The Genius of Vermeer the Artist

The Genius of Vermeer the Artist
If you have ever seen a painting by Johannes Vermeer, you will notice extraordinary brushwork and colors (to die for). I will discuss the camera obscura and highlights from this Dutch artist’s oeuvre.

I was fortunate to have seen the Vermeer exhibit: "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry" at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC in 1996.

There was a showing of ten of the thirty-six known paintings by Jan Vermeer - quite remarkable.

I was most impressed with his "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (1665) in ways that I would learn many years later.

The techniques used?

Her moist lips were reddened with a crayon that women used at that time, as lipstick was not yet invented.

The model's limpid eyes shone from belladonna. Historically, its herbal juice was used in Italy to enlarge a woman's pupils - for effect.

The coquettish blush on the girl's cheeks were flushed with cochineal - the natural dye carmine, derived from a scale insect.

Her pearls have two (2) layers - a thin grey beneath white highlights - creating translucency.

In 2000, I recall travelling to Washington, DC to see Vermeer's "The Art of Painting" (1666- 67) AKA "The Allegory of Painting" AKA "Painter in his Studio" at the National Gallery of Art, on loan from Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

I remember seeing the artist Vermeer with his back to us, painting a young model. We now know the girl represents Clio, the Greek muse of History. She wears a laurel wreath for honor, carries a large book, and a trumpet for glory.

The textures of the tapestry hanging in the foreground are quite extraordinary and worth seeing in person.

Another self-portrait by Vermeer can be found in "The Procuress" (1656) from the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany. The artist is seen as the musician with straggly hair, wearing a beret.

Vermeer can't be mentioned here without discussing his use of the color 'blue'- indicative of the colors of Delft tiles and the color identified with the Virgin Mary. (Vermeer converted to Catholicism before his marriage to Catharina Thins.)

From Anthony Bailey’s book, "Vermeer: A View of Delft" a study of blues -

Faded Delft blue in the jacket of "Woman in Blue Reading a Letter"

Brighter and vivid blues in the turban of "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and "The Milkmaid"

The model in "The Art of Painting" wears a blue jacket

The model in the "Woman with a Water Jug" wears a skirt in dark blue, her jacket is blue and yellow.

The controversial use of the camera obscura by Vermeer has been discussed by scholars for 100+ years.

British artist David Hockney has a theory (the Hockney-Falco thesis) as stated by liveaboutdotcom’s author Lisa Marder - "advancements in realism in Western art since the Renaissance were aided by mechanical optics rather than merely being the result of improved skills and abilities of the artists."

Author Jane Jelley, in her book "Traces of Vermeer" states - "The image from the camera obscura is merely a projection" and admits "Vermeer was an authentic artistic genius - even if he cheated."


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You can own the hardback book, "Vermeer, the Complete Works," by Taschen, available here from

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