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Vermeer's Painting Technique: Introduction

(A Five Part Study plus a brief overview of is technique and stylistic evolution and a few considerations on the techniques of the old masters.)

It is not an easy chore to reconstruct with any degree of precision how Vermeer painted. What we now know about seventeenth-century Dutch painting methods is based largely on information gleaned from contemporary painting manuals integrated with the results of modern scientific analysis. Period painting manuals were more apt to discuss theoretic issues of the noble art of painting rather than the practical side of painting. Even though basic procedure was occasionally outlined, and recipes were given for specific palettes, the actual craft of making a picture was transmitted from masters to young artists through years of apprenticeship (normally from 4 to 6). Few historical records of studio practice survive. None of them regard Vermeer. "Certain techniques, however, such as using a transparent dark brown for the preliminary sketch and underpainting facial features with a red lake mixture, have also been noted recently in the work of contemporaries. There is nothing unusual in Vermeer's choice of pigments other than the predominance of ultramarine. One difference in approach is that Vermeer did not use traditional formulas for the coloring of his subjects; he continued to see things afresh. Recurring motifs such as the tiled floors are painted in a different way in each painting."Nicola Costaras, "A Study of the Materials and Techniques of Johannes Vermeer," in Vermeer Studies, ed. Ivan Gaskell and Michiel Jonker (Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University, 1998), 160-161.

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

Although Vermeer experimented ceaselessly with techniques to create the illusion of three-dimension space and render the effects of natural light, evidence points to the fact that he worked largely within the boundaries of traditional studio methods of Northern European artists. These methods were very different than those used by artists today. Modern painters usually execute their works a unified whole. They work while standing so they can walk back and envision the totality of the work. The painting is worked up directly with full color on a white or off-white canvas. Palettes usually contain every pigment which will likely be present in the finished work. Experimentation and improvisation play vital roles. Because craft is no longer retained indispensable to the artistic endeavor, technique is dispensed with in art schools.

Instead, seventeenth-century painters followed a fixed, multi-step method assimilated in a master's studio. The workload was divided into distinct phases in order to deal with the principal pictorial components one at a time. The rationale behind this division of labor was based on both technical and economical motives. It should be noted that seventeenth-century paintings were generally far more complex in composition, and great attention was given to accurate perspective, naturalistic illumination, and detail. Once the drawing and lighting scheme had been worked out in the drawing and underpainting stage, artists worked up their compositions in a piecemeal fashion, completing one specific area at a time.

This multi-step painting technique, which includes stages like underpainting, "working-up," and glazing, requires a great deal of discipline, foresight, and faith in the process from the artist. The artist must exercise patience and control in "dosing" his efforts, knowing that each stage serves a specific purpose that will contribute to the final piece. He must plan several steps ahead, considering not only the immediate effects of their brushwork but also how it will interact with future layers and refinements. Achieving the right "dose" of effort means the artist has to skillfully balance details and general forms, light and shadow, and color harmonies across different stages. Overworking or underworking a section at any stage could throw off this delicate balance.

In addition, the multi-step process can be slow and iterative, often requiring the artist to wait for layers to dry before proceeding. Rushing through a stage can compromise the integrity of the final painting. Perhaps most importantly, the artist must have faith in the method and in their own skill. The painting may look disjointed or even "ugly" at various stages, but the artist needs to trust that their planned steps will coalesce into a harmonious and expressive final piece.

While faith in the process is essential, so is the flexibility to adapt to unexpected challenges or opportunities that may arise during the painting process. Using a structured, multi-step technique is essential for achieving the level of realism and depth seen in many historical paintings, but it undoubtedly adds complexity and demands a lot from the artist emotionally and technically and is generally ill-suited for modern painters who are intent of emulating the paintings of the great masters of the past.

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder

Enhanced by the author's dual expertise as both a seasoned painter and a renowned authority on Vermeer, Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder offers an in-depth exploration of the artistic techniques and practices that elevated Vermeer to legendary status in the art world. The book meticulously delves into every aspect of 17th-century painting, from the initial canvas preparation to the details of underdrawing, underpainting, finishing touches, and glazing, as well as nuances in palette, brushwork, pigments, and compositional strategy. All of these facets are articulated in an accessible and lucid manner.

