Download All 36 of Jan Vermeer’s Beautifully Rare Paintings (Most in Brilliant High Resolution)


Imagine the scene: you uncover a painting stored away in the closet of an elderly relative’s home, coated in a blanket of dust so thick you can hardly make out anything but more dust underneath. You slide it out, begin to carefully brush it off, and find two piercing eyes peering out at you. You brush away more dust, you are covered in it, and the image slowly reveals itself: a stunning oil painting of a young woman in a blue headdress and gold tunic, her red lips parted slightly in an enigmatic, over the shoulder glance.

You have just discovered Johannes (or Jan) Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, the so-called “Dutch Mona Lisa.” The year is 1881, and the painting—in poor condition—will sell at auction for two guilders and thirty cents, the equivalent of about twenty-six U.S. dollars in today’s currency.

This mostly fictional anecdote is meant to illustrate just how much Vermeer’s fortunes—or rather those of the owners of his paintings—have risen since the late 19th century. (The painting was indeed sold in 1881—to an army officer and collector—for that tiny sum.)

Though Vermeer himself achieved modest fame during his own lifetime in his hometown of Delft and in The Hague, he died in debt in 1675, and was subsequently forgotten. Since then, of course, he has become one of the most famous European painters in history, with as much name recognition as fellow Dutch stars, Rembrandt and Van Gogh.


With the exception of the rare Biblical or mythological scene and two paintings of gentleman scholars, Vermeer’s few paintings—portraits and tranquil domestic scenes of almost preternatural stillness and poise—depict middle class women and their servants at work and at leisure. The Girl with a Pearl Earring is unusual: not a portrait—though the best-selling novel and award-winning film recreate its fictional referent—but what is called a “tronie,” depicting, writes The Hague’s Mauritshuis museum (who own the painting), “a certain type or character; in this case a girl in exotic dress, wearing an oriental turban and an improbably large pearl in her ear.”

Part of the reason for Vermeer’s obscurity is also the reason for his works’ precious rarity today—his relatively meager output compared to other Dutch painters of the period. “Most Dutch painters turned out hundreds of pictures for a much broader market,” writes the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vermeer produced “perhaps about forty-five (of which thirty-six are known today).” To learn many fascinating details about the composition, technique, history, and influence of those thirty-six paintings, you should visit Essential Vermeer 2.0, a thoroughly comprehensive site with an interactive catalogue, bibliographies, research links, interviews, essays on technique, list of Vermeer events and online resources, and much, much more.


In one of the most recent postings on the site, emeritus professor of architecture Philip Steadman writes an intricately illustrated essay on the most probable location of the rare exterior painting, The Little Street (c.1658), which, the Rijksmuseum tells us, “occupies an exceptional place in Vermeer’s oeuvre.” The Rijksmuseum also allows you to download—with a free account—a very high resolution scan of the painting, as well as others like The Milkmaid (further up), Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, and more. Other galleries, physical and online, offer similarly high res Vermeer downloads, and students and devotees of his work can collect all thirty-six known paintings—digitally—by visiting the links below. As for the real thing… well… you’d need to cough up more than a couple dozen bucks for one these days.

Note: Although most images listed below are in high res, several aren’t, and they tend to appear toward the bottom of the list. If anyone knows where we can find better versions, please drop us a line.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

New Rosa Parks Archive is Now Online: Features 7,500 Manuscripts & 2,500 Photographs, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

It’s telling that the Library of Congress, in digitizing its vast Rosa Parks Collection in close to its entirety, had to resort to a “representative sample” of children’s greeting cards. The lady had no shortage of admirers at the elementary school level.

Parks Kids Card

It’s not surprising that Parks’ refusal to yield her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 resonates with children. The story has the simplicity of a fable, and Parks’ pluck is irresistible. It’s as if she took a slingshot and aimed it right between the eyes of the segregated South.

It’s easy to convey how important her spontaneous act of resistance was to the Civil Rights Movement. However, those few minutes on Bus 2857 cannot be all there is to a woman whose life spanned nine decades (1913-2005). They are just the historical equivalent of a role that an actor cannot escape—great, but ultimately limiting.

The online archive helps to flesh out this iconic figure beyond the confines of a child’s crayoned portrait.

Among the treasures are:

Scanned book covers from her personal library

Parks Gandhi
A business card from her stint as a staffer for Congressman John Conyers of Michigan… (Parks moved to Detroit shortly after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, after both she and her husband were dismissed from their jobs.)

