In a new documentary, Texas based inventor Tim Jenison attempts to solve one of the greatest art mysteries – how did 17th century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer manage to paint so photo-realistically?
The theory advanced in the film is that classical painters like Vermeer used mirrors and lenses to achieve perfection.
The documentary, which had its premiere in Los Angeles, was produced and directed by American illusionists Penn and Teller, with Teller directing and Penn Jillette producing. The two received their very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year.
Teller explained why he enjoyed the process so much: “I love knowing how tricks are done, because when you just see the illusion, when you just see the final effect, you only get one level of joy out of it. But this is a movie that really explores how this astounding feat might have been performed.”
For his research Tim Jenison even reconstructed Vermeer’s workshop.
“If my theory is right, and it worked really well, we can say that Vermeer was a kind of geek artist, he was a techie, he was an inventor, and we also know that he worked really, really hard. Each painting took at least six months, so it’s a very slow way of working but it gives you a perfect picture,” he said.
In the film, Jenison’s work is even endorsed by famed British artist David Hockney, who was convinced: “I think it’s the method he used really, and it’s fascinating, absolutely fascinating that he used that method in 1660.”
Spanning eight years, Jenison’s adventure takes him to Delft in the Netherlands, where Vermeer painted his masterpieces, on a pilgrimage to the north coast of Yorkshire to meet artist David Hockney, and even to Buckingham Palace to see a Vermeer masterpiece which is part of the Queen’s collection.