Furthermore, the book examines Vermeer's unique approach to various artistic elements and studio practices. These include his innovative use of the camera obscura, the intricacies of his studio setup, and his representation of his favorite motifs subjects, such as wall maps, floor tiles, and "pictures within pictures."

By observing closely the studio practices of Vermeer and his preeminent contemporaries, the reader will acquire a concrete understanding of 17th-century painting methods and materials and gain a fresh view of Vermeer's 35 masterworks, which reveal a seamless unity of craft and poetry.

While the book is not structured as a step-by-step instructional guide, it serves as an invaluable resource for realist painters seeking to enhance their own craft. The technical insights offered are highly adaptable, offering a wealth of knowledge that can be applied to a broad range of figurative painting styles.

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LOOKING OVER VERMEER'S SHOULDER
author: Jonathan Janson
date: 2020 (second edition)
pages: 294
illustrations: 200-plus illustrations and diagrams
formats: PDF
$29.95



CONTENTS

  1. Vermeer's Training, Technical Background & Ambitions
  2. An Overview of Vermeer’s Technical & Stylistic Evolution
  3. Fame, Originality & Subject Matte
  4. Reality or Illusion: Did Vermeer’s Interiors ever Exist?
  5. Color
  6. Composition
  7. Mimesi & Illusionism
  8. Perspective
  9. Camera Obscura Vision
  10. Light & Modeling
  11. Studio
  12. Four Essential Motifs in Vermeer’s Oeuvre
  1. Drapery
  2. Painting Flesh
  3. Canvas
  4. Grounding
  5. “Inventing,” or Underdrawing
  6. “Dead-Coloring,” or Underpainting
  7. “Working-up,” or Finishing
  8. Glazing
  9. Mediums, Binders & Varnishes
  10. Paint Application & Consistency
  11. Pigments, Paints & Palettes
  12. Brushes & Brushwork

Almost all representations of artists at work showed them at work seated, holding small palettes. Pigments, the actual coloring agents of paint, were very few when compared to those available to any modern painter, and usually had to be ground by hand each day before setting out to work. Moreover, some pigments were not mutually compatible and had to be used separately. To overcome the scarcity of pigments and the inherent limitations of available materials, artists had learned to compensate by using complex techniques such as underpainting and glazing, and by varying the consistencies of paint and mode of application.

"Research into painters' terminology has revealed that for the seventeenth-century painter there were three or four main stages: "inventing," the "dead-coloring," and the "working-up," followed (according to the painter and art theoretician Gérard de Lairesse) by "retouching." Ernst van de Wetering. Rembrandt: The Painter at Work. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

The term'inventing" corresponds to the modern idea of creating an initial drawing on an untouched canvas, "dead-coloring" corresponds to underpainting, and 'working-up' refers to the application of color and detail. Each stage, along with the preparation of the painting's support, are discussed in depth on separate pages, which are linked below. Glazing, although a separate technique, is indispensable and is analyzed on its own page.

Click here to read or download integral English version of A Treatise on the Art of Painting in All its Branches by Gérard de Lairesse (English translation, 1817).

The Primary Stages of Vermeer's Painting Technique

click on each stage of Vermeer's technique below to access a separate page with detailed information

A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Vermeer's Technique with Respect to his Stylistic Evolution

Vermeer's oeuvre can be divided into four relatively distinct stylistic phases.

1. Early Works: History Paintings

"Vermeer's early history paintings, which in many respects are difficult to reconcile with his later works, provided him with a broadness of vision and of execution that no other genre painter of the period possessed."Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Johannes Vermeer (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1995), 24. In these works, thickly applied impasto paint is characteristic. His coloring too was relatively bold, but the lighting was conventionally conceived. The evident build-up of paint creates a dense and uneven surface accentuating the material presence of the subjects although repeated overpainting provides evidence of technical uncertainty. These earlier history paintings are much larger than most parts of the later interiors. The fluency and technical proficiency of Christ in the House of Martha and Mary strikes an odd note among these early paintings. The Procuress might be considered an intermediate work between the historical subjects and those genre interiors for which Vermeer is celebrated. Even though the painting's "modern" subject differs from the first history works, its scale, uncertain spatial organization, and broadness of execution are clearly reminiscent of his earlier works.

