Carolyn Gelland's Reviews > Vermeer

Vermeer by Lawrence Gowing
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it was amazing

Lawrence Gowing understands Vermeer's characters and the worlds they inhabit--all interiors of rooms--in a very Jamesian manner. He details, at one with Vermeer, how the singular detachment, refinement, the hieratic finesse and immaculate gestures of withdrawal of his subjects, and above all how light is used to convey this stance in relation to persons and the material world-- a fabric gleaming distantly in the air, for example, or the shining ring of a wine glass--render "the very shape of stillness and seclusion."

It is a rich experience to look at individual paintings by Vermeer with Gowing, a distinguished British painter in his own right, who is brilliantly competent to point out all the craft with which Vermeer achieves his effects. And it is also thrilling, for example, to have him point out the link in imagery between Vermeer and Piero della Francesca--of course! and to think that "the marbling of the virginals of the 'Lady Seated' in the National Gallery has the kind of life which a Sung painter might discover in the leaves of bamboo."

Lighted surfaces that reflect epitomes of windows we do not see, Vermeer's ladies who hold a flute or guitar but are never discovered playing, "Whenever modeling approaches continuity, there is a scattering of irrelevant light to contradict it," and "For all the stature with which he endows the inhabitants of his world, indeed perhaps because of it, Vermeer stops short of humanity."

"He knows that all that the eye can possess is light."

One of the most insightful great books of art criticism.


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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 1, 2014 – Shelved

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