Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence
While I am looking at a Vermeer it is as if the world has stopped and all of the normal daily distractions have been suspended. Before me is calm, clarity and harmony, even if I’m standing in a room crammed with people fiddling with their audio guides. It is miraculous that Vermeer was able to create such illusions, surrounded as he was by the bustle and imperfections and stresses of living in 17th Century Europe.
“Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence” at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge included four works by Vermeer himself, that’s more than 10% of all his surviving works. These interiors were complemented by a number of paintings by Pieter de Hooch who takes us outdoors into the backyards of 17th Century Holland.
The Fitzwilliam introduction to the exhibition says:
“At its heart is Vermeer’s extraordinary painting The Lacemaker (c.1669-70) – one of the Musée du Louvre’s most famous works – rarely seen outside Paris and now on loan to the UK for the first time.
The painting is complemented by three key works by Vermeer representing the pinnacle of his mature career, A lady at the virginals with a gentleman ‘The Music Lesson’ (c.1662-5) on loan from The Royal Collection; A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal (c.1670) from the National Gallery, London; and Young Woman Seated at a Virginal (private collection, New York).
Joining these are 28 masterpieces of genre painting from the Dutch ‘Golden Age’ evoking the private realms inhabited almost exclusively by women who we glimpse engaged in domestic tasks, at their toilette or immersed in pleasurable pastimes such as music making, reading or writing letters.”
For me the key axis that the show revolves around are the interiors of Vermeer and the glimpses of the world outside the home by Van Hooch, while the rest of the paintings play a supporting role.
It has been confirmed that over 120,000 visited the show, a record for the Fitzwilliam. We avoided having to queue by waiting until about 5pm when it was much quieter.
As a footnote I was reading a book about colour theory and came across the following:
“Art as founded upon the intellectual school of the ancient Greeks, became grand, scientific, and severe in the practice of Michael Angelo, and Leonardo da Vinci; graceful, beautiful and expressive in Raphael, Correggio, Dominichino, and Guido; and, aiming at sensible perfection, it attained harmony of colouring and effect in the works of Titian and Tintoret [sic]; but it sunk into grossness and sensuality while perfecting itself materially among the Flemish and Dutch.”
I tried to find out if the exhibition is going on to other venues but as far as I could see, it isn’t, so for anyone who was unable to see the show there is a book by Marjorie E. Wiseman, Wayne E. Franits and H. Perry Chapman entitled “Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence” ISBN 9780300178999.
Rubisouth 18 January 2012