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Lecture 2 – Perception and Reality: Vermeer’s World

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Opening its entry on Vermeer, The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists remarks that he was ‘the most calm and peaceful of all the Dutch masters and the recognition of his greatness has been long delayed’. That may have been the case back in 1959 when the first edition of the Dictionary was published, but since then appreciation of the Dutch master’s work has been transformed. This second lecture will focus on Vermeer’s work through an examination of most of his known paintings, with comparisons made between him and a few of his contemporaries such as Gabriel Metsu and Pieter de Hooch. The total number of paintings accepted as by Vermeer has increased in recent years as a series of works thought to date from the outset of his career have emerged. Not immediately associated with his mature style, their themes include both religious and allegorical subjects, perhaps betraying what many now regard as the artist’s catholic faith. Indeed, it may be through a Jesuit priest that Vermeer was introduced to the wonders of the camera obscura, also thought to have helped him transform his style with the luminous manipulation of light across a variety of surfaces and textures, giving us that famous ‘glaze-like opacity, mentioned above.

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Tom Duncan was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied, successively, Music and then History of Art with Ancient History and Archaeology. He moved to the United States in 1980 to research Late Antiquity and the Early Church. This formative experience brought him to Cambridge, England in 1984 to complete a Ph D on the influence of Early Christian Art on Baroque Painting in Rome. A period as a university lecturer followed, together with many invitations to lecture to organisations such as The Art Fund and The Arts Society (formerly NADFAS). Consequently, he began to lead tours over twenty years ago and in 1999, together with Stephen Brook, founded CICERONI Travel, now one of the UK's most respected independent cultural travel companies. When not lecturing or travelling, he devotes most of his time to gardening, music and opera, the other great interests in his life.
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