Vermeer’s Method VERMEER’S ADVANTAGE OF USING TWO MIRRORS: Article by Anne Shingleton
Jan 252010

On the 20th of January I gave a talk to the British Institute of Florence as part of their cultural programme. The subject was “The Museum of Artists’ Secrets” housed here at the Centro d’Arte Verrocchio. The talk was very well received.

A lot of artists were present and asked a lot of good questions; I hope I gave them good answers. Certainly many promised to come and visit the museum for themselves. Seeing is believing! In the time available (one hour) it was only possible to mention in a cursory way most of the exhibits.

I started with my discovery of the use of life-casts in ancient Greece from around 490 BC  (Pliny tells us that life-casting was invented around 350 BC by the brother of Lyssipus). This produced some sceptical questions. Unfortunately  I had not brought exhibit No.1, the wax foot cast from life, which I regard as the evidence that puts the matter beyond reasonable doubt. Charles Cecil, who runs a very successful school in Florence, promised to investigate the matter further either with a visit here with his students or for me to visit his school.

I then gave a brief summary of the geometry of Roman portraits with photos of the carving process for the bust of Hadrian from the British Museum. And demonstrated how this geometry had become part of the syntax of the Alternative Tradition in European art: the tradition of Mantegna, Holbein, Rembrandt and Degas. I should perhaps have included Giacometti in the list of examples.

I gave a long build up of the importance of Rembrandt’s drawing B1121 (included in this blog) and finally shocked them with the news that it had been re-attributed to Aert de Gelder. At that point I made a strong bid for their help in making the RRP and the drawing “experts” pay attention to what I was saying. I have never been so clear and forceful on this point before and it really seemed to strike home. ( A young Dutch woman offered her help at the end and I promised her a DVD to help her on her way.)  Richard Serrin, a well known painter, said he had been studying Rembrandt for 50 years and what I had said made a lot of sense to him. He paints rather Rembrandtesque subjects.

It was gratifying that so many of the painters of Florence came and were excited by these new interpretations of Rembrandt’s artistic character. I certainly stirred them up. I finished with two excerpts from our DVDs of Maitani and Rembrandt. I had to cut “Duccio’s Window” and Simone Martini as I had gone over time. Wine was served to all afterwards and I was presented with a bottle of Brunello for my pains. We drank it with great pleasure at supper. A good night out.

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