Vermeer's Family Secrets
Genius, Discovery, and the Unknown Apprentice
Routledge – 2008 – 428 pages
Routledge – 2008 – 428 pages
Johannes Vermeer, one of the greatest Dutch painters and for some the single greatest painter of all, produced a remarkably small corpus of work. In Vermeer's Family Secrets, Benjamin Binstock revolutionizes how we think about Vermeer's work and life. Vermeer, The Sphinx of Delft, is famously a mystery in art: despite the common claim that little is known of his biography, there is actually an abundance of fascinating information about Vermeer’s life that Binstock brings to bear on Vermeer’s art for the first time; he also offers new interpretations of several key documents pertaining to Vermeer that have been misunderstood. Lavishly illustrated with more than 180 black and white images and more than sixty color plates, the book also includes a remarkable color two-page spread that presents the entirety of Vermeer's oeuvre arranged in chronological order in 1/20 scale, demonstrating his gradual formal and conceptual development. No book on Vermeer has ever done this kind of visual comparison of his complete output. Like Poe's purloined letter, Vermeer's secrets are sometimes out in the open where everyone can see them. Benjamin Binstock shows us where to look. Piecing together evidence, the tools of art history, and his own intuitive skills, he gives us for the first time a history of Vermeer's work in light of Vermeer's life.
On almost every page of Vermeer's Family Secrets,there is a perception or an adjustment that rethinks what we know about Vermeer, his oeuvre, Dutch painting, and Western Art. Perhaps the most arresting revelation of Vermeer's Family Secrets is the final one: in response to inconsistencies in technique, materials, and artistic level, Binstock posits that several of the paintings accepted as canonical works by Vermeer, are in fact not by Vermeer at all but by his eldest daughter, Maria. How he argues this is one of the book's many pleasures.
"Binstock resembles the detective Hercule Poirot in his methodical disentangling of the historical Vermeer from the accretion of too generous attributions and from the multiplicity of critical views, all directed to the uncovering of the artist whose autobiographical immersion in Delft, in home, and in family so fully constituted his art."—Richard Brilliant, Columbia University, author of Portraiture and My Laocoön: Alternative Claims in the Interpretation of Artworks
"Impassioned and fascinating, this novel account of the intimate links between Vermeer’s art and life bristles with intelligence. It offers not only sympathetic and imaginative readings of the paintings, but questions some basic assumptions in art history. Anyone interested in Vermeer will be struck by Binstock’s audacity, erudition, and deep love of art."—Martha Hollander, Hofstra University, author of An Entrance for the Eyes: Space and Meaning in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art
"Vermeer's Family Secrets is a highly original and searching account of one of the most elusive of painters. Written with delightful verve, visual subtlety, and the courage to upend the platitudes and received wisdom of certain forms of art history, Binstock's book promises a revolution in the study of Vermeer, his circule, and his milieu."—Jonathan Gilmore, Yale University, author of The Life of a Style: Beginnings and Endings in the Narrative of Art History
"This book offers strong, informed opinions, bold claims, and precise chronology about one of art history’s favorite painters. While Binstock’s forceful arguments are sure to be controversial, they will inevitably provoke fresh scholarly discussion and rekindle close examination of Vermeer’s luminous pictures (and those of Carel Fabritius)."—Larry Silver, University of Pennsylvania, author of Hieronymus Bosch and Rembrandt’s Faith (co-authored with Shelley Perlove)
Illustrations Preface and Acknowledgments Introduction: It’s a Vermeer! 1. In Search of Vermeer 2. Origins and Originality 3. Fabritius's Phoenix 4. An Art of Women 5. Painting and Procreation 6. The Fat Lady Sings 7. The Apprenticeship of Maria Vermeer Appendices
Benjamin Binstock earned his Ph.D. in Art History at Columbia University, after study in Aix-en-Provence, Berkeley, Berlin, and Amsterdam. He was a visiting member of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton and the American Academy of Berlin, and has taught at Columbia, New York University, CUNY, and presently at Cooper Union in downtown Manhattan.