P Steadman, Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces,
Oxford University Press 2001
ibid Chapter 5 pp.73-100
ibid Chapter 6 pp.101-117
ibid.p.106. In the book I point out that this finding does not
actually depend on knowing the position of the back wall from the reflection
in 'The Music Lesson', and could have been discovered without that information.
Walter Liedtke of the Metropolitan Museum in New York made this suggestion
in a Colloquium preceding the opening of an exhibition, 'Vermeer and
the Delft School' at the National Gallery, London, 16th June 2001
Paul Taylor, personal communication. Taylor and Gowers's reasoning runs
essentially as follows. Suppose p is the probability of one of Vermeer'
s ten canvases being the same height - within reasonable bounds of accuracy
- as its projected image. What is the probability of this occurring
randomly in six cases out of ten? The answer is p to the sixth power
multiplied by '10 choose 6': If p is assumed to equal 1 in 10, the odds
are therefore roughly 1 in 5000. If p is 1 in 5, the odds are more like
1 in 300. Walter Liedtke in a review of Vermeer's Camera in The
Burlington Magazine (October 2001 pp.642-3 n.4) offers the suggestion
that this geometrical phenomenon might somehow be the result of Vermeer
using canvases of standard dimensions, pointing to Figure 65 (p.130)
in the book which illustrates the comparative sizes of all the painter's
pictures of interiors, to scale. Even if the sizes had been standardised,
that would not have accounted for the geometrical result. However as
my Figure 65 makes clear, Vermeer's canvases - with the exception of
the two pairs of similar-size pendants - differ widely in their dimensions.
The six canvases under consideration here are particularly varied in
size (Figure 51 p.104).
Walter Liedtke, ibid; JØrgen Wadum,
'De tent van Vermeer', Vrij Nederland, 28th Apri12001, p.68
Wadum, ibid, claims that the versions of these two diagrams which
appear in the book are wrongly drawn and do not match the text. Perhaps,
he says, the draftsman did not follow the author's instructions. In
fact I drew them myself, and they are perfectly correct. The passage
in question says that, in a camera of the type shown here in Figure
2, "the image is upside-down and reversed left-to-right."
This is perhaps a little ambiguous, and so may be the cause of Wadum's
confusion. I had intended the reader to understand that the two symmetry
operations are carried out in sequence: first the rotation through 180°,
then the reflection about a vertical axis. Comparable diagrams, showing
the orientation of the image in several types of camera obscura, are
given in J H Hammond, The Camera Obscura: A Chronicle, Adam Hilger,
Bristol 1981 p.4
See Liedtke op cit p.643
Steadman op cit p.26 n.6
ibid pp.107-9 and Figure 53 p.108. Judith Haskins and Leo Stevenson
(personal communications) have both suggested that Vermeer's booth might
also perhaps be reflected in the cylindrical body of the brass pitcher
in 'Young Woman with a Water Jug'. Certainly there is a greyish-black
rectangular stripe at the centre of this reflection. This painting is
not one for which I have so far made a three-dimensional reconstruction
of the space depicted, since no part of the floor is visible by which
to determine the position of the viewpoint. However it is not out of
the question that such a reconstruction might now be made, given that
we have exact dimensions for the casement and the lions' head chairs,
as well as the map of the Seventeen Provinces, and thus might find the
viewpoint by trial and error. It would then be feasible to test whether
the reflection in the jug corresponds to a cubicle of the right size
and at the right distance. Another mirror reflection of the back of
the room which might repay further analysis is that in the central spherical
body of the brass chandelier in 'Allegory of Paintng'.
David Bomford in discussion at the Colloquium mentioned in n.5 above
Steadman op cit p.100
J M Montias, Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History,
Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1989 p.176 n.20 and Figure
Wadum op cit
Steadman op cit p.113
Wadum op cit. Wadum thinks that the fact that, in this arrangement
for the camera, the image is mirror-reversed, means that the paintings
should therefore also show the room in mirror image, i.e. with the windows
at the right rather than the left. His objection thus overlooks all
the discussion in the book of how the reversed image in this type of
camera can, relatively simply, be rectified.
