To accompany their sold-out Vermeer exhibition, the Rijksmuseum have put together an innovative virtual tour of all of Vermeer's paintings which encourages the viewer to get Closer to Johannes Vermeer.
“one of the most thrilling exhibitions ever conceived”
- Laura Cumming, The Observer
In Johannes Vermeer’s View of Delft, one of only two known exterior scenes by the artist, the city lies low against the horizon sandwiched between a wide pale sky and inky river water. Viewed from the riverbank there is a stillness to the scene, early morning before the empty streets fill with people and the water becomes populated by boats.
As Stephen Fry explains in the Rijksmuseum’s virtual tour of their blockbuster Vermeer exhibition “Vermeer took his own unique approach” bringing the city to life with “texture, perspective and light”. View of Delft is just one of the paintings explored in the online tour with the objective, in the words of the Rijksmuseum, of bringing “the magic of Vermeer to life in this online exploration of all of his 37 paintings.”
The online tour divides Vermeer’s work into thirteen chapters with unifying themes. View of Delft appears at the start of the tour placing Vermeer’s work in the context of the city where he lived and worked before moving through works illustrating domestic scenes, figures caught in intimate moments of contemplation and allegories of Vermeer's own changing religious faith.
Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665
The Girl with a Pearl Earring is included in a section titled The Look of Seduction, which groups the work with three other portraits. Fry’s commentary explains that the girl was most likely “dreamed up by Vermeer” and that there was no actual sitter. Vermeer employed fantasy elements of clothing and light, giving him full control over the presentation of his subject. As an interactive note explains, the ultramarine blue of her Turkish headdress was obtained “from the precious stone lapis lazuli, and cost more than gold” but Vermeer used it often in his paintings. Girl with a Pearl Earring is also not alone in her jewellery, Vermeer was fascinated with pearl earrings and necklaces, including them in eighteen of his thirty seven works.
“His work is best known for his tranquil, introverted interior scenes, his unprecedented use of bright, colourful light and his convincing illusionism.”
- Rijksmuseum website
The tour takes the fullest possible advantage of digital technology to give viewers an in-depth view of each of Vermeer’s known paintings. You are invited to zoom in on the high resolution photographs, exploring the hidden corners of each canvas (with expert annotations) before returning to the narration and picking up where you left off.
The Astronomer c. 1668
This digital tour creates a narrative that is complemented by the transition from one painting to the next and the ability to view canvases next to one another, possibly revealing more than would be possible when viewed alone. This is the case of The Astronomer caught in his intimate surroundings as the viewer is encouraged to notice that the same model in the same dress has been used in The Geographer.
The guide utilises the research undertaken between the Rijksmuseum and the Mauritshuis in The Hague and the University of Antwerp. Scanning the paintings using Macro-XRF and RIS technologies offers a tantalising glimpse into Vermeer’s process. In the case of The Little Street, Fry guides us to an alley where a woman can be seen. Initially she was not alone as Vermeer painted an additional woman in front of the side entrance but later removed her to possibly avoid “blocking the view into the alleyway”, the change brought to life before our eyes under the scrutiny of the research that accompanies the exhibition.
View of Houses in Delft, known as 'The Little Street' c. 1658
If there is a weakness to this approach, and it is minor, it lies in the reluctance to challenge Vermeer through the works of his contemporaries, luminous as they are, who also populated the Dutch Golden Age. The Louvre’s, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting exhibition in 2017 took steps to achieve this goal and highlighted Vermeer’s exposure to his contemporaries and how regular access to pictures by his peers inspired his own work, particularly the visions of everyday life captured with such visceral humanity by Rembrandt, an artist whose ability capture the beauty of the human condition remains unsurpassed to this day.
The Rijksmuseum has produced an engaging and immersive virtual opportunity to explore their sold-out exhibition. The opportunity to explore Vermeer’s works together in such detail offers a renewed insight into one of the most celebrated artists of the Dutch Golden Age.
Our three departures of our 'Vermeer and the Dutch Masters' tour are fully booked - please contact the office on 01223 841055 to be added to the waiting list.
View of Delft - public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Girl with a Pearl Earring - public domain via Wikimedia Commons
The Astronomer - public domain via Wikimedia Commons
View of Houses in Delft, known as 'The Little Street' - public domain via the Rijksmuseum