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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