The public parts of my notebook.
A documentary that follows Tim, an inventor, as he tries to paint his own version of The Music Lesson by Vermeer. His theory is that Vermeer used an optical device that places a mirror showing the subject over the canvas. This lets the painter compare the paint with the reflection of the subject side by side, so they can get the tone and texture just right.
Tim spends some time closing in on a replica of the optical device that Vermeer used. He makes a replica of the room that is depicted in The Music Lesson. This latter is the most interesting part of the film. He has a viola da gamba made. He builds the facade of a virginal. He turns the legs for a replica of the chair that sits in the foreground. He builds windows and fixes to them screens that show a view of Delft.
The film spends some time criticising the art historians who refuse to accept that Vermeer employed optical aids in his work. David Hockney is shown saying that this refusal betrays a simple-mindedness about what art really is.
The film shows a somewhat greater degree of insight. A man points out that Pieter de Hooch achieved somewhat similar looks without using optics. He credits Vermeer for his geometrical and symbolic compositions. But, ultimately, the film suffers from the same simple-mindedness as the historians. It positions Tim’s Vermeer as a successful replica of Vermeer’s Vermeer. It reduces Vermeer’s technique to the optics. But look for half a second and you see that the people in Tim’s Vermeer are a complete disaster.