth-century Dutch shops specializing in the sale of artists' materials suggest that there can hardly have been any demand for distilled verdigris from painters. These shops had increasingly taken over the sale of pigments from the apothecaries."1

In seventeenth-century Holland, verdigris was not among the most expensive pigments, such as ultramarine and high quality red lake, which ran into several guilders an ounce, but among the mid-price pigments, which included indigo and yellow lake.2

Verdigris in Vermeer's Painting

Verdigris has been found in only three of Vermeer's paintings, once over layer of natural ultramarine of the tablecloth of Maid and Mistress , which was orinally meant to have a green color, and again under a layer of brilliant blue paint of jacket of Woman in Blue Reading a Letter. Ige Verslype, who restored the latter work in 2010–2011, hypothesized that the underlying layer of verdigris was meant to intensify the upper layer of ultramarine of the woman's blue jacket. The conservator Robert Wald repoted that the cloth (fig. 2) which drapes over the front of the massive table in the foreground of Vermeer's The Art of Painting was underpainted in virdigris and then glazed with a semi-transparent layer of ultramarine blue, giviing its present teal color.

The Art of Painting (detail), Johannes Vermeerfig. 2 The Art of Painting (detail)
c. 1662–1668
Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna


  1. M.H. van Eikema Hommes, "Verdigris Glazes in Historical Oil Paintings: Instructions and Techniques," dissertation: Discoloration in Renaissance and Baroque Oil Paintings. Instructions for Painters, theoretical, Concepts, and Scientific Data, 2002, 85.
  2. M.H. van Eikema Hommes, 2002, 86.

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