This posed photo (the opening photo for the first Arts & Mysteries column for 2007) is my best approximation of Johannes Vermeer’s “The Geographer” (1668/69). Vermeer is one of my favorite painters. People love Vermeer for the photographic detail of his paintings. But the details aren’t all that make his few works masterpieces. His compositions are fabulous. In this picture, the dark coat and position of the arms forms a classic pyramidal composition. The light on the face and each hand highlights the corners of the pyramid, drawing the eye around the triangle. While artists often use the sharper darker clearer rule to define their subjects, Vermeer accomplished this with superb composition.
As furnituremakers, we can’t control sharper darker clearer. We can’t make mouldings blurry. But we can use composition as Vermeer did, to invite people to view the details we present in the context we desire. There are only 28 or so Vermeers in the world. If there is one in your area, make every attempt to see it in person. The “geographer” is in Frankfurt Germany.