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Vermeer's Secrets

By Ceci Mestre

On view until January 8, 2023, at the National Gallery of Art, “Vermeer’s Secrets” is an engaging look into how imaging technology and microscopic examination can broaden our understanding of Johannes Vermeer’s work. The exhibition focuses on four of the National Gallery’s pieces by and attributed to Vermeer, as well as two twentieth-century forgeries of his work. Best known for Girl with a Pearl Earring, Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque painter whose work frequently depicted women in intimate scenes of everyday life. Through infrared imaging technology and digital processing software, conservators and scientists have been able to explore compositional changes Vermeer made while painting, the materials he used, and ultimately his unique artistic style.

The exhibition’s unique premise follows the groundbreaking discovery by a research team at the National Gallery that determined Girl with a Flute, one of the works on display, was not painted by Vermeer. Art historians had questioned the identity of the painter of Girl with a Flute’s due to the awkwardly positioned figure and blocky brushstrokes uncharacteristic of Vermeer–known for his delicate surfaces and extraordinary technical ability. This finding, a result of two years of research, also challenges the long-held idea that Vermeer was a solitary genius. Instead this has led art historians to believe he possibly ran a studio in Delft, Netherlands. Even if you have already seen these pieces at the National Gallery, the exhibition’s uniquely scientific perspective adds a new, often unexplored, dimension to viewing Vermeer’s stunning paintings. This exhibition makes scientific principles, usually separate from art, feel relevant. While most casual art enjoyers would not normally notice the difference in technique between Girl with a Flute and Vermeer’s work, “Vermeer’s Secrets” encourages you to think like an art historian and seriously inspect the pieces on display.

Painting: Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring

Ceci Mestre is an undeclared freshman in the College.


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