Parks Business Card

Handwritten reminiscences about her rural Alabama childhood…

Parks Childhood

Documentation of speaking engagements and other public appearances…

Parks Baltimore

A handwritten pancake recipe…

Parks Pancakes

Correspondence from a bevy of highly recognizable names

And of course, many, many reflections having to do with the most publicly memorable day in an extremely long life.

Most of the collection can be viewed online and the Library has a teaching aid with suggestions on using these primary sources in the classroom. The video below contains some highlights of the collection, as well as technical information on how its contents have been preserved for future generations.


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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

How the Coen Brothers Put Their Remarkable Stamp on the “Shot Reverse Shot,” the Fundamental Cinematic Technique

Even if you don’t think you know what a shot reverse shot is, you’ve probably seen thousands of them. Tony Zhou, creator of the video essay series Every Frame a Painting, calls it “the most basic thing we have in film grammar. Nearly everything you watch is going to be filled with it.” Why? Because a shot reverse shot brings together, and often oscillates between, two shots: one shot, say of a character, and its reverse shot, taken from a camera turned around to face whatever the character in the first shot faces — usually, another character.

“Most filmmakers use it as quick way to record dialogue,” Zhou says. “Keep the actors still, use multiple cameras, shoot ten takes, and then make decisions in post.” But not Joel and Ethan Coen (the auteurs behind films like FargoThe Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, and A Serious Man).

In the new Every Frame a Painting video essay on their use of the shot reverse shot, Zhou finds what makes a Coen Brothers shot reverse shot a Coen Brothers shot reverse shot, including a tendency to film their dialogue “from inside the space of the conversation,” as well as to work with cinematographer Roger Deakins who—in a piece of interview footage Zhou includes—describes himself as a man with “a very strong feeling about lenses,” and who for dialogue scenes prefers wide-angle lenses rather than long ones.

These preferences and others result in a filmography full of shot reverse shots that feel both “kind of uncomfortable, and kind of funny,” a visual evocation of the Coen Brothers’ frequent use of isolated characters trapped in “situations they really have no control over” — and because of the choice of lens and placement of the camera, “you’re trapped with them.” And that setup gives them a host of options when they want to emphasize or even exaggerate certain qualities of the characters talking or the situation the story has put them in.

It even allows them to show more of the setting in which that story takes place, whether snowy North Dakota, Los Angeles by night, 1980s west Texas, a 1960s Minnesota suburb, or any other of the regions and eras of which they’ve so vividly made use. Add to that the kind of snappy editing rhythm that can make their movies’ dialogue itself so memorable, and you may never feel satisfied by other filmmakers’ shot reverse shots again.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Brian Greene Breaks Down Einstein’s Theory of Gravitational Waves for Stephen Colbert

Earlier this month, we gave you this news bulletin: “scientists announced that they had recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light years away, providing the first real proof that gravitational waves actually exist–something Albert Einstein predicted 100 years ago in his famous paper on general relativity.” This news actually gets much more interesting if you wrap your minds around the whole concept of Gravitational Waves, which is exactly what physicist Brian Greene–featured on this site many times before–set out to do when he appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last week. Watch his visual-rich explanation above, and you’ll start getting a hang of the concepts. Below, for extra credit, you can watch another popularizer of science, Neil deGrasse Tyson, taking his own stab at explaining this phenomenon.

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Watch the Trailer for a “Fully Painted” Van Gogh Film: Features 12 Oil Paintings Per Second by 100+ Painters

Loving Vincent, an homage to Vincent van Gogh, promises to be “the first fully painted feature film in the world.” What does that mean exactly? According to filmmakers Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, every frame of Loving Vincent will be an oil painting on canvas, created with the same techniques Van Gogh used over a century ago. To make these frames, Kobiela and Welchman plan to hire skilled painters and put them through a 3-week intensive training course, teaching each to paint like Van Gogh himself. Or so that’s how they explained things during their Kickstarter campaign several years ago.

Although production is still ongoing, you can see the first fruits of their labors. Above, watch a trailer for Loving Vincent, which features (according to the Youtube blurb accompanying the video) “12 oil paintings per second, all done by over 100 painters trained in the same style.”

If you’re a talented painter and want to contribute to making this original film (you can get an idea of what that looks like below), please visit the Loving Vincent website and scroll down to the recruitment section. The site also includes other material that takes you inside the making of this innovative film.


via Colossal

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Gershwin Plays Gershwin: Hear the Original Recording of Rhapsody in Blue, with the Composer Himself at the Piano (1924)

There are a great many compositions I can never hear again the way I did the first time around. Aaron Copland’s American symphonies, for example—sentimental childhood favorites that once evoked memories of landscapes I knew well—have since become inseparable from advertisements for the meat industry and other disagreeable things. Many other iconic pieces of music from major composers have become woven into the fabric of marketing that blankets our lives, in part because many of those pieces don’t require expensive permissions for their use. Another unforgettable example: George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the jazz concerto from 1924 that I cannot hear without thinking of “spacious seating options and thoughtful inflight amenities,” carefully orchestrated for my comfort and convenience.

