It doesn’t take particularly long to be impressed by the paintings of Johannes Vermeer even today, three and a half centuries after he painted him. But an understanding of how he achieved the particular visual effects that still inspire appreciation around the world comes only after spending a bit more time with his work, ideally in the company of a more knowledgeable viewer. Starting in the spring of this year, you’ll be able to spend time with nearly all of that work — no fewer than 25 of the 34 paintings unambiguously attributed to him — at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. “With loans from all over the world,” says the Rijksmuseum’s site, “this promises to be the largest Vermeer exhibition ever.”
“The Rijksmuseum’s exhibition in 2023 will include masterpieces such as The Girl with a Pearl Earring (Mauritshuis, The Hague), The Geographer (Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main), Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid (The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) and Woman Holding a Balance (The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC).”
The lineup also includes “the newly restored Girl Reading a Letter at the Open Window from the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden” as well as the Rijksmuseum’s Milkmaid and The Little Street. Both of those last paintings figure prominently in Closer to Johannes Vermeer, a new online tour of all the artist’s famous paintings.
Here on Open Culture, we’ve previously featured a variety of online attractions offered by the Rijksmuseum, an institution eager to bring the world of the Dutch masters online. As a virtual tour guide for Closer to Johannes Vermeer it has enlisted Stephen Fry, that well-known enthusiast of not just classical art but also high technology. He provides context for the paintings and points out elements within them that we may never have noticed, noting that Vermeer achieved the effects he did by carefully putting things into his compositions, but also by even more carefully taking things out. It couldn’t have been easy for him to remove the people and objects he’d rendered with such painstaking realism, using subtle techniques to enrich their visual impact. But he’d dedicated himself to the “search for stillness,” as Fry calls it, and an artistic calling like that demands the occasional sacrifice. Enter Stephen Fry’s virtual tour here.
If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.
If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.