Did the use of the camera have
consequences for Vermeer’s visual language or even his choice
of subject matter? Are the minutiae of the painter’s methods at
all important for the way we look at and appreciate the pictures?
In this concluding chapter Steadman argues that Vermeer’s special
technique was indeed bound up intimately with his special vision
and his preoccupations with the effects of light. Leaning on the
insights of other critics, especially Lawrence Gowing, Steadman
points to the way in which Vermeer manages to achieve uncannily
‘photographic’ effects while painting in a way that is often locally
imprecise, where focus is sometimes lost, where areas of colour
may be simplified and flattened, texture obliterated. The camera
served Vermeer as a ‘composition machine’, and allowed him to
produce a perfect perspectival illusion of depth coexisting with
an effect of surface flatness that can suggest mosaic or marquetry.
It is even arguable that the stillness, reticence, hesitancy and
psychological ambiguity that characterise Vermeer’s pictures are
qualities not unrelated to his use of the camera obscura.