Johannes Vermeer is regarded as one of the great Baroque painters, along with contemporaries such as Diego Velázquez, and Rembrandt. He’s often considered one of the greatest painters in history. His depiction of light is masterful, incomparable to any of his contemporaries. In the 17th century, the guild system was still firmly in place, not to see its fall until nearly the 19th century. Most, if not all, great masters of art studied in the guilds. They trained, and honed their skills, in order to, hopefully, become a master. Vermeer, however, had no such training.
It’s common amongst art historians looking for more in-depth knowledge of their subjects to x-ray their paintings. This penetrates the various layers and unveils the artists’ process. You can literally see the painting from inception to final product. In the work of Manet, for instance, such as The Dead Toreador and The Bullfight, when x-rayed, you can see various adjustments: the removal of a matador, the changed placement of a bull, the raising or lowering of a wall. This is common amongst artists of every era. Vermeer’s paintings, however, show virtually no alterations. This is almost unheard of amongst painters of any kind, let alone a Baroque painter of Vermeer’s quality.
There has been a wide range of speculation about Vermeer’s practice, as he was not a trained painter, yet rendered some of the most photorealistic paintings in history. Scholars such as David Hockney and Philip Steadman, both experts on Vermeer, have often suggested that the master was as such because of the use of a camera obscura, or camera lucida. Simple tools often implemented by artists in order to help them properly render more realistic scenarios in their paintings. However, they would mostly be used to lay the groundwork for their paintings, never to produce them as a whole, which was what Steadman and Hockney were suggesting. Such speculation both titillated and outraged art historians and scholars alike. To suppose that a master used machinery to render his work would challenge the very notion of art as a practice. It suggests an objective, almost scientific, nature. For many, it was interpreted as a kind of cheat. » Read the rest of the entry..