Master of Light: A Close Look at the Paintings of Johannes Vermeer Narrated by Meryl Streep

We all thrilled to Johannes Ver­meer paint­ing his best-known por­trait as dra­ma­tized in Peter Web­ber’s 2003 film Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring. But for every height­ened, scin­til­lat­ing fea­ture film built around a well-known artist, there exists — or should exist, any­way — a doc­u­men­tary that exam­ines the work itself in greater detail. For such a coun­ter­part to the afore­men­tioned Col­in Firth/Scarlett Johans­son vehi­cle, I nom­i­nate Joe Krako­ra’s 2001 Ver­meer: Mas­ter of Light, a rich look at the paint­ings of the well-known visu­al chron­i­cler of sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry mid­dle-class Dutch life, whose use of col­or could reach pret­ty for­mi­da­ble heights of scin­til­la­tion itself. Pro­vid­ing its nar­ra­tion, we have a cer­tain Meryl Streep.


Click each image for a larg­er ver­sion

Streep­’s words and those of the doc­u­men­tary’s expert inter­vie­wees must of neces­si­ty focus on Ver­meer’s actu­al paint­ings, since we know lit­tle of the painter’s life. And we don’t even have very many paint­ings to talk about: liv­ing from 1632 to 1672, Ver­meer turned out few­er than 40 can­vas­es. But what can­vas­es: Mas­ter of Light goes into detail on his par­tic­u­lar mas­tery not only of light and col­or, but of tex­tures, per­spec­tives, and seem­ing­ly minor but nonethe­less painstak­ing touch­es. We do, how­ev­er, offer a view­ing tip: unless you par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy shots of light through win­dows, you may want to begin the video at 5:22 or so. The analy­sis of Ver­meer takes its time com­ing, but when it begins, it offers a wealth of sur­pris­ing detail — just as do the paint­ings them­selves. But don’t believe me; find out for your­self by view­ing fif­teen of them up close at the Google Art Project, includ­ing Lady at the Vir­ginal with a Gen­tle­man just above, or, below, The Love Let­ter.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Rijksmu­se­um Puts 125,000 Dutch Mas­ter­pieces Online, and Lets You Remix Its Art

Flash­mob Recre­ates Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” in a Dutch Shop­ping Mall

The Nation­al Gallery Makes 25,000 Images of Art­work Freely Avail­able Online

Ver­meer with a BiC

Google “Art Project” Brings Great Paint­ings & Muse­ums to You

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (4)
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  • Peter Newby says:

    Check out the poet­ry
    col­lec­tion, ‘Ver­meer’s Cor­ner’ by Gra­ham Burchell. One poem for each of Ver­meer’s thir­ty five known paint­ings. It’s an extra­or­di­nary beau­ti­ful­ly col­lec­tion and insight into Ver­meer’s intent.

  • joseph also ehebame says:

    Love­ly I like this I we like to see this work of art every nice one

  • joseph also ehebame says:

    I will like to see dis work of art so lov­ly am an artist from naige­ria a sculp­ture artist

  • Phil Gries says:

    There was a delib­er­ate salient rea­son for open­ing the doc­u­men­tary Ver­meer: Mas­ter of Light with a five minute visu­al mon­tage, sans nar­ra­tion or dia­log. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Col­in, you miss the enhance­ment of mood and rel­e­vance which is about to be explored. Vermeer’s mas­ter­ful sen­si­tive “eye” relat­ed to how nat­ur­al light embod­ies itself…an obser­va­tion­al cap­tur­ing of such source ele­ment (LIGHT) relat­ed to his sim­ple ide­al­ism and appre­ci­a­tion of sim­ple moments and acts experienced…visualized and repli­cat­ed, height­en by light and shad­ow by a peer­less obser­va­tion­al mas­ter of art.
    Phil Gries — Direc­tor of Pho­tog­ra­phy.

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