Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Vermeer you (probably) don't know

The entire known work of Johannes Vermeer fits on one not-too-long screen on the front page of the website that catalogs his work. Experts generally agree that 34 paintings are his, and there are a couple more possibilities.

Which makes Bob Raczka's in-depth look at seven of them in The Vermeer Interviews a pretty thorough introduction. If you're not familiar with anything beyond the uber-famous Girl With a Pearl Earring, add this book to your list.

Raczka doesn't talk about the paintings as much as he talks to them, and to their subjects. The book is organized as a series of interviews with the milkmaid, the music student, the geographer, and their compatriots.

The interviews bring out technical details about the paintings - the use of light and dark, the possibility that Vermeer used a camera obscura, the fact that scholars have identified the map and globe featured in The Geographer - and speculate on what, precisely, is depicted. (Is Anton van Leewenhoek the model for some of the paintings? Does finding that possibility intriguing mark me as a nerd once again?)

(YA tie-in: The Concert, a Vermeer painting not included in the book, was one of the works taken in the 1990 Gardner heist. So if you're looking for a non-fiction book to pick up after Heist Society has stoked your interest in the history of art theft, try this one.)

The Vermeer Interviews was a Cybils MG/YA non-fiction nominee. The review copy was provided by the publisher.


NatalieSap said...

Although my interests in Vermeer are limited to the middle grade mystery Chasing Vermeer, which is excellent by the way, I wanted to stop by and say hello! I'm working on the Comment Challenge too and love the way you have yours organized on your sidebar. Oh, and your "just a list" turned me onto some more books I want to read - thanks!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

I've loved Vermeer's work for many years, and look forward to reading and digesting The Vermeer Interviews...Thanks for this enticing review!

Sarah Rettger said...

Thanks for dropping in, Natalie! The comment challenge is great for discovering new blogs - although not as great for the ever-expanding contents of Google Reader.

Carol, glad it appeals to you!

Bill said...

My connection to Vermeer is also from the kid mystery which makes very cool connections to the artist's works.

Sarah Rettger said...

I still haven't read Chasing Vermeer, or any of Blue Balliett's books. After seeing it pop up twice in the comments, I may have to do something about that.

a. fortis said...

The Blue Balliett books are a lot of fun! I recommend them--good MG mystery with an artistic flair.

Re: The Vermeer Interviews, I've heard interesting things about it. I love Vermeer! His paintings themselves are not very large, either, considering the level of detail. Gorgeous, though.

Lee Wind said...

what a cool concept for a book! Neat!
thanks for sharing,

Sarah Rettger said...

Thanks for stopping by, Lee and Sarah!

vanessa said...

I love vermeer--I am eager to find this book! I like sharing great art with my 3 year old and this website would be a great resource--thanks!

Sarah Rettger said...

Vanessa, The Essential Vermeer site is a gem.

When we talk about transmedia storytelling and the potential new forms that digital books can take, that site should be one example.