The Very Rare Vermeer

Sunday was my last full day in Roma. What a fabulous infusion of art, architecture and big city life this part of my trip has been. And how fortunate I am to have had 6 days to enjoy it. Seeing Rome in a day or two would be an unreal whirlwind.

As of Saturday I had hit all the major landmarks on my list – although there are enough churches and museums here to keep one busy for an indefinite amount of time. In fact, when I was on the hoho bus, I kept seeing signs for a Vermeer exhibit – which is quite unusual. So I had to look up what it was all about.

ImageVermeer is the Dutch painter of “Girl With a Pearl Earring” fame. Some years ago I was able to see his work “the Lacemaker” in the Louvre in Paris. At the time I was shocked by how small it was – only 9.5″ by 8.5″. I was struck by the mastery of the painting – it was an exquisite piece and possibly my favorite memory from the Louvre. I think I saw “the Astonomer” that day, too.

The other thing about Vermeer is this… he was not prolific. He spent months on each of his paintings. And he died young. So he did not leave behind a vast collection.

There are a mere 36 (maybe 37) Vermeers known to the world, only 26 of which can be seen by the public. They are spread out in 15 different collections, and none are in Italy. (22 in Europe and 14 in America.)

So this exhibit, which includes 8 Vermeers and 50 paintings by his Dutch contemporaries, is a very important show. I decided it was the perfect way to end my trip to Rome.

These masterpieces from the 1600s are on display in the Scudiere del Quirinale, built in Rome in the early 1700s. What a venue!

I located Palazzo del Quirinale on my map – which wasn’t far from the Trevi Fountain. And since my hoho bus pass was still good, I took the bus to that stop and figured I would find my way. Aren’t I the clever one after a few days in Rome?

I managed not to get too turned around, but for some reason my upper back between the shoulder blades was giving me some shooting pains. I stopped for some hot soup and advil and checked my map. It was a bit further to walk than I expected, but oh well. When I found the right street I sat on a ledge and rubbed my back on a metal fencepost. It couldn’t be far now…

And in fact, it was in sight. I was so encouraged that I hopped up and gimped up the hill to the entrance. There wasn’t much of a line – maybe a hundred people. But it was moving fast. Sure enough I was in the door in about 20 minutes. I bought a ticket and was told to check my umbrella. Then, as in every other museum in this country, I started the visit by going UP many flights of stairs. I don’t understand that layout, but it sure is popular.

The exhibit was marvelous. I’m even going to venture to say it was my favorite art I saw in Rome. And I’ll tell you why…

Yes, the Vatican is full of treasures you can’t begin to estimate the value of. So is the Ufizzi in Florence. BUT they are all heavy, heavy religious works – commissioned by the popes and churches and kings and whoever else was in power. And all artwork had to depict the party line – whatever it was at the moment.

Vermeer painted everyday life. At that time the Netherlands was at peace (after just finishing a war) and paintings were not being commissioned by churches or royalty. Art was sold in public markets and bought by ordinary families. Merchants, bakers and brewers wanted to buy the things that would show they were successful. They hung the paintings in their homes, so they had to be small.

ImageAnd what I like is seeing what an artist would paint when he had a choice. Vermeer painted mostly women in an everyday context. This painting, “Girl in a Red Hat” was absolutely striking. The colors in person are brilliant. Vermeer allows the girl to gaze directly at the viewer, which makes it both arresting and intimate. It wasn’t something he did often. The light on her face makes it feel like you could just reach out and touch it – even after all these years.

ImageFor me, the entire exhibit was lovely and I was especially taken by Artist in His Studio by Michiel van Musscher. But mostly I just wanted to stare at the Vermeers – and I could because it wasn’t overly crowded!

And now I am one of the few people in the world who has seen 10 of his pieces – more than a fourth of the work he is known to have done in his short lifetime.

It was a perfect Sunday in Rome.

Until I started to walk home…

And this will take some explaining, so please continue on to the next post…

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ellyn
    Nov 06, 2012 @ 08:30:35

    Now that I would have liked to seen. Since I currently have 5, yes 5, Vermeer prints hanging in my house, I think we can conclude he is my favorite artist. I’m so jealous! 😀


  2. thesketchylife
    Nov 06, 2012 @ 09:20:12

    Oh you would have drooled over these! Literally. LIke a boxer (our Jonesy) staring at a steak. There is no way to explain how they look in real life. I thought of you (and missed you terribly!) during this exhibit!


  3. Paula!
    Nov 06, 2012 @ 09:32:43

    Oh yes! This would have been wonderful to see. I know very little about artists, but these I really like! Esp. the red hat painting. She does look so real. I have to go to the library and get a book. Or better yet, go to Miss Ellyn’s and look!


    • thesketchylife
      Nov 06, 2012 @ 10:11:51

      yes, you and my Ellyn could have a proper visit just talking about Vermeer. She has loved that artist since High School. (she had him on her bedroom door!) Me – it took a bit longer to get educated… Please do call E and have a nice chat!


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