Putting The 'High' in High Art: 'A Lady Writing' by Johannes Vermeer

City Paper

Vermeer is fucking crazy, dude. All of his paintings (and there are only a handful of them that we know of for sure, and you can see a couple of them at the NGA, so consider us lucky) make me think way more than I normally want to about symbolism and imagery, but mostly they make me think about space and perception and the mechanics of, like, seeing, you know? Vision. As the documentary “Tim’s Vermeer” (along with hypotheses put forth by David Hockney and others) explored, Vermeer had to have set up some kind of device to be able to paint the way he painted. He captured so many colors and flecks of light in a single gray wall—more than the human eye can process, but about the same that a camera can capture. That’s why his paintings have such a cinematic quality; the edge of the table and the objects on it in ‘A Lady Writing’ are more in focus than the chair the woman sits in, which blurs a little bit the further back in space it goes. Our eyes don’t see that way, but a lens does. The shadows in this small painting are so deep and velvety, you can almost feel that texture grazing your fingertips as your eyes sink into those depths (wipe up your drool). The woman’s whitish yellow coat and the blue tablecloth emerge out of the subdued surroundings, but the most brain-melting thing about ‘A Lady Writing’ is the way the woman is blurred, giving the whole scene an uncanny feeling as she gazes to our right, disengaged both from this space and from us, like a freakin’ hologram, man. 

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