December 6, 2023

Johannes Vermeer’s paintings don’t take particularly long to impress you even today, three and a half centuries after he painted them. But an understanding of how he achieved the particular visual effects that are still admired around the world today comes only after spending a little more time with his work, ideally in the company of a more knowledgeable viewer. Starting this spring, you’ll be able to spend time with almost all of these works—no less than 25 of the 34 paintings that have been unequivocally attributed to him—at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. “With loans from around the world,” says the Rijksmuseum website, “this promises to be the biggest Vermeer exhibition ever.”

“The Rijksmuseum exhibition in 2023 will include masterpieces such as Girl with a pearl earring (Mauritshuis, The Hague), The geographer (Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main), A lady writes a letter with her maid (The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) and Woman holding balance (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC).

The lineup also includes “newly restored A girl reads a letter in an open window from the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden” and also from the Rijksmuseum Milkmaid and Small street. Both of these last images figure prominently in Closer to Johannes Vermeera new online tour of all the artist’s famous paintings.

Here at Open Culture, we’ve previously featured a number of online attractions offered by the Rijksmuseum, an institution eager to bring the world of Dutch masters online. As a virtual guide for Closer to Johannes Vermeer he hired Stephen Fry, a well-known enthusiast not only of classical art, but also of high technology. He provides context to the paintings and points out elements within them that we may never have noticed, noting that Vermeer achieved the effects he did by carefully putting things into his compositions, but also by taking things out even more carefully. It could not have been easy for him to remove the people and objects he had rendered with such painstaking realism, using subtle techniques to enrich their visual impact. But he devoted himself to “seeking peace,” as Fry calls it, and such an artistic vocation requires occasional sacrifice. Enter Stephen Fry’s virtual tour here.

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Related Content:

Download all 36 beautifully rare paintings by Jan Vermeer (most in brilliant high definition)

What does Vermeer do Milkmaid Masterpiece?: Video Introduction

Master of Light: A close-up of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings Narrated by Meryl Streep

See the complete works of Vermeer in augmented reality: Google makes them available on your smartphone

Stephen Fry takes us into the story of Johannes Gutenberg and the first printing press

Stephen Fry presents ‘The Science of Opera’, a discussion about how music can physically move us to tears

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastson cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books about cities, book The Stateless City: A Walking Tour of 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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