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Jane Jelley

Traces of Vermeer

Hay Festival 2019, 

Johannes Vermeer’s luminous paintings are loved and admired around the world. We see sunlit spaces, the glimmer of satin, silver and linen; we see the softness of a hand on a lute string or letter. We recognise the distilled impression of a moment of time and we feel it to be real, yet we do not understand how the paintings were made. The few traces Vermeer has left behind tell us little: there are no letters or diaries, and no reports of him at work. Jelley has taken a new path in this detective story. A painter herself, she has worked with the materials of his time: the cochineal insect and lapis lazuli; the sheep bones, soot, earth and rust. She investigates old secrets and hears travellers’ tales. Her research allows us to unlock the studio door, and catch a glimpse of Vermeer inside, painting light.