Virtual Vermeer

I spent a lot of 2018 being angry: most of you know why – the ‘B’ word. While our rage motivated us to take action and become more politically engaged than we’ve ever been in our lives, we were also probably largely impotent to effect change.

So in 2019, I at least am going to look after myself a bit more. How about spending a bit of time with Vermeer, that supreme documenter of everyday life among the Dutch merchant classes of the seventeenth century? He takes us into comfortable homes, and shows us simple moments of domestic life: a woman playing the lute, a servant patiently pouring milk. He shows their faces, expressive and full of inner light and makes us wonder about them and their thoughts.  He makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Maid pouring milk: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

I’m revisiting Vermeer and his work thanks to an exhibition curated by the Mauritshuis.  No, I’ve not been to den Haag to visit this museum since about 1970.  But in a pioneering project with Google, it has brought together every surviving Vermeer painting for the first time and exhibited them on-line.

Here, I’ve been enjoying looking again at all his work.  I can examine any individual work in great detail, or consider recurrent themes that Vermeer returns to: paintings within the painting: musical instruments; maps…. I can read articles about his technique, his influence on pop art…. I can lose myself for as long as I wish in his world, and return as often as I want to.

Sadly, neither my computer nor my phone are as state-of-the-art as they could be to get the most out of all the features offered.  But I’m happy enough.  While I’m in the company of a young lady playing her virginal, observing a tired maid snatching a quiet moment’s sleep, a young woman making lace, or a reflective astronomer  I’m not engaged in twenty-first century life for a while.

And that’s all to the good.  Happy New Year!

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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