Vermeer & Music

My taste in art usually is restricted to renaissance Italy. My knowledge of Dutch art was Hans Holbein’s Tudor images, Rubin’s ceiling in the Banqueting House and Van Gough. It was my friend Clare (@alicemartha) that recommended this exhibition and I am so glad we went!


The exhibition, half price for Art Fund members, is staged at the National Gallery’s Sainsbury’s wing. As you enter the exhibition the images at first look more morbid than musical and are not by Vermeer. However of all the exhibition, these first few paintings became my favourite of the show.


Although it’s called Vermeer & Music and the exhibition does exhibit 1/7 of the artists total works, the rest of the show is made up of Dutch artists showing how music was important to Dutch society.


The Allegory of Vanities of Human Life by Harmen Steenwyck (c1640) Image NOT mine

The Allegory of Vanities of Human Life by Harmen Steenwyck (c1640) Image NOT mine

One of my favourite images was The Allegory of Vanities of Human Life by Harmen Steenwyck (c1640) The execution of this scene looks almost photographic the pearl lust of the sea shell and the surface of the skull were in my very humble opinion very delicate and realistic.


There were various musical instruments shown through out the exhibition. They were to illustrate how important music was within the Calvinist society of the Dutch republic and low countries. Their religious background lacked music within celebrations at church so it was important within the secular part of Dutch society.


In regards to areas that specialised in various instruments Venice was THE place to by Cittens where as London was THE place to buy Viols. Violins were thought to represent women’s curvy bodies – this is a fascinating look into the workings of 17th century mind and how sex was clearly in the forefront their minds as it seems to be within 21st century media and culture.


The instrument that grabbed my attention was the Virginals. This early form of piano was beautiful decorated and has cropped up within primary sources while I was researching both Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots both of whom where said to have been accomplished players of this instrument so it was lovely to see one up close.


I found that the song books, often given as gifts to lovers had beautiful wood cut prints and although these books were popular within the rest of Europe they were especially popular in the Netherlands.


Now we come to the name sake of the show the five Vermeer Paintings. During his  short life, Johannes Vermeer (October 1632- 15 December 1675) created 35 paintings of middle class domestic scenes and was lucky in that he was recognised during his life time. He used bright expensive pigments and had a talent for depicting light in his pictures especially of pearls. His most famous picture is of course the girl with the pearl earring that has inspired a book and film.


My favourite Vermeer in the exhibition Image not mine

My favourite Vermeer in the exhibition Image not mine

The five pictures that are within the exhibition all depict domestic music. Of all the pictures the one that caught my eye is also the image used on the flyers for the exhibition, the guitar player showing an auburn haired girl playing a guitar. Her position in the painting and the fact she is looking to the left suggests that she has just bee n interrupted in her music and is pleased to see who ever has just distracted her. The materials in her dress and the details of the instrument are so realistic you feel you could feel their texture on the painting; and the colour of her hair reminds me of my hair colour 20 years ago.


I recommend the audio guide if you want more detailed opinions of the paintings and have musical inspiration while you walk around but the pictures themselves are enough to transport you into a time and place in 17th century Netherlands where music was so important in peoples lives. I highly recommend this exhibition and is on until 8th September 2013.

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