2. Early Genre Interiors

Vermeer's first genre interiors distinctly break from the history paintings not only in subject, but also in technique and dimension. Genre subject matter had already been pioneered by other painters such as Pieter de Hooch, Gerrit ter Borch and Nicolas Metsu. As Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. pointed out "the challenge he seems to have set for himself in the late 1650s was to translate the classicizing tendencies of his early religious and mythological paintings into a contemporary idiom."Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Vermeer and the Art of Painting (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1995), 163.

In this period, the complicated admixtures of pigments found in the history paintings are less frequent and impasto (thickly applied opaque paint) is used more selectively. The brilliant tones needed to suggest the intensity of incoming daylight, which had quickly become one of Vermeer's principal artistic preoccupations, were generally composed of two or three pigments. In order to create illusionistic three-dimensional spaces Vermeer made use of the laws of perspective, which any ambitious painter was familiar with.

The famous pointillés, or globular dots of thick light-colored paint that represent specular highlights, make their first appearance. These and other visual peculiarities found in these works suggest that Vermeer began to employ the camera obscura, a precursor to the modern photographic camera. The camera obscura is ideal for studying the natural play of light. The contours in the first interiors tend to be sharp, sometimes to the point of brittleness, while impasto is used to evoke both the sparkle of light and texture.

From the outset of his career, Vermeer made numerous changes during the painting process as he sought a satisfactory image: he eliminated figures, altered costumes, adjusted shapes of buildings in his land and cityscapes and reconsidered the placement and scale of objects in his interiors. Vermeer generally painted on light-colored grounds as did many Dutch painters.

3. Maturity: Works of the 1660s

In the early 1660s, the surfaces of Vermeer's paintings have an almost levigated effect. The weave of the canvas is barely perceptible. Many portray single figures bound closely to the composition's planimetric framework. Paint is applied thinly, in translucent and semi-translucent layers. Strong colors are often confined to restricted areas of the compositions. Contours are more varied than before but in general they are more suffused, especially in the shadows. Although the description light had become increasingly important, form is suggested by subtle shifts in tone rather than by forceful chiaroscuro. The economy of description becomes characteristic.

Although Vermeer's thematic and compositional debt to the fine painters Gerrit Dou and Frans van Mieris is obvious, his rendering never reaches such extreme level of microscopic detail for which their painting had become renowned throughout Europe. Perhaps only when the works of these artists are compared side-by-side can the difference be fully appreciated. For example, while each single hair of the fur trimmed jacket of Frans van Mieris' tiny Couple with a Puppy has been rendered with astonishing accuracy, the identical fur trim of Vermeer's Woman Holding a Balance is suggested through subtle changes in tone.

In this period Vermeer may have also made use of the badger brush, which was commonly employed to smooth brush marks, extend glazes and blend adjacent areas of color imperceptibly.

4. Late Works

In his last years of artistic activity, Vermeer acquired. mastery of every facet of painting technique. Contour became again sharp but differently from his initial genre interiors, paint was applied with the utmost economy. Brushwork is often curiously calligraphic, freeing itself from slavish description, at times bordering on virtuosity. A sense of brittleness is adverted especially in the modeling of the figure. In some passages paint has been applied so thinly that the underlying ground can be observed. This fact has led some scholars to believe some of the paintings were not finished.

In the 1670s, form is abstracted. Technique takes on greater importance, so much that it challenges illusion. "The accents of color Vermeer used to indicate the folds of the woman's dress or the exquisite decorative rose of the guitar in The Guitar Player, for example, are seen first and foremost as paint, and then only secondarily as descriptive of material texture."Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Vermeer and the Art of Painting (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1995), 165.

While Vermeer experimented with various techniques, his basic method and materials remained analogous to those his contemporaries.

