Delft. Famous for its Delft’s blue porcelain and Vermeer. So when I visited Delft last weekend, I naturally went to the Vermeer Center. And yes, the name of the museum already suggests it’s not the house of Vermeer, unfortunately. The center is located about 100 metres from the place Vermeer’s house was located. Past tense; the house is razed, therefore tourists have to visit a center instead of a Vermeer’s house. But, to compensate the loss, they chose a very good location for the center, which is located in the building of the St. Luke’s guild. (see picture above) This used to be the guild for Delft’s artists and artisans. In his time, Vermeer was head of this guild.
Before I entered the Vermeer Center, I knew a bit about Vermeer. For instance, I knew that the 37 paintings of Vermeer are divided between Europe and America. 7 of them are in the Netherlands, but none of them is in Delft. So what we were about to see were reproductions of Vermeer’s paintings. I was curious if observing prints would satisfy me. I was curious how the prints were presented and what other information and objects were shown, for all I know about Vermeer is that there is little to know.
Vermeer is a mystery man, people nowadays know little about his life. We know where he lived, we know about his paintings, we know he got 15 children, of which 4 died, but we don’t know about his mentor, for example. This question got it’s own special place in the museum. In the picture above you can see the possible mentors of Vermeer. But he also could have had no mentor at all, perhaps he was a self-taught-man.
The Vermeer Center displays all of the 37 paintings in print, in actual size. It was nice to see them all brought together in one room, but I also have a book in which all of the paintings are collected, and I actually did not prefer these prints over the book. So what did the museum offer, next to the prints? Well; no more then the information I was able to read in the book I just mentioned, but a book takes a lot more time to go through than a museum, so I guess the museum basically was a time-saver, compared to the book. It gave information on 17th century Delft, on Vermeer’s paintings, on Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, (Vermeer’s curator,) on Vermeer’s techniques and hidden messages.
The center said Vermeer used symbolism in his paintings. On most of the paintings of Vermeer are women. When they are working, the message is clear; working is a virtue. But when they aren’t, most of the time Vermeer painted symbols next to the not-working women to signify vice. Most of the time this vice was a forbidden love, referred to by music instruments, wine or letters.
They also said that Vermeer had studied the effects of lights extremely well, and therefore he is to be called the master of light. One example, and in my opinion the best example, are the highlights. If you look close to the paintings of Vermeer, he used an innumerable amount of white dots to highlight (and revive) objects in his paintings. The best example is Vermeers view of Delft; the buildings and the boat is loaded with white dots, and it works; it completes the painting.
The fact that Vermeer produced so little paintings, makes us think he spent a long time thinking on the techniques, perspective, and symbolism in his paintings. But still, we do know so little about the guy. I wonder; perhaps he just copied his environment with a rare precision, and just painted what he saw, without thinking too much about it. Maybe he just liked what he saw and didn’t do anything to manipulate the light,..
But maybe he did, and if he did, he just could be the master of light indeed.