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.