J Elkins, personal communication
Wadum, op cit, says that 17th century Dutch artists never painted
with the light coming from the right-hand side - so overlooking Vermeer's
own 'Guitar Player' and 'View of Delft', not to mention any number of
Pieter de Hoochs and other contemporaries.
Steadman op cit pp.116-7. Among the few exceptions are the map
in the left foreground of 'The Love Letter', but this is in deep shadow,
painted very schematically, indeed hardly recognisable as a map at all;
and the painted lids of the matching virginals in the two pictures in
the National Gallery in London. As I argue in the book, I believe these
two virginals to be one and the same instrument, with different anamorphic
landscapes substituted by Vermeer for any possible decoration on the
real lid. Both the decoration on the virginal, and the painting on the
far wall at upper left, in 'Lady Standing at the Virginals' are based,
it transpires, on a composition by Pieter Groenewegen - a friend of
Vermeer's father - 'Mountain Landscape with Travelers' (1640), differently
cropped in each case. (See W Liedtke, ed, Vermeer and the Delft School,
catalogue of an exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New
York and the National Gallery, London, March-September 2001; Yale University
Press, New Haven and London 2001, p.403 and Figure 293.) This picture
has an elongated horizontal format (38 x 68 cm), although not quite
so elongated as the version on Vermeer's virginal lid, as it would appear
when viewed frontally (see Steadman, op cit pp.116-7). Perhaps
Vermeer was able to carry out the process of 'anamorphing' Groenewegen's
landscape by means of the camera obscura.
See W Liedtke op cit p.643; Wadum op cit; and W Liedtke,
talk given at Art and Optics' conference, New York Institute for the
Humanities, 1st/2nd December 2001, published at www.artandoptics.com;
consulted January 2002.
M Kubovy, The Psychology of Perspective and Renaissance Art,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge p.122
Steadman op cit p.80, p.83, Figure 36 p.82, and Figure 37 p.83.
This almost obsessional quality to Vermeer's perspective technique leads
him arguably into some odd decisions. In 'Woman with a Pearl Necklace'
for example there are two peculiar unexplained patches of light in the
otherwise deeply-shaded area in the foreground, beneath the table. These
must surely be glimpses of a white floor tile beyond one of the table
legs. Since no other parts of the floor are visible, it is impossible
to say whether the tile occurs in the 'right' place. But my guess is
that it does, and that Vermeer put it in for no other reason than that
he could see it.
J A Welu, 'Vermeer: his cartographic sources', Art Bulletin 57,
It is the second edition of Adriaan Metius, lnstitutiones Astronomicae
& Geographicae, Willem Jansz. Blaeu, Amsterdam 1621, open at
the first two pages of Book III, 'On the Investigation or Observation
of the Stars' . See J Welu, 'Vermeer's Astronomer: observations on an
open book', Art Bulletin 68, 1986 pp.263- 7
See Steadman op cit, Appendix B (pp.171-6) in which dimensions
for the maps, pieces of furniture and musical instruments, calculated
from the perspective reconstructions, are compared with the known sizes
of these various items.
ibid pp.96- 7 and notes to Table B3 pp.174-5
R Hawkins, personal communication. Hawkins is an architect, artist and
photographer. He makes the suggestion that Vermeer has brought about
the reduction in the projected sizes of the images of the casements
through having to make large adjustments to the focusing of his camera.
Ian Gillies (personal communication) points out that the two window
sills in 'The Glass of Wine' do not line up precisely - as they do for
example in 'The Music Lesson' - again suggesting that the images of
the two windows have here been 'collaged' together.
Wadum op cit
op cit p.643 n.6, citing C Willemijn Fock, 'Werkelijkheid of schijn.
Het beeld van het Hollandse interieur in de zeventiende-eeuwse genreschilderkunst',
Oud Holland 112, 1998 pp.187-246; also the talk cited in note
P Thornton, Seventeenth-Century Interior Decoration in England, France
and Holland, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1978 p.86
Steadman op cit. p.115 and Figure 55
C Shields, review of Vermeer's Camera at www.irisgallery.co.uk,
January 2002. Shields even suggests (personal communication) that Vermeer
might actually have painted the ceramic tiles themselves with house
paint, in black and white, in groups of four, in order to gauge the
Liedtke op cit p.643 n.6, citing Fock, op cit. On this
question of ceiling construction, Fock in fact confines her attention
largely to one painting by Emanuel de Witte, in which, she says, the
beams 'do not run parallel to the facade as they ought to, but perpendicular
to it.' Meanwhile Fock actually illustrates (Figure 1, p.188) a 17th
century room in the Centraal Museum in Utrecht which has the beams running
towards the window wall.
