Johannes Vermeer, is a Dutch master, whose mystique is enhanced by the near inexistant , obscure and fragmentary knowledge available. He is an invisible artist who remains unseen. Vermeer (1632-1675) was a baroque Dutch painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of a cross section of seventeenth century Dutch society.His greatness is considered to be his study of the largely unobserved and unexplored depths of the mundanities of daily life. Domesticity is preponderant and the subject of women is taken seriously.
Vermeer’s externalization of seemingly inconsequential moments is enhanced by compositional balance and poetic timelessness illuminated by pearly highlights.His tonal system is characterized by the use of natural ultramarine pigments; the exhorbitantly expensive Lapis Lazuli as well as pigments mixed to form his yellowish cornflower hues. Vermeer is not recognized by originality and artistic inventiveness.
His mystique is enhanced by his limited output over his life. There are only 36 known works painted by Vermeer all of which are relatively small canvasses. This contrasts to Rembrandt who flooded the market with engravings, etchings and drawings in addition to a prodigious output of paintings. Rembrandt was an intense emotionalist who appealed to the conceptions of romanticism at the time. Vermeer is self-effacing, undemonstrative and invisible. He has been described as the ‘‘ultimate dead author who transcends his creations and evades our grasp”.
The mystique is enhanced by the homogeneity of his work. Thus, the stylistic and thematic relationships among the paintings serve to reinforce and enhance each work providing sublime interrelationships and series of beautiful abstractions. There is a delicate balance between observation and arbitrary design executed with exacting precision. Whereas Rembrandt was a master of light and shadow,Vermeer is a master of light and color and his exquisite use of light to illuminate objects.
The luminosity in Vermeer’s work can partly be explained by the use of “grisaille” techniques. The image is first completed entirely in s
s of gray. Transluscent colors are then laid over this monotone underpainting. There can be some illusion of a sculptured effect since the greytone foundation is sometimes applied in slight relief .The finished work gives the appearance that light is “dancing” through the artwork.
Somewhat obscurely, The entire family of Vermeer on his mother’s side were actively involved in the counterfeiting of paper currency. This was recounted by Lawrence Gowing in a review of sleuth like research unearthed in ”Counterfeiters of Grace”. The operation was uncovered, with two family ringleaders suffering the fate of beheading by sword and the remainder buying their way out to their last Gilder. Although this occurred 12 years before Vermeer’s birth, the weight and karma of family tragedy probably marked his psyche. The induction, is that Vermeer became a counterfeiter of the visible world and used painting as a facsimile of the visual scene to create a perfect world, undetectably beyond conviction.
The second issue is an apparent utilization of the ”camera obscura” to create his effects of luminosity. The discrepancy of scale in some of Vermeer’s work lends credence to his utilization of an optical device as an aid to his painting, though the degree is unknown. The optical device projected an accurate image for the artist to trace.