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Monthly Masters DiscussionMonthly Masters' Discussion: Nov 2017 - Vermeer's Girl With A Pearl Earring

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minniev
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Monthly Masters' Discussion: Nov 2017 - Vermeer's Girl With A Pearl Earring

Post by minniev » Wed Nov 01, 2017 2:23 pm

This month’s Master’s Discussion will tackle a complex subject from several different angles with a wide variety of resource materials. Pursue those you find interesting, and take part in whatever route of discussion you prefer, whether personal response to the art of this image or deeper study of the technical aspects of the artist’s work.

Girl With A Pearl Earring is one of 36 surviving paintings of Johannes Vermeer, a Dutch Master who painted in the town of Delft in the mid-1600’s. He was only mildly successful as an artist in his time, sinking into obscurity after his death. But interest in his work, with its almost photographic detail, surged in the 1800’s and remains strong today. This painting is a “tronie”, an image of a human head with no background or context, and not intended to be a portrait. Yet, while one of his simplest paintings, it is considered his masterpiece, a sort of Dutch Mona Lisa. It is generally accepted that Vermeer made use of a camera obscura, an early precursor of the photographic camera, which projected an image onto a background and served as a guide for a painter. Radiographic analysis of Girl With A Pearl Earring appears to confirm that camera obscura was used in its creation. Certainly the use of light in this and in many of his other paintings has a photographic “feel” to it.

The support materials on this one are fascinating if you consider that Vermeer was possibly the father of photography. Consider some further study down any subtopic that interests you. There has been much speculation about the identity of the girl in the portrait: was it a model? a maid? a lover? a daughter? Tracy Chevalier wrote a novel by the same name, which was made into a successful movie. The whole camera obscura question is also fascinating. Did Vermeer learn this from his best friend Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, an early maker of lenses who discovered the existence of microbes? How much of Vermeer's art was a result of his skill at painting and how much was a result of his skillful use of an early form of camera? Tim Jenson produced a documentary purporting to solve this mystery and prove Vermeer’s use of mechanical help. He suggests that some of Vermeer’s work shows evidence of depth of field and chromatic aberration, conditions that are lens-induced but not a characteristic of human vision.

Regardless of or because of these mysteries, Girl With A Pearl Earring is a fascinating art work by an acknowledged Master. As you study it, consider some of these questions:
1. Does the image have impact? Why or why not? Would you want it on your wall?
2. What do you think about the dark featureless background? Does this add or detract from the image?
3. What do you think of the model’s pose? Of the artist’s treatment of light? Handling of detail?
4. If you have read any of the linked materials on Vermeer’s suspected use of a camera obscura, what is your opinion in terms of this image? What hints of photography do YOU see in this painting or others of Vermeer's surviving works? What is your opinion about Vermeer’s influence on photography, or conversely, the influence of Vermeer's "photography" on his art? Do you feel the use of the camera obscura diminishes Vermeer’s stature as a traditional artist? Why or why not? Are there parallels in such a discussion in photography today?
5. Have you taken photographs that show influences from Vermeer’s style? Or have you seen photographs by modern portraitists in which you see influences? If so, please post or link an example and explain, for further discussion.

Resources For Study
Basic analysis https://www.artble.com/artists/johannes ... rl_earring
General introduction https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_with_a_Pearl_Earring
Massive resource with many links on Vermeer http://www.girl-with-a-pearl-earring.info
Vermeer and Camera Obscura http://www.girl-with-a-pearl-earring.in ... bscura.htm and http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/em ... a_01.shtml
A book about Vermeer’s camera http://www.vermeerscamera.co.uk/home.htm
Van leeuwenhoek https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/book ... .html?_r=0
Tim’s Vermeer movie https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim%27s_Vermeer and https://boingboing.net/2014/06/10/verme ... ht-be.html
The novel http://www.tchevalier.com/gwape/story/ and the movie based on it https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_with ... ring_(film)
Attachments
Meisje_met_de_parel.jpg
fair use https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_with_a_Pearl_Earring#/media/File:Meisje_met_de_parel.jpg
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Charles Haacker
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Post by Charles Haacker » Wed Nov 01, 2017 5:02 pm

I have always, always loved this painting! But I had no idea until now that it was most probably made with the aid of a camera obscura! Thanks so much for that, Min!

As for impact, the reason I've always loved it is that it is a stop-me-in-my-tracks picture no matter where I see it. The girl is simply lovely, but also so very lifelike. Her gaze and slightly parted lips (with lip gloss yet) make me feel as if she is about to say something and I can't wait to hear her voice. There is nothing to distract from her features and gaze as the background has gone completely dark with no detail. The light is exquisite, Rembrandt in short position, almost certainly a large north-facing window. As the eye wanders in a slow arc one notices the detailed treatment especially of the drapery and folds in the turban and the accordian stitching in the shoulder of her robe, but there is nothing to distract or prevent your gaze from going back to her enormous eyes and calm demeanor.

