My photographic re-creation of a Johannes Vermeer painting
written and photographed by Tjalling Halbertsma
A short background note on this painting
Why did I make this image, which is just a copy of someones else his art? Well when I was at College one of my co students was a girl who immediately reminded me of this painting of Vermeer. Almost 2 years later I had an assignment to do which was recreating a classical painting. I knew what I was about to do. When finally I had Amanda (my classmate) in front of me, and dressed her in look a like clothes I suddenly was driven by an energy that I hadn't felt before in my photography. Everything fell into place, without any effort my camera and light position was spot on, the crew just did what it needed to do, bystanders came to help or expressed their surprise, the specific look she gave me was splendid and the final result was better than I expected. It was one of those rare moments that I suddenly found a fragment of my own style that I did not know yet. Looking further from that moment I have created a personal style that I feel excited about (look at my portrait section on this site). Funny that this classical painting assignment just triggered me to unlock something of myself.
Here is more about 17th Century paintings...
17th century Dutch paintings are famous in the world of art. Some of the greatest artists have emerged from this specific era. How could this tiny Republic of the Seven United Netherlands become the birthplace for such a new wave of art?
The emerging of the Golden Age, as the 17th century of the Netherlands became known, came at a hard fought price. Before the 1600s, the Dutch citizens had had an exhausting war with the Spanish invaders, that lasted eighty years. The end of the war in 1568 marked the beginning of a new time. The Dutch became politically aware and religiously tolerant. They seemed to have gained strength and self worth from their sufferings, and this may have caused the upraise of a more liberal way of believing, a new way of thinking, trading, followed by changes in art and artisanal work.
The Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie was established in 1602 as a trading company. From it's beginning until 1796, the VOC sent a staggering 4,785 ships out for trade over the world. It was the first multinational company ever. This development created prosperity and wealth in the Netherlands, attracting traders and scientists, and people who were persecuted elsewhere. These well-received immigrants brought knowledge and education. Cities like Delft, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht expanded, and became uniquely shaped with beautiful houses and canals.
Not only the few rich benefitted from the new-found prosperity, but more so the large middle class. The Dutch embellished their houses, made them comfortable. And added paintings. It has been estimated that between five and ten million works of art had been produced during the century of the Golden Age. Very few of these, perhaps less than 1%, have survived.(essentialvermeer.com).
The Dutch had a sense of pride: for their country, for their accomplishments and for their houses and culture. They did not need decorations with fancy stories and exotic views. They did not want complicated political statements, nor passionate outcries. They wanted to enjoy their comfortable situation, their new-found peace and prosperity.
And so the genre Domestic painting developed, showing households with homely, often peaceful situations. Domestic tasks, physicians, food, animals, paintings, cloth: social life in general. And in those paintings, stories were told. Objects had a meaning, emphasizing love, jokes, moral statements, moods or wellbeing. People in those days were well aware of the meanings, and not everything was what it seemed at first sight. Often, the house owner or one of his family members was portrayed. Through the windows in the paintings, one could sometimes recognize a city or village. “This type of painting did reflect the profound transformations which were taking place in society” (essentialvermeer.com).
Cities had their own famous painters, who did not travel far, but got their work then and there. Frans Hals and Jan Steen in Haarlem, Rembrandt van Rijn in Amsterdam, Gerard Dou in Leiden, Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer in Delft, to name a few. The paintings were rich in both style and subject, as artists achieved new heights of technical refinement, optical and perspectival sophistication, and an often superb evocation of mood. (Meagher).
Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675) was specialized in painting domestic interior scenes. His beautiful use of light, colour and composition is famous today. He was not a painter who produced a lot of work, which resulted in leaving his family in debt after he died, and neither was he very famous at that time: in 1882 the now iconic Girl with a Pearl Earring (Museum Mauritshuis,The Hague) was sold for only 2 guilders and 30 cents! Most of his paintings were on commission by the more wealthy people or collectors. That was very common those days: painters were seen as craftsmen more than artists.
The movie “The Girl With The Pearl Earring” made in 2003, directed by Peter Webber, is a fictional film with some historical truth about Johannes Vermeer, and how his now most famous painting came to be. Has the film re-created the essence of Dutch Domestic painting? It has done a great job in creating the look and atmosphere of Delft, the city where Vermeer resided. The house he lived in was completely recreated in a studio, and by making it bigger than reality to accommodate camera’s and crew, they were able to suggest the viewer is in the house. That is exactly what the Dutch Domestic Paintings do: they allow us, outsiders, to see and connect with an almost intimate view into those lives and livings. The design, decor and lighting of the movie were very much in harmony with the paintings of Vermeer.
Of course the film was dramatized: it is not a true story, but based on a novel. Who the girl was, we might never know, though most experts assume it was one of Vermeer’s daughters. The pearl was a fake (Venetian glass fakes were common in those days); and the combination of the turban and the earring was definitely not Dutch, most probably meant to create an exotic look.
Like the film, not everything is what it seems. But Dutch Domestic paintings are an expression of an exceptional artistic movement in the 17th century, and give a unique insight into what domestic life in The Netherlands must have looked like.
In my attempt to remake “the Girl with the Pearl Earring, I had to choose the right model, the lightfall, clothes and colours and the precise angle of her look. Every movement during the shoot and every change in eyes or mouth would make all the difference. Amanda, the model, did a fantastic job. Since I saw her a year ago I wanted to do this remake as she had perfect look!”
Meagher, J, Genre Painting in Northern Europe. Retrieved December 16, 2015 from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gnrn/hd_gnrn.htm
Vergara, A. The Subject matter of Dutch domestic interiors. Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/dutch-painters/dutch_art/subject_matter.html
Dutch and Flemish painting of the 16th-17th centuries. Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/dutch.shtm
Johannes Vermeer: het Meisje met de parel. Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://kunst-en-cultuur.infonu.nl/kunst/29391-johannes-vermeer-het-meisje-met-de-parel.html
The Girl with the fake pearl earring. Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://www.arthistorynews.com/articles/3163_The_Girl_with_the_Fake_Pearl_Earring
Vermeer’s clients and patrons. Retrieved December 16, 2015, from http://www.essentialvermeer.com/clients_patrons/vermeer's_clients_and_patrons.html#.VnBYHLST4UU