  • COSTARAS, Nicola. "A Study of the Materials and Techniques of Johannes Vermeer." In Vermeer Studies, edited by Ivan Gaskell and Michiel Jonker, Studies in the History of Art 55, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Symposium Papers XXXIII. Washington: National Gallery of Art & New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, 145–167.
  • DELANEY, John K., Kathryn A. Dooley, Annelies van Loon, and Abbie Vandivere. “Mapping the Pigment Distribution of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.” Heritage Science 8, no. 4 (January 7, 2020). Accessed May 2, 2022.
  • EASTAUGH, Nicholas, Valentine Walsh, Tracey Chaplin and Ruth Siddall. The Pigment Compendium 2017. Rev. ed. (e-version). London: The Pigmentum Project, 2016.
  • FINK, Daniel A. "Vermeer's Use of the Camera Obscura: A Comparative Study." The Art Bulletin 53 (1971).
  • GIEBE, Marlies. “Johannes Vermeers ‘Kupplerin’: Restaurierung Und Maltechnische Befunde.” In Uta Neidhardt and Marlies Giebe, eds., Johannes Vermeer: Bei der Kupplerin, 39–64. Exh. cat. Dresden: Michel Sandstein in association with Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, 2004.
  • GIFFORD, E. Melanie, Anikó Bezur, Andrea Guidi di Bagno, and Lisha Deming Glinsman. “The Making of a Luxury Image: Van Aelst’s Painting Materials and Artistic Techniques.” In Tanya Paul, James Clifton, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., and Julie Hochstrasser, Elegance and Refinement: The Still-Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst, 80–84. Exh. cat. New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2012.
  • GIFFORD, M. "Painting Light: Recent Observations on Vermeer's Technique." In Vermeer Studies, edited by Ivan Gaskell and Michiel Jonker. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art & New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998, 185–199.
  • GIFFORD, E. Melanie, and Lisha Deming Glinsman. “Collective Style and Personal Manner: Materials and Techniques of High-Life Genre Painting.” In Waiboer, Wheelock, and Ducos, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting, 65–84, 270–74.
  • GIFFORD, E. Melanie, Dina Anchin, Alexandra Libby, Marjorie E. Wieseman, Kathryn A. Dooley, Lisha Deming Glinsman, John K. Delaney. "First Steps in Vermeer’s Creative Process: New Findings from the National Gallery of Art," Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 14, no. 2 (Summer 2022).
  • GIFFORD, E. Melanie. “Fine Painting and Eloquent Imprecision: Gabriel Metsu’s Painting Technique.” In Adriaan E. Waiboe, Gabriel Metsu, 154–79. New Haven: Yale University Press in association with the National Gallery of Art, 2010.
  • GIFFORD, E. Melanie. “Lievens’ Technique: ‘Wonders in Smeared Paint, Varnishes and Oils.’” In Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered, edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., 41–53. Exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Press in association with the National Gallery of Art, 2008.
  • GIFFORD, E. Melanie. “Material as Metaphor: Non-Conscious Thinking in Seventeenth Century Painting Practice.” In Studying Old Master Paintings: Technology and Practice, edited by Marika Spring, 165–72. London: Archetype in association with The National Gallery, 2011.
  • GIFFORD, E. Melanie. “Painting Light: Recent Observations on Vermeer’s Technique.” In Vermeer Studies, edited by Gaskell and Jonker, 185–99.
  • GROEN, Karin M., Inez D. van der Werf, Klaas Jan van den Berg, and Jaap J. Boon. "Scientific Examination of Vermeer's 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'." In Vermeer Studies, edited by Ivan Gaskell and Michiel Jonker. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art & New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998, 169–183.
  • HOWARD, Helen, David Peggie and Rachel Billinge. "Vermeer and Technique." National Gallery website. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/research/about-research/the-meaning-of-making/vermeer-and-technique
  • JANSON, Jonathan. Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder: Seventeenth-Century Painting Techniques and Studio Practices with Particular Focus on the Work of Johannes Vermeer, second edition. USA, 2020.
  • KÜHN, Herman. "A Study of the Pigments and the Grounds used by Jan Vermeer." Reports and Studies in the History of Art. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1968.
