THE BLOG
02/18/2014 11:37 am ET | Updated Apr 20, 2014

Tim's Vermeer

2014-02-18-522pxJan_Vermeer_van_Delft_014.jpg

Who was the greater genius Tim or Vermeer? It took Tim Jension 1825 days to figure out how Vermeer painted "The Music Lesson." Or tried to figure it out, since there is no way of proving anything. It took 213 days to recreate the room in which Vermeer painted his masterpiece, in Jenison's San Antonio warehouse and 130 days to actually paint the work. Tim's Vermeer is a film created by the famed magicians Penn and Teller (Teller directed and Penn Jillette and Farley Ziegler produced) who obviously share both Jenison and Vermeer's obsession with illusion. Jenison, a wealthy inventor was initially inspired by David Hockney's theory that Vermeer had used a camera obscura to create his paintings. Hockney's idea was also elaborated by Philip Steadman in his book Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpiece. Jenison made a major contribution by introducing the notion that Vermeer may have used a mirror which allowed for optical inversion. The film is like one of those documentaries about the ascent of Everest since once Jension solves the mystery, he then has to implement it--dot by grueling dot. At one point he even discovers what he believes to be anomaly in the Vermeer work itself, a curvature which he's able to correct. Penn, who provides ongoing commentary, remarks about Jenison's hypothesis,

"Unfathomable genius doesn't mean anything. Now he is a fathomable genius."

Tim's Vermeer lies at the cross section of magic, technology and art. And the film underscores the point that technology would not have been anathema in Vermeer's world. The opposition of art and technology is more a product of the modern sensibility and the inclination to separate science and art. Still, while we appreciate Jenison's inventiveness and energy and his assertion that he and Vermeer shared something in being tech geeks, one would, in the end, have to vote for Vermeer. So what that Jenison unearthed a process that literally anyone could perform. Let's not forget that "The Music Room" (together with technique of its inception) was initially Vermeer's idea.

Painting: "The Music Lesson" by Johannes Vermeer

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reaction to contemporary politics, art and culture}

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