Johannes Vermeer, the Dutch Baroque painter (1638-75) was always admired for his photo-like lucidity.
In this documentary Texan inventor Tim Jenison advances the theory that to achieve such a photo-like realism Vermeer must have used the technique of painting from an optic in a dark room (camera obscura) assisted by a mirror to correct the inversion of the image.
Over 5 years he worked on a faithful reproduction of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson. David Hockney is one who supports the theory. It is also well known that artists do not share their secrets so there is no reference to it anywhere.
It’s an intriguing theory and an engaging documentary but there is little evidence to support it.
The best evidence is that he was friendly with pioneer lens maker Anthony von Leuwenhoek who was his executor. Jenison’s theory is supported by the curved nature of the detail on the virginals which could have arisen from a mirror, but we need more.
The visualisation of a painting is an absorbing subject.
Yet Vermeer possibly more than any other artist is known for his luminosity, as in the famous Girl with Pearl Earrings. As with so many painters in the past little is known of his life. His father was an art dealer and he was not in his lifetime a particularly successful artist. His fame only began much later in the 1860s. This is an oddity of art: Botticelli was another who was not at all famous in his lifetime.
Except for one rather contrived episode when Tim broke down in tears after completing the picture, I enjoyed the documentary though not convinced by it. Perhaps the most remarkable feature was how an inventor untrained in art should make such a brilliant reproduction of the Vermeer original.