Friday, June 01, 2007

Jan Vermeer's style


Jan Vermeer produced just 35 –36 paintings in his lifetime, but remains the most respected artists of the European tradition. Most of Vermeer’s paintings are serene, luminous interiors with just one or two figures. Vermeer grew up in Delft, Holland. He was admitted to the painters’ guild in 1653, and was thereafter allowed to sell his art. He also worked as an art dealer to supplement his income and support his wife and 11 children. WWI resulted in Vermeer losing his business. Soon after, he died of a stroke at the age of 42, leaving his family bankrupt. Vermeer’s paintings were then largely forgotten for nearly 200 years, until 1858 when a French critic began to write admiringly about Vermeer’s work.In The Geographer (left), Vermeer presents another individual in an interior. This male figure, has intense energy in comparison to the contemplative women from other compositions. The flow of light from left to right brings alive the canvas. The flow is accentuated compositionally by the massing of objects on the left. The light spills into the open area on the right, casting shadows. Vermeer adjusted his figure to provide a more active stance. A detailed study canvas revealed that the geographer had originally looked down with his dividers also pointed down.He adjusted the composition and aligned man’s face and the dividers with the flow of light. The folds of the robe serve to show an activate figure, who is dynamic.The painting accurately details the cartographic objects like the sea chart, globe, dividers, square and a cross-staff used to measure the elevation angle of the sun and stars. It is probable that Vermeer’s sophisticated presentation of these instruments was due to his association with scientist Anthony Van Leeuwenhoek. Although there is no documentary proof linking the two, they were both born in Delft in the same year. And the portrait of Leeuwenhoek closely resembles the figure in Vermeer’s geographer, it is possible that Leewenhoek served as the model.He meticulously constructed interiors with just one or two figures - usually women. This genre of paintings show the principal figure is invariably engaged in some everyday activity. Often the light enters Vermeer’s paintings from a window. He was a master at depicting the way light illuminates objects and in the rendering the details of materials. “For Vermeer, painting meant more than conveying abstract principles in a realistic form. Its very essence was built on the conviction that an artist needed a thorough understanding of the laws of natur nature to create a convincing illusion of reality. Such is the seductive beauty of his paintings that their subtle artifice often goes unnoticed.” Vermeer succeeded to give the image a sense of life through the use of light that illuminates the figures and objects in the room.Vermeer may have made use of a camera obscura (literally “dark room”) to help him conceive, although not paint, the composition. A precursor of the modern camera, it was a box with a small hole through which rays of light passed to form an inverted image on a surface opposite the hole. Images recorded with a camera obscura often show discrepancies in scale similar to those found in this painting, and some areas in clearer focus than others. Vermeer conveyed this optical effect by varying his painting technique. The apparent realism of Vermeer’s scene is a quality seventeenth-century Dutch artists often strove to achieve. It was the notion that a painting should deceive the eye with its illusionism dates back to antiquity. Vermeer modified and idealized the reality to achieve a sense of permanence and timelessness.

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