M van Leusen, personal communication reporting on conversations with
Willem van der Bas, personal communication
Wadum, op cit.
On the other hand, if the room was not exactly rectangular in plan,
then the pattern of floor tiles would not meet the walls in neat rows
of half tiles, as it appears - to do. Sherman DeForest makes this point
(personal communication) and emphasises that there are always inaccuracies
and adjustments in the setting out of any real tile work, which might
possibly be detectable in Vermeer's outlines.
A K Wheelock Vermeer and the Art of Painting, Yale University
Press, New Haven, Conn. 1995 p.94
See Steadman op cit pp.121-2 and Plates 5 and 6
ibid p.128. Se also Figure 62, p.126
R Hawkins and L Stevenson, personal communications
The map is reproduced in modern facsimile in H L Houtzager, G C Klapwijk,
H W van Leeuwen, M A Verschuyl and W F Weve (eds) De Kaart Figuratief
van Delft, Elmar, Rijswijk 1997. See sheets 45 (p.131), and 46 (p.133),
details from which are shown in Steadman op cit Figure , 20 p,60
Ian Gillies, personal communication
Steadman op cit. p.143, and p. 156-7.
G B della Porta, Magia Naturalis, 1st edn. Naples (4vols) 1558;
2nd edn. (20 vols) 1589. This quotation from Natural Magick by John
Baptista Porta, a Neapolitane, trans T Young and S Speed, London
For a review of such ideas put forward by a range of writers see Steadman
op cit pp.30-37. W Liedtke in the Burlington Magazine review
quibbles with my claim that this literature goes back 'more than a hundred
years', and says it starts with A Hyatt Mayor in 1946. I said 'a hundred
years' because I start my account with Joseph Pennell's article of 1891.
Paul Claudel raised the idea of Vermeer using the camera in a lecture
given in 1934.
D Hockney, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of
the Old Masters, Thames and Hudson, London and Viking Studio, New
In discussion at the' Art and Optics' conference mentioned in note 21
above; and in debate at the Royal Society, London, 26th October 2001
Steadman op cit pp.110-11
L Gowing, Vermeer, Faber, London 1952 p.137
Wadum op cit
K M Groen, I D van der Kerf, K J van den Berg, and J J Boon, 'Scientific
examination of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring' in I Gaskell and
M Jonker (eds), Vermeer Studies, National Gallery of Art, Washington
and Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn. 1998 pp.168-83. See pp.170-1
E M Gifford, 'Painting light: recent observations on Vermeer's technique'
in I Gaskell and M Jonker (eds), Vermeer Studies pp.184-99. See
J Elkins, text of a lecture given at the' Art and Optics' conference
mentioned in note 21 above, and published at www.artandoptics.com .
Consulted January 2002.
Personal communications with Stead Steadman (no relation), Quentin Williams
and others. Williams, on the other hand, saw a water-colourist making
a landscape inside a camera obscura in Bristol in the 1960s. The camera
tent was improvised from a Windsor chair and a blanket. The painter
was working in white body colour - almost gouache. However he was unwilling
to enter into conversation.
Leo Stevenson, personal communication
David Marshall, personal communication
For a discussion see Steadman op cit pp.153-4
J Wadum, 'Vermeer in perspective' in A K Wheelock, ed, Johannes Vermeer,
catalogue of an exhibition held at the National Gallery of Art, Washington
and the Mauritshuis, The Hague, November 1995 to June 1996; Yale University
Press, New Haven and London 1995, pp.67-69; and J Wadum, 'Vermeer and
spatial illusion' in The Scholarly World of Vermeer, Museum van
het Boek/ Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum, The Hague; Waanders Publishers,
Zwolle 1996, pp.30-49. See p.48
Steadman op cit p.154
W Liedtke, op cit