Simply Vermeer

Anastasia Isaeva
"The Sphinx of Delft" — that’s what they call the artist due to his mysterious life. How did Vermeer, a father of eleven, manage to create such serene masterpieces? Why didn’t he have any students? And what secrets do his paintings hold?

The Amsterdam exhibition features 27 of his 38 known works (he typically took about a year to complete 2-3 pieces). Spread across seven rooms and framed by velvet curtains, these paintings draw viewers in with their simple beauty and incredible harmony.

This is a unique event, as it’s the first time curators have managed to gather most of his surviving works. The last significant collection was in 1996 at the Mauritshuis gallery in The Hague, where 20 pieces were displayed. Unfortunately, "Girl with a Pearl Earring" returned to The Hague a few days ago. I have a special connection to this piece. In the floral art gallery I run with my sister, we have a bouquet inspired by it (check it out if you can). Have you heard the recent debate about the "pearl" earring not being a pearl at all? Astronomer Vincent Icke argued that pearls of such size were never documented, and they don’t reflect light as depicted in the painting. The material reminded him of tin.

However, the exhibition curator insists it’s a "glass pearl" made by Venetian glassmakers. The Art Newspaper fittingly titled their article: "Girl with a Glass Trinket?"

For me, "The Milkmaid" is the centerpiece of the exhibition. In most of his works, Vermeer uses an incredible azure paint made from lazurite pigment. Many have heard that objects painted over by the artist were discovered beneath the layers of paint. Behind the serene woman’s head, there was a painted-over wooden jug holder, and in the lower right corner, a basket woven from willow twigs. According to an inventory made shortly after Vermeer’s death, these items were used in his household.

A visit to the Rijksmuseum shouldn’t be postponed, not only for Vermeer’s temporary exhibition (the permanent collection includes four of his paintings) but also for Rembrandt’s "The Night Watch," which is being restored in real-time — a mysterious masterpiece in every sense.