But if there is some way to recover the purity of hearing Gershwin’s piece for the first time, no better one exists than the abridged recordings we have here, which represent some of what the very first audiences of Rhapsody in Blue heard in 1924, including Gershwin himself playing the piano.

They also represent exactly what the first listeners of Gershwin’s piece on record heard—the rather thin sound we’ve come to associate with early audio technology, which did not feature any electronics until 1925. Up until then, small classical ensembles, opera singers, and jazz and ragtime bands would stand around a horn, with engineers placing them forward or back depending on their emphasis. (Some jazz recordings with multiple soloists were made on rotating platforms for this purpose). As the musicians played, a vibrating diaphragm moved the stylus, mechanically etching the performance onto the record. At the top of the post, you can hear a modern remaster that removes most of the noise of the original, which is in two parts above and below.

In addition to Gershwin, the recording also features the original clarinetist, Ross Gorman, who played that famous opening glissando at the debut of Rhapsody in Blue on February 12, 1924, at New York’s Aeolian Hall. Gershwin’s piece was the capstone of an event billed as an “Experiment in Modern Music,” organized by Paul Whiteman, who conducted the orchestra onstage and record. The purpose of the event, writes, was to “demonstrate that the relatively new form of music called jazz deserved to be regarded as a serious and sophisticated art form.” It sounds condescending, to say the least, but it brought us Gershwin’s wonderful composition and helped him “transcend the category of popular music” and become a well-regarded composer. New York Times critic Olin Downes wrote of Rhapsody in Blue, with its “outrageous cadenza of the clarinet,” that the “composition shows extraordinary talent, just as it also shows a young composer with aims that go far beyond those of his ilk.”

Certainly those of Gershwin’s “ilk” made their own extraordinary contributions to modern American music, as did Gershwin himself in Broadway show after show. But Gershwin’s interest in bringing jazz to the classical world has been shared by other famous jazz composers, from Duke Ellington to Charles Mingus. The results may not “transcend” more straight-ahead jazz in some hierarchical sense, but they innovate in the way that the very best “experiments in modern music” do, by boldly putting two or more forms in conversation with each other. In Gershwin’s piece, we hear jazz and classical figures argue and come to terms, jostling against each other as they come together—the laughing clarinet, pompous brass, romantic piano—producing the kind of genteel tension that… dammit, I guess is pretty well represented by reclining in an airplane seat, 30,000 feet above the ground….

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

City of Scars: The Impressive Batman Fan Film Made for $27,000 in 21 Days

The system is broken… 

A common enough sentiment in an election year, but in this case, the speaker is Batman, and the proof is the 30-minute labor of love above.

Five years ago, father and son Batman fans Sean and Aaron Schoenke spent $27,000 to make City of Scars, this thrillingly grim entry into the canon.

The Joker may have escaped, but the Schoenkes part ways with a certain Hollywood franchise by confining the cynicism to the story. The prospect of measly box office returns didn’t stop them! They knew from the get go that their take would be zero. DC Comics allows ordinary mortals to use its characters in their own independent projects, provided they don’t attempt to realize a profit.

Predictably dismal box office figures aside, the Schoenkes’ efforts have paid off splendidly in other ways. City of Scars, and its 2011 sequel, Seeds of Arkham, below, have garnered a generous helping of attention and awards (The Wall Street Journal called City of Scars “impressive”), and the talented volunteer cast and crew have benefited from increased visibility. Rather than rewarding himself with a new car or a mansion in Bel Air, Schoenke the Younger broke with tradition, and cast himself as Nightwing.

These days, the Shoenkes’ production company, Bat in the Sun, has legions of fans, just like Batman! Superhero devotees are a notoriously tough crowd, but Bat in the Sun’s dark psychological vision passes muster with them, as does its taste in villains.

Box office totals notwithstanding, the same cannot be said for the stuff the studio churns out. (The system is broken, remember?)

The Schoenkes have channeled their indie success into a franchise of their own, Super Power Beat Down, a monthly web series wherein viewers get to decide which superhero won the staged battle. Watch it below, in preparation for choosing the next victor.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. You don’t need to cos-play to hang with her at the New York Feminist Zinefest this Sunday. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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