Title: Tim’s Vermeer
Starring: Tim Jenison
Teller’s latest documentary hits on a profound aesthetic question, did those ancient artists, we look upon in awe, use the help of some tools to portray real life with such accuracy? This question was first posed in 2001 by David Hockney on the 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and whether the artist used optical devices to achieve his visual poetics of light.
How could Vermeer paint so photo-realistically, 150 years before the invention of photography? Tim Jenison, a Texas based inventor, (Video Toaster, LightWave, TriCaster), triggered by this query, attempted to prove that the painter of ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’ used some technology of his time to support him. Tim embarked upon an epic research project to test his theory: attempting to re-create Vermeer’s 1662 masterpiece ‘The Music Lesson.’
Tim’s adventure takes him to Delft, Holland, where Vermeer painted his masterpieces, on a pilgrimage to the North coast of Yorkshire to meet artist David Hockney and eventually to Buckingham Palace, to see the Queen’s Vermeer. He builds, by hand, almost every object in the painting (floor tile, carved harpsichord), and that’s before he gets to the herculean task of using a homemade camera obscura and mirror to fill in what is basically the ultimate paint-by-numbers diagram.
What he discovers is extraordinary. This engaging and fascinating documentary raises some challenging questions about the nature of art and serves as a remarkable portrait of obsession, while casting Vermeer’s original technique in an intriguing new light. Unmasking art history’s greatest trick not only adds to its wonder, but also brings up the important issue of how, through time, technology and art have always been placed in opposition with each other, rather than being considered complimentary to one another.
Written by: Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi