By: Bob Raczka
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Publication Date: April 2009
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: March 2010
If we want to know about any particular artist, say perhaps Pablo Picasso, we need only head to the library or surf the web and we can find out all kinds of interesting tidbits about his life, but in the case of Johannes Vermeer, it isn't that easy. He is one of those elusive painters that we know little about and can only guess about him, his life and his paintings. We do know that "he was born in 1632, died in 1675 and lived in Delft, a city in modern-day Netherlands." For a man who continues to be a favorite of many, including Bob Rackza, we simply need to play detective and take a close look at his paintings and listen to what they are "saying" to us. Thirty-four paintings (perhaps two additional ones) are all we have to tell us his story and it is a fascinating one!
Historians suspect that Vermeer used a "camera obscura" that actually "projected the scene the artist wanted to paint onto the wall of the box" so he could either study or trace it, making his finished product appear more realistic and alive. Raczka, in an ingenious and creative twist, has decided that he would "interview" seven of Jan Vermeer's subjects. For example, when he interviews the woman in "Young Woman with a Water Pitcher," he asks,"'You are wearing what looks like a wide, white collar, what is it?" In her response she tells him it is called a "night rail" and describes its use. He goes on to ask her about several of the details in the painting and we are given an excellent, detailed understanding of what scholars have deduced about this particular work of art. Did you know that he originally painted a map behind her head and decided to paint over it? Yep, he sure did and Bob Raczka will tell you where to look to find it!
Bob Raczka's interviews with the subjects of Jan Vermeer's paintings will be a learning experience for young and old alike. I actually had a lot of fun reading this book and experienced several of those "you don't say?" moments on almost every page. Learning about art doesn't have to be sheer drudgery and in fact, as this book so aptly proves, it can be fascinating and a lot of fun. I found the book to be an especially interesting way to introduce Vermeer to the young reader who otherwise might find the subject a tad dry or boring. In this book, in addition to the milkmaid, you will meet "The Geographer," "The Artist in His Studio," the "Woman in Blue Reading a Letter," the "Young Woman with a Water Pitcher," the "Woman with a Pearl Necklace," and a couple in "The Music Lesson." Do you know what one of Vermeer's favorite colors was? You can venture a guess or read this book and find out!
Quill says: An excellent way to introduce the works of Johannes Vermeer to young readers.