Tim's Vermeer

What if the 17th century Dutch master painter Johannes Vermeer, renowned as one of the greatest artists in the world, was actually a fraud who was perhaps not an artist at all but a very talented tinkerer and manipulator of light?

In his documentary Tim's Vermeer, Tim Jenison has taken this extraordinary idea - that’s been kept secret for 350 years - and put his extensive talents as an inventor and technologist to convincing use in order to prove that hypothesis. 

It’s not exactly a secret among art historians that Vermeer may have used optical tools popular at the time to create his near photographic quality paintings. But Jenison had the tools and the know-how, not to mention the dedication, to set out on an eight year journey to put this argument to rest. He found compelling evidence that, in fact, Vermeer did use primitive types of devices called a Camera Obscura to aid him in creating his masterpieces.

The film is a chronicle of Jenison's painstaking efforts to make the most compelling case to prove Vermeer's use of optical tools by attempting to recreate one of his paintings using the exact same techniques and materials that would have been used and were readily available to artists in Holland at that time. 

Jenison’s astonishing revelations, while on this obsessive adventure, makes for a fascinating documentary about not only techniques used by 17th century artists but also little known historical and scientific facts and details about painting, how our eyes see light, optics and the art world in general.

Tim's Vermeer was produced and directed by the magician duo Penn and Teller, who have a long-standing friendship with Jenison. I was just as drawn into the mystery as Tim was, as he tries to answer intriguing questions about how this artist worked and the conditions in which he created his masterpieces.

The only real evidence that exists today is the paintings themselves, which are actually documents revealing the effects of optical materials in very subtle ways. The way that Jenison discovers these clues is by actually recreating one of Vermeer’s paintings using those very same optical techniques. But he goes much further than that, making and mixing the paint from scratch using the same tools and materials that were used Vermeer's time.

The results are truly astonishing, especially when you realize that Tim Jenison is not a painter or an artist. This documentary has to be seen to be believed and you will be amazed. It puts the artist Vermeer and his work in a whole new light and should force the art world and historians to reexamine these paintings.

If it turns out to be true, which seems to be very much the case, Vermeer was practically painting a projected image in front of him using mirrors and lenses, so that it was possible to match light and color with striking precision. Once you know the technique, this can be achieved by anyone with enough patience and the inclination. Vermeer's paintings can be seen not only as art, but as precursors to the photograph.

Whether or not you are convinced by Tim Jenison's intriguing theories, this documentary will open viewer’s eyes to the stunning creations of two people living hundreds of years apart, who both dedicated their lives to give us the truest vision of the world around them. 



Paul Graham said...

Tim'sVermeer is an eye opener and entirely plausible. Personally I don't accept the belief that this detracts from him in any way as a great artist in that he conceived something of enduring appeal. As you know many of the works of Great Masters were conceived by them but executed by artisans and I really see no qualitative difference. The fact that others can duplicate them today does not detract, for me at least, from the creativity of the original concepts

JP said...

Paul I do agree with you that these techniques shouldn't detract from the artistic vision and compositions Vermeer conceived.

But Tim Jenison didn't just duplicate the paintings of Vermeer, he recreated and built the entire room and everything in it with the exact same lighting so that he could then paint as Vermeer would have done from real objects.

Bearz said...

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