  • NANDSMAN, Rozemarijn. "Trading Paintings and Painters’ Materials 1550–1800." In Trading Paintings and Painters' Materials 1550-1800, edited by Anne Haack Christensen and Angela Jager, London and Copenhagen: Archetype Publications, 2018.
  • LAURENZE-LANDSBERG, Claudia. “Neutron-Autoradiography of Two Paintings by Jan Vermeer in the Gemäldegalerie Berlin.” In Wolfgang Lefèvre, ed., Inside the Camera Obscura: Optics and Art under the Spell of the Projected Image, 213–25. Berlin: Max-Planck Institute for the History of Science, 2007.
  • LEVY-HALM, Koos. “Where Did Vermeer Buy His Painting Materials? Theory and Practice.” In Gaskell and Jonker, Vermeer Studies, 137–43.
  • LIBBY, Alexandra, E. Melanie Gifford, Dina Anchin, Marjorie E. Wieseman, Kathryn A. Dooley, Lisha Deming Glinsman, John K. Delaney. "Experimentation and Innovation in Vermeer’s Girl with the Red Hat: New Findings from the National Gallery of Art," Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 14, no. 2 (Summer 2022).
  • LIEDTKE, Walter A., Richard C. Johnson, and Don H. Johnson. “Canvas Matches in Vermeer: A Case Study in the Computer Analysis of Fabric Supports.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 47 (2012): 101–8.
  • LOON, Annelies van, Abbie Vandivere, John K. Delaney, Kathryn A. Dooley, Steven De Meyer, Frederik Vanmeert, Victor Gonzalez, Koen Janssens, Emilien Leonhardt, Ralph Haswell, Suzan de Groot, Paolo D’Imporzano and Gareth R. Davies. “Beauty is Skin Deep: The Skin Tones of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.” Heritage Science 7, no. 102 (December 11, 2019). Accessed May 2, 2022.
  • LOON, Annelies van, Alessa A. Gambardella, Victor Gonzalez, Marine Cotte, Wout De Nolf, Katrien Keune, Emilien Leonhardt, Suzan de Groot, Art Ness Proaño Gaibor, and Abbie Vandivere. “Out of the Blue: Vermeer’s Use of Ultramarine in Girl with a Pearl Earring.” Heritage Science 8, no. 25 (February 28, 2020). Accessed May 2, 2022.
  • MAHON, Dorothy, Silvia A. Centeno, Margaret Iacono, Federico Carό, Heike Stege and Andrea Obermeier. “Johannes Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid: New Discoveries Cast Light on Changes to the Composition and the Discoloration of Some Paint Passages.” Heritage Science 8, no. 30 (March 27, 2020). Accessed May 2, 2022.
  • NEIDHART, Uta, and Marlies GIEBE, with essays by Albert Blankert, Chrisitne Klose, Johann Koller, Annalise Mayer-Meintsschel et al. Johannes Vermeer 'Bei der Kupplerin,' exh. cat. Dresden, 2004.
  • PEETERS, Natasja. “The Painter’s Apprentice in Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century Antwerp: An Analysis of the Archival Sources.” Mélanges de l’École française de Rome: Italie et Méditerranée modernes et contemporaines, nos. 131–2 (2019), 221–27, https://doi.org/10.4000/mefrim.6461.
  • POTTASCH, Carol. “Underdrawings in the Paintings of Frans van Mieris.” In Quentin Buvelot, Frans van Mieris 1635–1681, 62–68. Exh. cat. Zwolle: Waanders 2005.
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  • STEADMAN, Phillip. Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
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  • VERSLYPE, Ige. “The Restoration of ‘Woman in Blue Reading a Letter’ by Johannes Vermeer.” The Rijksmuseum Bulletin 60, no. 1 (2012): 2–19.
  • WALD, Robert. “The Art of Painting: Observations on Approach and Technique.” In Sabine Haag, Elke Oberthaler, and Sabine Pénot, Vermeer, Die Malkunst: Spurensicherung an einem Meisterwerk, 312–27. Exh. cat. St. Pölten: Residenz in association with Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, 2010.
  • WALLERT, Arie. “The Materials and Methods of Michiel Sweerts’s Paintings.” In Jansen and Sutton, Michiel Sweerts, 37–47.
  • WADUM, Jørgen, René Hoppenbrouwers, and Luuk Struick van der Loeff. Vermeer Illuminated: Conservation, Restoration and Research: A Report on the Restoration of the View of Delft and the Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer. Wormer: V+K in association with the Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1994.
  • WADUM, Jørgen. "Contours of Vermeer." In Vermeer Studies. New Haven and London, 1998, 201–223.
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  • WIESEMAN, Marjorie E. “Acquisition or Inheritance? Material Goods in Paintings by Vermeer and His Contemporaries.” In Waiboer, Wheelock, and Ducos, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting, 50–63.
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A Few Notes on the Methods of the Old Masters

