In my development as an artist, it’s taken me a long time to get over being intimidated by the great masters. Over the years, I’ve caught Raphael and Michelangelo making mistakes in proportion, Prud’hon cheating to fit a figure on a sheet of paper, even Rembrandt missing the mark. I eventually realized that the masters may have been great, but they were still only human.
I’m not so sure about Vermeer.
There is something extraordinary about Vermeer’s work that lifts his skills out of the realm of even great art into some weird kind of other-worldly ability to capture and crystalize a moment in time. Like a human holography camera, he seems to grab a sheet of the light coming from his subjects, filter it through his remarkable eye, hold it still for a few hundred years and then release it again when you’re standing in front of his paintings.
It’s only fitting that there be an extraordinary web site devoted to this extraordinary artist and Essential Vermeer is just that. The site is sweepingly comprehensive, exhaustively researched and endlessly fascinating. It covers the artist’s life, work, technique, clients, subjects, influences and much more. I don’t have room here to describe all of the nifty features of this 400 page(!) site. I wish there was a site like this for all the great masters.
The paintings are arranged in a number of ways, the most straightforward is the Complete Catalog.
Just remember that, as amazing as they can look in reproductions, you haven’t seen a Vermeer until you stand in front of the real thing. If you have a chance, try to see some of them in person. There are 12 in the US, mostly in New York and DC. The site includes a terrific feature on the geographical distribution of Vermeer’s paintings.