artist’s work John Vermeer is not as Protestant as once thought: the Dutch Baroque painter, who married a Catholic, was also said to have been inspired by the Jesuit order, who introduced him to the “camera obscura”, an optical device that shaped his unique photorealistic style. A survey published by the Rijksmuseumon the eve of the opening of a “historic” exhibition on Vermeer on February 10, raises the thesis of a possible “total influence” that the Jesuits exerted on the artist, whose work was believed to be essentially Protestant.
Gregor Weberhead of the Fine Arts department of the Rijksmuseum and author of this conclusion, stresses that it is “a theory” because there is no written evidence from the artist himself. Vermeer in the 17th century on its possible Catholic inspiration, but the museum today presents this conclusion with a probability close to certainty. The central element of the study is “(divine) light, which has fundamental significance in Jesuit devotional literature,” said the museum’s director, Dibbits Taco. The Jesuit order viewed the camera obscura as a tool for viewing divine light, and there is even a sermon that explores in detail the artistic and moral aspects of the camera obscura, which Weber speaks of.
The painter (1669-1670), born in the small town of Delft in a Calvinist confession, married Catherine Bolnes, a young Catholic with whom he had 11 children whom he baptized in the faith of his wife, and four others who died before being baptized. The building next to the Vermeer family home was a Jesuit mission with a hidden church large enough for 700 worshipers and a girls’ school where Vermeer’s daughters were baptized and educated. “We can safely assume that Vermeer and his family visited the mission frequently,” the museum notes.
The debate is still open on the question of whether the Vermeer he did convert to Catholicism to please his companion’s family, but the inventory of property drawn up after his death reveals that he aspired to a Catholic domestic life. “On the wall of a room in his house, which he shared with his Catholic wife, his mother-in-law and a large number of children, hung a large painting representing the crucifixion of Christ, as well as another representing holy Véronique with the cloth she used to clean the sweat and blood from the face of Jesus (…) typical of a Catholic prayer room”, explains the museum. The Allegory of the Catholic Faith (1670) shows a room with a large painting of the crucifixion on the wall, and from the ceiling hangs a reflective glass sphere, a Jesuit symbol of faith, so Vermeer was clearly familiar with Jesuit literature.
The conclusion of Weber is that Vermeer “most likely he first came into contact with the Jesuits about the camera obscura” and bases this theory on a drawing he discovered showing the priest in the nearby church, Isaac van der Mye (also a trained artist), which clearly reflects the characteristics of a camera obscura. “Camera-specific lighting effects can also be seen in the paintings of Vermeer, leaving little doubt that he was inspired by the device. Our human eye automatically focuses on whatever we’re looking at, but the image produced by a camera only has one focus, leaving other areas blurry,” he explains. An example of this is the lacemaker (1669-70), an oil on canvas in which all foreground objects are blurred, and is one of the most famous paintings by Vermeer. It is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The artist, whose wife was from a wealthy Catholic family, had climbed a high rung on the social ladder in Delft through her marriage, but ended up dying poor and left his whole family in debt, forcing them to get rid of his job. pay these debts. A team of experts and scientists from the Rijksmuseum, in collaboration with the Mauritshuis in The Hague and the University of Antwerp, are using the latest technologies to study the paintings of Vermeer, an artist whose work of only 37 paintings is well known. Next month, the Amsterdam Art Gallery will exhibit 28 of these paintings, against the background of new insights gained into his work and life.