I think it's fairly well known that artists made use of the camera obscura, especially starting right around this period with the development of lenses replacing the pinhole and allowing for a much brighter projection. Depiction of perspective had always appeared to be a tough nut for artists, plus there were conventions that made it more difficult. The Egyptians would make important people much larger and the hoi polloi smaller, not that they were further away but were literally the "little people." The accidental discovery of the principle of the camera obscura made it easier for artists to see the "trick" of depicting perspective, the vanishing point and so on. I'm quite certain that it wasn't long before artists making use of the camera wished they could press a button and capture the image before it vanished, but it was another three centuries or so before someone figured out how to do it. Still, a modern painter or sketch artist could easily make and use one (although I don't think it's done much).
What hints of photography do YOU see in this painting...?
Hereis a link to hundreds of modern portrait headshots. The typical modern portrait headshot is tight on the head and shoulders with a non-distracting background. I'm confident that Vermeer would be perfectly comfortable with these. The Dutch even had a word for it: tronie. Right at the top of that linked page is this paean to Vermeer! 'Nuff said?
boston-actor-headshot-photographer-SMALL.jpg
boston-actor-headshot-photographer-SMALL.jpg (19.77 KiB) Viewed 879 times
Friends call me Chuck. :photo: This link takes you to my Flickr albums. Please click on any album to scroll through it.
(I prefer to present pictures in albums because I can put them in specific order.)

All the great photographers use cameras! No, really. :|

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Post by minniev » Thu Nov 02, 2017 2:03 am

Charles Haacker wrote:I have always, always loved this painting! But I had no idea until now that it was most probably made with the aid of a camera obscura! Thanks so much for that, Min!


And thank you Chuck for jumping into the frying pan first. I hope others will take the chance, this is a fascinating set of stories with something or everyone - history, art, science, romance novel, a couple of movies...

A great "channeling Vermeer" portrait. I've got some in mind to post, but I'll wait a bit and see if we can coax anyone else in. And you make an excellent point about perspective, which had flummoxed artists for centuries.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by Psjunkie » Thu Nov 02, 2017 2:28 am

Bit of a different angle but you take what you can get...
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Post by minniev » Thu Nov 02, 2017 3:23 pm

Psjunkie wrote:Bit of a different angle but you take what you can get...

Excellent example, Frank. Thank you!
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by Matt Quinn » Wed Nov 08, 2017 1:39 am

Minnie, Great coincidence : the National Gallery of Art in DC is putting on a show, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, now through January 21. Did they consult with you beforehand? Matt
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"...approach the light as opposed to the subject." Stan Godwin

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Post by minniev » Wed Nov 08, 2017 4:43 am

Matt Quinn wrote:Minnie, Great coincidence : the National Gallery of Art in DC is putting on a show, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, now through January 21. Did they consult with you beforehand? Matt

No but I'd love to see it. I had the pleasure of visiting Delft 3 years ago, and the first place I went was Vermeer's Guild House, where he did some of his painting, and which serves as a museum now. I've seen a few Vermeers different places and they are full of exquisite detail that is reminiscent of photography.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by St3v3M » Wed Nov 08, 2017 6:56 am

Ever since I saw part of the Girl with a Pearl Earring with Scarlet I've been intrigued by this image and the fascination it holds. I think like most people I find it striking for its power and it's presence, but like Charles said it's those innocent eyes and that open mouth, about to say something that really grabs me. I'm sure the image was staged as I suspect most were then, but it feels as if we've come across her just as someone has called her name and she's looking back ready to say something, but what? Technically there's a strong use of color that holds it all together, the black holds the moment, but it's the blue and the gold that sell it as one. Imagine The Afgan Girl without the red covering to compliment those green eyes, it's the same here, and of course like Minnie said in the past a dash of red. Beyond the technicals, it's a damn good image, the sort of thing that's in the iconic class of The Mona Lisa and others like it.

I learned a new word, Tronie, and what it means. I had no idea there was a separate word for this and wonder still why it's not considered a portrait, or headshot as we know it today. I also learned that Vermeer was possibly the father of photography. I'll read the supporting material and will find even more to learn I suspect!

I rarely photograph people so I don't have an image to offer, but maybe a story and a little about my past will make up for it.

My ex was a troubled artist and during our time together we bought a crude camera obscura. It was a plastic thing, a projector really where you'd place the thing you wanted to copy on one end and could trace it on the other. I asked rather innocently one day and found out the intention was to get the general outline then let the artist within do her thing. It was interesting watching her work when she'd let me and I always encouraged her work, but something just wasn't there. I'm not even sure why I did it now, but I remember having the thought she would do better work if she could see the subject so I took an old canvas frame, drilled even spaces and made a gridline out of it with black thread. It was about two foot by two foot so a little unwieldy for some projects but gave her a 'window' to look through with gridlines she could superimpose onto her canvas. There was no lens, but in some ways, I think the frame was more a camera obscura than the thing we bought for that purpose. In no way does this compare to Vermeer's use of the technology but I learned a lot about seeing from that time and am grateful for it.

Another artist in my life left me with The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity
- or 30 pages in a PDF The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

I'll return when I learn more and have something more enlightening to say. I've learned so much already it will be fun to learn more. Thank you for this! S-
"Take photographs, leave footprints, steal hearts"

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Post by St3v3M » Wed Nov 08, 2017 7:19 am

Matt Quinn wrote:Minnie, Great coincidence : the National Gallery of Art in DC is putting on a show, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, now through January 21. Did they consult with you beforehand? Matt

Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry
"Take photographs, leave footprints, steal hearts"

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Post by St3v3M » Wed Nov 08, 2017 7:26 am

"Take photographs, leave footprints, steal hearts"

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