It is with great enthusiasm and amazement that I bring you the theory of Vermeer and the Magnifying Glass.
Vermeer, and the man credited with inventing the modern microscope, Anthony Leeuwenhoek, both lived in Delft around the same time. It is well documented that they were the same age, lived near each other, and that Leeuwenhoek was the executor of Vermeer’s will. There’s even a fun little informal fictional book already written about the two men. In fact, if anyone wants to know what to get me for Christmas, you can add Eye of the Beholder by Laura J. Snyder to the list. Besides this book on the subject, there are plenty of online mentions, such as on Essential Vermeer, there is a whole page on the two individuals and their relationship. There are already theories about Vermeer and use of a lens, but not specifically a magnifying glass (so far that I have found). Mostly they are about the camera obscura.
What first struck me as interesting was that Leeuwenhoek was the executor of Vermeer’s estate when he died. Not that Vermeer had much to his name, but to me, that is a sure sign that they were more than casual acquaintances. There are even two paintings with “Leeuwenhoek leanings”. (The Geographer and The Astronomer). There is a wealth of literature on the topic to those interested. These are but my humble surmises from the opinion of an artist working on a Vermeer tribute.
Sidebar – In my opinion, the man in Vermeer’s paintings looks way more attractive than the actual man, who is Leeuwenhoek.
Here is Vermeer’s Geographer in comparison to the portrait of Leeuwenhoek by Jan Verkolje that was featured on Wikipedia.
What is notably missing from all the other websites/theories, is the visual evidence of use of a magnifying lens, which have been showing themselves to me in this process of looking carefully at the paintings in order to paint them in the tunnel. I feel like they are little visual treasures which allow the viewer to connect with the artist and his love for the lens. If Vermeer and Leeuwenhoek were friends, then Vermeer probably had more high-quality lenses at his disposal than the average Joe. It was weird to me that I could not find a discussion about this topic of Vermeer and magnifying glass level of details in his work.
Vermeer’s Little Street is dated 1657-1658, meaning that Vermeer and Leeuwenhoek were 25-26 years old approximately. Glass of Wine (1660) and View of Delft (1660-1661) were also around that time. Previously, I had the date wrong about the first microscope and first incorrectly deduced that Vermeer probably had one of Leeuwenhoek’s handheld microscopes at that time, but those were not invented until later, so my deduction stands corrected that Vermeer had a strong magnifying lens at least. The year 1660 was around the time that Leeuwenhoek begun to get more serious about microscopy (read that in the NY Times review about Eye of the Beholder). I now have found three examples of the potential use of a magnifying lens in his paintings. Thankfully I looked all this information up again, because it would be embarrassing to have my historical facts wrong on my blog.
As an artist, personally, it would greatly exciting to me in the 17th century (if I were alive) to utilize a tool such as a level of magnifying glass most others have not seen or used before. My theory is therefore based on myself and what would be interesting to me at that time, in conjunction to the visual clues. I could not find any evidence of a magnifying glass in the list of the contents of Vermeer’s estate, so what I think is that if it was borrowed from Leeuwenhoek in the first place, he probably took it back into his possession since he was the executor of the will. Maybe that was even specifically why he was the executor of the will, to get his stuff back. Who knows? It is quite fun to suppose anyways.
The Teeny-Tiny Visual Treasures:
1. The musket in View of Delft, especially the tiny pewter/silver part –
2. The piece of lace in Little Street (Google Super Zoom) –
At first I only saw the light colored piece with the weird upwards curl, then later I saw the rest of the dark colored curl the left. A friend suggested it was a piece of lace, because I thought at first it was the jeweled side of a lady’s watch face. A piece of lace is more logical, considering the woman is sewing on a pillow on her knees. This detail really did drop my jaw to the floor though. It is amazing and was probably painted with something like a custom three-haired brush. 🙂
3. The buttons and lace in the cuff in Glass of Wine (Google Super Zoom) –
When I found this, I really felt like I was on to something, hence this blog post. Third time’s a charm! The puffy cuff was apparently buttoned on, and this is something I will definitely investigate, should I come across a similar costume in a museum.
Scale (from Essential Vermeer.com) compared to a person (me):
So there you have it, it is indeed possible to still find hidden treasures in this world.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you want to get email updates when something new is posted, please scroll wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy down to “GET CONNECTED” to provide your email address for automatic notifications.
Here is a pic of me eating something nostalgic from my childhood: Speculaas cookie with butter on fresh bread. Dutch people eat weird things on bread. 🙂 I’m weird and Dutch.