Do we need to start calling her The Girl with a (Traced) Pearl Earring? Recent research shows that the Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer may have been tracing his paintings all along.
A new book by painter and author Jane Jelley, entitled Traces of Vermeer, seeks to finally answer this disturbing question, which has actually been circling around the art world since American lithographer and etcher Joseph Pennell first proposed the theory 1891.
Vermeer is known for his incredibly realistic portraits, and it is precisely this perfection that led to Pennell hypothesizing that perhaps the artist used some sort of visual aid to achieve his final result.
The argument assumes that Vermeer utilised a then revolutionary precursor to photography known as the ‘camera obscura’ technique, in which an image is projected through a small hole in a screen resulting in the upside-down version of said image appearing on whatever surface is opposite the screen. In this case, someone would have posed for him and their image then would have been projected for the artist to trace over.
Jelley took this yet-unproven concept and did her best to come up with a decisive answer. Her truth-seeking process included experimenting in camera obscura, testing paints and even procuring pig’s bladders from her local butcher (pig’s bladders being the paint tubes of the 17th century) in an attempt to retrace Vermeer’s creative steps (no pun intended).
Although Jelley’s research has concluded that tracing is in fact the explanation behind Vermeer’s masterful paintings, the writer doesn’t believe this makes his work any less brilliant. In Jelley’s own words, as explained to Artsy, tracing or no tracing, ‘what you can’t ever explain is the nature of genius.’