Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Vermeer Exhibition Rome Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

We went to Roma recently to see the exhibit “Vermeer: il secolo d’oro dell’arte olandese” ("Vermeer: the Golden Age of Dutch Art"), although being the multi-taskers that we all are, Vermeer was not the only reason to go to Roma (as hopefully you gathered from my recent blog posts). The exhibit was inside the Quirinale in the central part of the city and is easy to find.

I enjoyed the display. Each painting was hung on its own colored wall. There was a warm feel to the room by the variety of colors chosen and the personal attention given to each work. The artist’s name was written at the top of each wall, except Vermeer’s. His purple walls signified royalty, and like royalty, one need not be given the royal person’s name. One is expected to know these things already.

It is quite possible that I “people watch” as much as I look at the art on the walls. I was enchanted by a father who took his young son to each painting. They spoke at length about each one, longer than most people generally stand in front of a work of art. They are in the foreground of this image I secretly took of one of the Vermeer’s paintings on exhibit. (See the purple wall?) Until someone can explain how my flash-less, noiseless behavior is hurting the art or the viewers of it, I will continue to take images without permission. Most of the time, what I am interested in is not something that I will find on a postcard, or even sometimes in the catalog. And there you have it: another human behavior noted. We all justify our own actions, good or “bad.”

This painting of the girl in the red hat by Johannes Vermeer is the one that is being used on all the publicity. It is quite beautiful with a wonderful use of color and, of course, light. But I had not expected it to be so small, perhaps 8 x 6 inches? It is no surprise that the qualities that I enjoyed about the Vermeers were the soft edges, atmosphere, and the dramatically soft light.

As my friend Roberto pointed out, “The Lute Player” (shown here) is lovely because of its intimacy. The majority of the paintings in this exhibit were by contemporaries or perhaps students or followers of Vermeer. However, most were not to my taste. In general, one could appreciate the skills and technique involved. Painting is, after all, a difficult thing to do well. Besides the occasional poor drawing skills, the edges were all so sharp that I wondered if these artworks were painted in the fast drying egg tempera. When edges are consistently sharp, the viewer can have the impression that the work was a bit formulaic, not unlike a paint-by-number situation, although I am not intending to be so ugly.

I do not know art history as well as I should, I suppose, but it seems to me that the Dutch were interested in portraying their own contemporary Dutch life sooner than many other painters had moved away from mythological or religious concepts. I enjoyed how often dogs were painted into these scenes. I miss my dog Zac a lot and remember well how important these companions are in our daily lives. I was also amused by the artists who wanted us to see dogs peeing, even inside of a church!

The painting that I found myself drawn to again and again was the self-portrait of Carel Fabritius. A student of Rembrandt and tutor to Vermeer, he died at a horribly young age, in the famous Delft Explosion. Carel Fabritius died of his injuries after a gunpowder store exploded. Most of his paintings were lost as well.

This self portrait from 1650 (four years before his death) is beautifully done and we studied it for a long while. But what is up with that hat on the right side? Seriously, had it made sense and been symmetrical with the rest of the form of the hat, it would not be nearly as interesting a shape! How does one invent such joys? Also, as I commented to Roberto, the eyes do not match up as we are taught to do, but they work. However, I do not think the eyes would have worked if the shoulders did not work with them. There is a quality – je ne sais quoi – that is consistent in the body language. It is the illusive thing that we artists want to capture… the essence of the emotion in the gesture. Hmmm….

The exhibit “Vermeer: il secolo d’oro dell’arte olandese” ("Vermeer: the Golden Age of Dutch Art") continues at the Quirinale in central Rome until 20 January 2013.

Here are some lovely large images from the Vermeer exhibit, including a study that Vermeer did from a Florentine artist. It is interesting to see the changes that he made to the original:

You might also enjoy this link:

Buon compleanno, Roberto! Your enthusiasm is contagious and pure.

P.S. These latter images are some of the views I had while inside the Quirinale in Roma, Italy.

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