Some Stories Behind the Paintings of Jan Vermeer

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Stories Behind Selected
Paintings of Jan Vermeer
and his Contemporaries
The Dawn of the Global World in the 17th Century
Dieter Merkl
[email protected]
Electronic Commerce Group
Institut für Softwaretechnik und Interaktive Systeme
Technische Universität Wien
Favoritenstraße 9-11/188-1 . 1040 Wien . Austria/Europe
Fax: +43 (1) 58801 - 18899
http://www.ec.tuwien.ac.at/~dieter/
View on Delft
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Jan Vermeer
~ 1660
96.5 × 117.5 cm, Oil on canvas
Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis,
The Hague, NL
http://www.mauritshuis.nl/
Notes
• tombstone in the Old Church of Delft
• “View on Delft” was painted from the
south, Vermeer must have had access to a
somewhat elevated position
• the tower of the New Church is shining in
the sun
• following to the left we see the tower of
the Old Church
Notes (2)
• in the left foreground we see a passenger
ship with some people waiting to get on
board
• two ships tied together on the right side of
the picture are used for catching herrings
• herrings have moved southwards into the
North Sea because of a period of global
cooling in the 17th century
• the cooling was also responsible for the
plague epidemics in that time
Officer and a Laughing Girl
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Jan Vermeer
~ 1657
50.5 × 46 cm, Oil on canvas
Frick Collection, New York, USA
http://www.frick.org/
Notes
• in the picture we see a soldier talking to a
girl alone in a room
• on the wall we see a map of the
Netherlands
• the map is oriented towards the west with
land colored blue and water colored brown
• for comparison see a map of the
Netherlands from 1658
Notes (2)
• the soldier is wearing an impressive hat
made from beaver felt
• the fur of beaver was treasured for making
stable and water resistant hats
• beaver population, however, was reduced
due to hunting
• so, alternatively, hats were made from
felted sheep wool, not as stable as beaver
though
Notes (3)
• beaver fur came to Europe from North
America (Canada) - in exchange for knives
• contact with native American population
because of the search for a land passage
to China through America
Girl Reading a Letter by an
Open Window
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Jan Vermeer
~ 1657
83 × 64.5 cm, Oil on canvas
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden,
Germany
http://www.skddresden.de/en/museen/alte_meister.html
A Maid Asleep
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Jan Vermeer
~ 1657
87.6 x 76.5 cm, Oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
USA
http://www.metmuseum.org/
Girl Interrupted in Her Music
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Jan Vermeer
~ 1658
78 x 67 cm, Oil on canvas
Herzog Anton-Ulrich Museum,
Braunschweig, Germany
http://www.museum-braunschweig.de/
Woman With a Pearl
Necklace
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Jan Vermeer
~ 1662
55 x 45 cm, Oil on canvas
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin,
Germany
http://www.smb.museum/
Reading Woman
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Pieter Janssens Elinga (1623 - ~1682)
?