Through modern scientific analysis many of the materials used by the old masters can be identified with certainty. Understanding painting technique, that is, the manner in which materials are applied, is another matter. X-ray and infrared radiography have revealed hitherto hidden aspects of the masters' paintings, but these investigative methods must be used in conjunction with contemporary painters' manuals, direct observation, and the comprehension of artists' expressive aims in order to form a reasonable overall picture of the actual studio practices.

The principal difference between modern and Dutch seventeenth-century painting technique is that painting was broken down into a series of distinct passages executed in a predefined order. The principal difference between materials is that seventeenth-century painters generally ground their own paints, and pigments were few when compared to the industrially pre-prepared paints available today. Modern paints have an almost uniform consistency, while hand-made paints have entirely different drying, brushing, and covering characteristics from one another, which, however, painters had not only overcome but had learned to use to their advantage.

Old Master "Lost" Painting Materials

The search for lost old masters materials had already begun shortly after the end of the Golden Age. Many Dutch painters had achieved extraordinary levels of technical proficiency that successive generations of artists were at a loss as to how to reproduce. Speculation continued into the twentieth century, especially among painters who attempted to emulate the painting styles of the past. Fortunately, modern scientific investigations conducted by the principal museums in the later part of the twentieth century, have slowly come to a common position in regard. It would now seem that the almost irreproducible technical results seen in Dutch masters were, in fact, not due to any particular use of material or complex procedure, but were in great part consequence of superior creative and imaginative powers.

Ernst van Wetering addressed the question in his study of Rembrandt's painting methodsErnst van de Wetering. Rembrandt: The Painter at Work. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 276. using the metaphor of the violin bow. "The impact of this rather simple implement on the richness of the musical effects depends almost entirely on the talent, skill and imagination of the musician who handles it. The same violin may sound either utterly dull or heavenly rich just from the way in which the same bow is handled. Rembrandt's pictorial richness is exclusively determined by the talent, skill and imagination with which he wielded the brush."

The composition of Rembrandt's painting medium, which had been the source of almost endless speculation, has been revealed to have been composed of nothing more than common linseed oil. Rarely did Rembrandt used walnut oil used, and the presence of the presence of egg was detected together with linseed oil only occasionally.

The Painter's Studio in Seventeenth-Century Netherlands

Artist's Materials in Delft*

Fine art painters or fijnschilders needed artist materials. Because of the very large amounts of color pigments used in workshops in the Delftware industry, there was volume of trade and a high level of expertise regarding these materials, both in raw form and in cleared and refined, powdered form.
Painters could make a choice. They could invest their own time, buying raw materials and grind these, mixing in oils and drying agents, storing these hand made paints in pig bladders. They could also invest time and stretch and mount their own canvases, priming them with layer upon layer of gesso, thus forming a smooth and stable white background for canvas paintings. Because of modern techniques such as x-ray we have come to learn a lot about the supports Vermeer used. Most were of a standard commercial size.

Alternatively, in order to save time and to benefit from the professional expertise of others, many artists may have preferred to use the more expensive ready-made artists materials. Ground-up pigments, ready-made paints tied-up pig bladders, liquids and various sizes of canvases could be had off the shelf from specialized art dealers. These were the specialized art supply grocer nicknamed the colorman. In Delft one such colorman was Leendert Volmarijn. Alternatively a painter could shop around for raw or refined materials at the local apothecaries, who would in turn have obtained materials from wholesale colorman dealers in Amsterdam, Haarlem or Rotterdam. In 1664 Just one Delft apothecary bill crops up in Vermeer documents known to us, that of Dirck de Cocq, involving artist materials delivered to Vermeer, such as lead tin yellow and some other items.

* Kess Kaldenbach, "The Delft St Luke Guild: How it was Run." http://kalden.home.xs4all.nl/dart/d-b-lucasgild2.htm

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  • DELANEY, John K., Kathryn A. Dooley, Annelies van Loon, and Abbie Vandivere. “Mapping the Pigment Distribution of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.” Heritage Science 8, no. 4 (January 7, 2020). Accessed May 2, 2022.
  • EASTAUGH, Nicholas, Valentine Walsh, Tracey Chaplin and Ruth Siddall. The Pigment Compendium 2017. Rev. ed. (e-version). London: The Pigmentum Project, 2016.
  • FINK, Daniel A. "Vermeer's Use of the Camera Obscura: A Comparative Study." The Art Bulletin 53 (1971).
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† FOOTNOTES †

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