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Latest Member: NashRamiro Forum  |  Information Exchange  |  Movie Reviews  |  Tim's Vermeer « previous next »
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Author Topic: Tim's Vermeer  (Read 1903 times)
Frightening Fanatic of Horrible Cinema

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The sleep of reasoner breeds monsters.

« on: September 18, 2017, 06:43:03 AM »

Since childhood, when my father first took me to the Smithsonian, I have been in love with the paintings of the 17th century Dutch realists, who unlike the repetitive fantasy artists of Catholic southern Europe gave us the closest thing we'll ever have to photographs of daily life in a time long gone. In my regard, at the top of the list of Dutch Masters (the artists not the cigars) was Johannes Vermeer, at whose works I can to this day stare for long stretches of time, taking minutes to be engrossed by details Vermeer painstakingly crafted on such background objects as rugs, chairs, vases, and the engraving lines inside the lid of a virginal, which was a sort of pianoforte of bygone times. In one painting, The Music Lesson, I think it is, a mirror situated on a wall is reflecting a small portion of flooring, and even there, where most artists would likely show the mirror's silvery surface and leave it at that, Vermeer crafted the images within the glass, which is simply amazing.

Every time I've examined these paintings I have wondered not only why Vermeer went to such lengths to convey exactitude on what the eye may readily pass across, but how he did it. Was Vermeer a precise master of detail, or was he employing a scientifically-advanced method of color reproduction via projected light?

It's been conjectured for generations that Vermeer used a camera obscura or other reflective device to achieve his near-photo realism, but what thrilled me was hearing Penn Jillette one day discussing his friend, the Texas entrepreneur Tim Jenison's, efforts to recreate Vermeer's precise technique, and whatsmore, Jillette described his friend's efforts as revealing that when we see the works of Vermeer we are looking at "17th century photographs."

What? It was the most wondrous statement I'd heard in ages. Photos? I was hooked. I knew that if all color is removed from a Vermeer painting the resulting black and white image is a dead ringer for a daguerreotype but I had never made the mental leap to thinking that what I had looked at my whole life was something more than "just" a painting. I knew that photographs indeed made use of dyes and chemicals to record an image onto paper, but I hadn't considered that paint as well could be employed and the result be something that was every bit as true a photo as, say, the elements that formed an image on the old Polaroids of my younger days.

So I watched this near documentary that let Jenison detail his eureka moment in comprehending one way Vermeer may have accomplished what he did, and looked on as he spent a year in San Antonio setting up a life-size reproduction of a room captured on a Vermeer canvas. I saw how with little artistic training himself, this Texan produced a startlingly accurate reproduction, using his theorized process, and was so amazed, I watched the whole thing again.

All interesting but it was Jillette's statement, "....what we are seeing is 17th century photographs..." that truly set my mind flying because just imagine that. Photographs of a bygone time and place.


While the film, which won several major awards, does make a compelling case for Jenison's theory, alas I did hear a counterargument on YouTube that needed less than five minutes to undermine the hypothesis Jenison and Jillette had worked for years to establish. The creator of the video pointed out that Vermeer's floor was wood, not tiled, therefore a camera obscura would not have helped in at least that fashion since Vermeer would have had to create the flooring himself instead of seeing it projected. (The film strongly relies on various color details of the tiles to make its point.)

Also the natural lighting in the rooms was, according to the narrator of the video, too dim to allow the camera obscura to project as strongly as required for Jenison's technique to be successful.

And lastly, a common way to create a centered object was and is to....long story short there are tiny pinholes on most Vermeer canvases, painted over so as not to be seen, that strongly hint Vermeer used string and pins to center his perspective techniques, which would not have been needed had he successfully perfected a device similar to Jenison's, a device which was not listed in his property after the debt-ridden Dutchman's sudden death in his early forties, the video added.

So are we any closer to settling a mystery that may never be solved?

In the end, interesting movie, respect for the painstaking work Jenison did, it's a theory that sets my mind flying, but ultimately everything advocated here in Tim's Vermeer may all be....wrong.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2017, 06:46:48 AM by ER » Logged

Das was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich noch merkwürdiger. (What does not kill me makes me stranger.)
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