Tim’s Vermeer

Jan Vermeer has been one of my favourite painters ever since I saw his famous “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” painting that was on display in Toronto in the 1980’s. I’ve been on a quest to see all of his paintings although its been on hiatus for the past ten years. Here is the list of what I’ve seen so far (I have five left). You only need to stand in front of a Vermeer for a few seconds to be mesmerized. I stood in front of “The Music Lesson” in Buckingham Palace for at least an hour. The guard started joking with me because I was so transfixed. This is why I’ve been intrigued by recent suggestions by artist David Hockney and others that some great old masters like Vermeer and van Eyck may have used optical aids like camera obscura. Well, inventor Tim Jenison has taken this theory to another level by attempting to completely recreate Vermeer’s Music Lesson using a set up of mirrors and lenses that he (re)invented. The endeavor is documented in the film Tim’s Vermeer directed by Teller of Penn and Teller fame. Whether you believe the theory or not (I actually do and it doesn’t detract at all for my love of Vermeer), what this film does do so well is to show what dedication, thought, patience, and careful execution can accomplish. I got tired just watching him paint the threads in a Persian rug using his optical tool.


2 thoughts on “Tim’s Vermeer

  1. I fail to understand why so many people are resistant to the idea that Vermeer and other “masters” used available technology. I don’t mind admitting that I use numerical methods instead of trying to analytically solve equations. What’s the big deal?

    You know what convinced me? I’ve been noticing the high proportion of left-handed portrait subjects in old paintings since I was a kid. I was switched from left to right as a young child and I always wondered why being left-handed was so wrong. And, if it was so wrong, why were there so many left-handed men in old paintings?

    If they really were left-handed, where are the left-handed implements they would have used? A survey of artifacts (knives, swords, scissors) from those eras do not show a high proportion of left-handers. That implies that lefties didn’t exist (much). So why are the paintings mirror images?

    This has bugged me since I was a child. When I read Hockney’s book, it was an “aha” moment.


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