Essential Vermeer 3.0
Looking for a painting by Vermeer? Find it with QUICK SEARCH!

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

No PayPal account required

Vermeer's Palette: Vermilion

vermilion pigment

Origin, History and Characteristics

(Zinnober, cinnabar, cinnabar)

Vermilion is the standard name given to the red pigment based on artificially made mercuric sulfide. The common red crystalline form of mercuric sulfide is cinnabar (fig. 1), a name reserved only for the natural mineral. The natural product found chiefly in Almaden and Idria has been eliminated for practical purposes. The properties of both natural and artificially prepared are practically identical. The best cinnabar came from Spain, but there were deposits of it in Italy at Monte Amiata, not far from Siena, and elsewhere in Europe. Upon grinding the red color begins to appear, and the longer it is ground, the finer the color becomes. It was widely used in the art and decoration of Ancient Rome, in the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages and in the paintings of the Renaissance. The color was most famously used in creating Chinese lacquerware, which was exported around the world, giving rise to the term "Chinese red."

The traditional use of red glazes of madder, kermes and cochineal lakes over vermilion underpaint (fig. 2) not only increases the purity of the color but has been shown to reduce the tendency to darken as well. It is also known that the farther light can penetrate into the binding medium, the more quickly the vermilion will darken.

Cinnibarfig. 1 Lustrous, radiating, acicular, red cinnabar crystals richly cover the vertical matrix on this excellent specimen from the famous Almaden Mine of California.
Andrea de Sarto (detail of an unfinished painting)fig. 2 The Sacrifice of Isaac (detail)
Andrea del Sarto
c. 1527
208 x 171cm.
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio

Detail of an unfinished drapery of the saint modeled in vermilion

Vermilion in Vermeer's Painting

Girl with a Wine Glass, Johannes Vermeerfig. 3 The Glass of Wine (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1658–1661
Oil on canvas, 65 x 77 cm.
Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz,
, Berlin

Vermeer used vermilion in the traditional manner under glazes. The striking red satin gown in the Glass of Wine and that of the Girl with a Wine Glass (fig. 3) were probably first modeled with shades of vermillion and white lead and perhaps small quantities of black or natural ultramarine in the deepest shades. The whole gown was then glazed with madder lake. The same technique was also used to paint the fanciful read plumed hat worn by the Girl with a Red Hat.

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

Woman with a Water Pitcher, Johannes Vermeerfig. 4 Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1662–1665
Oil on canvas, 45.7 x 40.6 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Vermeer also made use of vermilion to paint the oriental carpets (fig. 4 & 5) which appear on the tables in many of his interiors. Again he seems to have employed the same technique described above. In its purer form, vermilion may be observed in the various ribbons and trimmings worn by his sitters.

The Music Lesson, Johannes Vermeerfig. 5 The Music Lesson (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1662–1665
Oil on canvas, 73.3 x 64.5 cm.
The Royal Collection, The Windsor Castle

EV 3.0 Newsletter ✉

Latest Article