75.5 x 63.5 cm, Oil on canvas
Alte Pinakothek, München, Germany
http://www.pinakothek.de/altepinakothek/
The Lute Player
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Hans Hendrick Maertensz (~1610 - 1670)
1661
52 x 39 cm, Oil on panel
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam,
The Netherlands
http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/
Notes
• we see a woman reading a letter by an
open window
• it is a love letter, x-ray showed that
Vermeer originally had a Cupid on the wall,
which he omitted in the final painting
• it is the same room as in “Officer and a
Laughing Girl” and the woman is wearing
the same dress
• note the mirroring effect of the window
Notes (2)
• in the foreground we see a table
• a Turkish carpet is moved aside, the carpet
was too precious to cover the floor
• on the table we see a bowl with fruit
• the bowl is porcelain made in China
• porcelain appears also in other paintings of
Vermeer and his time
• contemporary “Girl Reading …” made with
Lego pieces
Notes (3)
• porcelain from China was valued in Europe
• much finer than European tableware made
of clay
• Chinese salesmen sold pieces that did not
meet the Chinese standard of beauty
• some pieces were even built for the
European market, e.g. bowls for soup the
were considerably larger than the ones for
the Chinese market
The Geographer
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Jan Vermeer
1668
53 x 46.6 cm, Oil on canvas
Städelsches Kunstinstitut,
Frankfurt am Main, Germany
http://www.staedelmuseum.de/
The Astronomer
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Jan Vermeer
1668
50 x 45 cm, Oil on canvas
Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
http://www.louvre.fr/
The Astronomer
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Gerrit Dou (1613 - 1675)
1650
27 x 29 cm, Oil on panel
Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden,
The Netherlands
http://www.lakenhal.nl/
Notes
• we see a person that is completely absorbed by his
work
• on the table we see a map
• the geographer is holding a divider
• he looks up in a moment of reflection
• other maps are on the left in front of the windows
and on the floor
• on a cupboard we see a globe, made by Hendrik
Hondius
Notes (2)
• the person possibly is Antony van
Leeuwenhoek, a draper, surveyor and
scholar on Delft
• he appears also in “The Astronomer” by
Vermeer
• Antony van Leeuwenhoek acted as
executor when Vermeer’s widow Catharina
announces insolvency
Notes (3)
• the knowledge of the world was constantly
increasing during the 17th century
• geographers were integrating the observations of
sailors to produce ever more exact maps
• many ships wrecked because of incomplete
knowledge of the world
• the latitude was quite easy to determine for the
navigator, the longitude was not until the 18th
century
• as an example a page of the Hondius-Atlas
Woman Holding a Balance
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Jan Vermeer
1665
42.5 x 38 cm, Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.,
USA
http://www.nga.gov/
Woman Weighing Coins
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Pieter de Hooch (~1629 - 1684)
1664
61 x 53 cm, Oil on canvas
Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany
http://www.gemaeldegalerie-berlin.de/
A Man Weighing Gold
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Cornelis de Man (1621 - 1706)
1670
82 x 68 cm, Oil on canvas
Private collection
The Moneylender
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Gerrit Dou (1613 - 1675)
1664
29 x 23 cm, Oil on wood
Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
http://www.louvre.fr/
Notes
• we see a woman holding a balance
• the woman is possibly Vermeer’s wife
Catharina
• the painting was also known as “Woman
weighing pearls”
• there are, however, no pearls to be
weighted on the table
• there are, however, coins
• weighing coins was a popular sujet in that
time
Notes (2)
• maybe Vermeer was inspired by “Woman
weighing coins” by de Hooch
• weighing of coins was a common routine in
the 17th century
• because of usage the soft coins lost weight
• essential for economic transactions was the
price of the metal and not the face value
printed on the coins
• silver was the currency in the 17th century
Notes (3)
• silver came from Japan and South America
• the Netherlands were exporting most of
Japan’s silver, Spain and Portugal that of
South America
• the purchasing power of silver was higher
in Asia than in Europe
• so, most of the silver finally ended in China
The End
• Vermeer and his family were never particularly
wealthy, they made their living through selling his
paintings and his art trade
• when France came to the Netherlands in the war of
1672, the art market came to a standstill with
catastrophic consequences for artists like Vermeer
• after he died on 15 December 1675 he was buried
in the Old Church
• his widow Catharina had to announce insolvency a
little later
Source
• The idea for this presentation is based on the book
Timothy Brook, Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and
the Dawn of the Global World, Profile Books, London, 2008.
Deutsche Übersetzung
Timothy Brook, Vermeers Hut: Das 17. Jahrhundert und der
Beginn der globalen Welt, Verlag Klaus Bittermann, Berlin,
2009.
• The images were taken from
Web Gallery of Art: www.wga.hu
Wikipedia: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Vermeer
Essential Vermeer: www.essentialvermeer.com
Flickr: www.flickr.com
Mapsorama: www.mapsorama.com
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