Even if his own hand’s works were just a few so that one can state that the exhibit was much more an introduction to the XVII Century Nederland’s painting than a chance to get acquainted with Vermeer’s work, nonetheless it was an opportunity for approaching his extraordinary quality of light and colour, and also to try to get through the incredible sense of fascinating mystery that pervades his paintings.
This sense of mystery isn’t a secondary product in his work, not even an unexpected result, but in fact is its true core, it gives itself as the very aim towards which the canvases complex and splendidly articulated architecture tends to. as Daniel Arasse traced and so perfectly reported in his investigation about Vermeer in his book “L’ambition de Vermeer”.
Making use of the typical painting devices of the so called “feinschilders”, as to say a great accuracy in the rendering of different type of surfaces, and a refined, masterly orchestration of light, Vermeer’s object is not to represent the preciosity and refinement of the Dutch bourgeoisie at the time when it was raising so much, neither the elaboration of an image that can be seen as the chiseling of a sort of jewel, having the function to be a mirror image for a chosen number of rich people, in order to give them the opportunity to proudly recognize themself as the best, having the finest taste, as consequence of being able to gather a great fortune, which deeply corresponds to a Protestant way of thinking.
Instead Vermeer’s interest is in offering an image in which, apparently, everything is evident and seems in a clear light, suggesting that nothing can be hidden, nevertheless, the true sense of the composition remains out of sight, or better, elusive.
Vermeer is able to let us sense that to see is not necessary to know, and that the single being in its presence, enriched with all its features, it’s not simply the additive result of all of them, on the contrary it is charged, also because of them, with a magnetic force, and emanates a power that goes far beyond what is possible to trace in its physical appeareance.
This is true not only for the single figures or different elements on the canvas, but also and above all for the whole composition, where the effect of a beauty that goes beyond what is visible is even stronger, since Vermeer pays great attention in presenting figures and objects in a manner so that, not only each of them emanates a vitality connected to their own individuality, because precisely drawn and magnificated by the the light’s power, but also he combines them in an ambiguous relationship, where their simultaneous presence suggests a share contribution to the painting’s meaning but, at the same time, every single element’s fully accomplishment, giving itself in its polysemantic integrity hinders their fitting together in a whole that the viewer could perceive as a unity of sense.
What Vermeer’s paintings strongly arouse in the viewer’s mind, even if they give themselves as if in a suspended atmosphere, is a kind of continuous flux of suggestions towards diverging meanings, that give way to other reflections, that on turn lead to emotions contrasting with each other, leaving us in a state of being puzzled and stunned because unable to contain all these feelings bound in a coherent shape.
Anyway, this is exactly what Vermeer wants us to experience, as to say, that all the skill, the precision, the refinement, the richness of the knowledge we could acquire, whether be of a single thing or of a compound, it won’t be enough to catch that ‘quid’ that life is, that rhythm expressing the essence of the beauty, what art is able to catch and to offer right in the moment when putting on stage the ambiguous, the uncertain, the polymorphous, what is and remains open; that only losing oneself one gets to the essential.
Vermeer is able to let us perceive in a truly vivid way the presence of what exceeds and goes beyond the visible, making the enigma , the mystery as the chief character of his paintings, what one might call the spiritual or the divine, what also surely was in Vermeer’s way of conceiving the matter, if we take into account that he, coming from a protestant family, converted to Catholicism. This conversion doesn’t appear to be just a convinient behaviour to get married with a woman born in a rich catholic family, much more it seems to correspond to a different way to relate to the divine, in the Protestant Church contacted and conveyed mainly through the word, while in the Catholic Church is the image that plays a dominating role in this kind of communication what, of course, for a genial and meditative pèainter like Vermeer was much more suitable.
Thus, we can state that Vermeer’s oeuvre, like the great works of art of the Renaissance, is able to offer us what Vasari expressed when saying, referring to Leonardo’s ‘sfumato’, that” the essence of the ‘bella maniera’ is in the grace that exceeds measure and appears between visible and invisible”, and that, as D.Arasse says, “is that living presence undeniable as much as elusive that painting let us perceive when is able to promise more beyond what the eye catches, and shows even what actually hides”
By our guide Paola Bargigli
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