09/15/06 - vermeer

In today's excerpt - Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), whose entire extant work is comprised of only thirty-six paintings. As with many great artists, Vermeer emerged from the midst of an economic boom. In his case, it was Holland—the United Provinces—which had cast off the repressive leadership of Catholic Spain in 1581 and assumed a leading role at the heart of global maritime trade. As in Victorian England, this rapid change and prosperity brought with it a reactionary and heightened need for morality—including fidelity, avoiding vanity, placing the woman in the home, serving the family and others. Vermeer grew up in Delft, the capital under William of Orange, and painted pictures of breathtaking grace, light, isolation and quietly veiled emotion. Some view Vermeer, whose technique foreshadowed the rise of Impressionism, as the supreme painter of any era:

"The overwhelming majority of Vermeer's paintings that depict women conform to the basic trend in Dutch genre painting, in that they criticize vice. It was their goal to educate people to behave 'virtuously'—in other words to conform to norms of thought and behavior—and to do this by depicting in a comic manner, characters behaving wrongly. The opposite of this is to educate by presenting the official code of behavior by means of a exemplum virtutis (model of virtue); ... Only three of Vermeer's paintings have this purpose clearly in mind. ...

"Today [Vermeer] is generally seen with Rembrandt and Frans Hals as the third great artist of the Golden Age. Vincent van Gogh ... waxed lyrical on the subject of Vermeer's colour harmonies: 'It is true that in the few pictures he painted, one can find the entire scale of colours; but the use of lemon yellow, pale blue and light grey together is as characteristic of him as the harmony of black, white, grey and pink is of Velazquez.' ... He was quietly innovative ... His predilection for balance; his method of simplifying complex structures to a few components...his treatment of light ... were the hallmarks of a style unusual even in Vermeer's own day.

"In the early modern era, the family unit was of central importance. ... Since the increasing division of labour was now tending to involve many men in work outside the home, women as keepers of the house, found themselves with greater responsibility to bear and more tasks to perform. ... Most of Vermeer's paintings are about these domestic duties, but they also show the conflicts called forth in women by the imperatives of duty and virtue, so much at odds with the libidinous desires they were no longer permitted to express. ... Arguably Vermeer's figures, rejecting the norms and demands of society, have been forced into isolation, and have withdrawn modestly—into silence."

Woman with a Pearl Necklace

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window

The Girl with a Pearl Earring

The Lacemaker

View of Delft

The Astronomer


Norbert Schneider


Vermeer, 1632-1675: Velied Emotions




2004 Taschen


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