Renaissance Humanism: During the period of 1400 and 1650, the humanism term was used for main social philosophy and intellectual and literary works.
“Expansion of trade, growth of prosperity and luxury and widening social contacts created great interest in worldly pleasures, in spite of formal adherence to ascetic Christian policy.” In that case people welcomed such classical writers or artists who conveyed same social values and secular attitudes in their creative works (Kreis, 2008, 1).
In 1808, a German educator, F.J. Niethammar described the term ‘humanism’. It was to describe some scientific and educational study programs.
“The term ‘umanista’ or ‘humanist’ was described in the fifteenth century that told about a professional group of teachers who were related to the subject called ‘studia humanitatis.” Humanism never opposed logics but it was not in favor of Scholasticism(Hooker, 1996, 2).
“The man of renaissance lived in two worlds-the world of the medieval Christian matrix, in which the importance of every phenomenon was eventually indomitable through similar point of view. The man felt himself deferring between reason and faith” (Kreis, 2008, 3).
Beauty was understood a major part of life and humanist cult of beauty was explained that made it simple that humanism is above everything.
It was called an aesthetic movement. The aestheticism became the major element that superseded supernatural and scientific elements. “The man became the part of everything and he dealt with an ideal life which was no longer an escape from monastic kind of life rather it was a full participation in rich and varied human relationships” (Kreis, 2008, 4-5).
About Johannes Vermeer:Among all the Dutch Masters of Renaissance age, besides Rembrandt of course, Johannes Vermeer is maybe the most popular today. He was born in October 1632 and died in December 1675, lived and worked in Delft.
Though his life was short lived but he left most exquisite paintings in Western art. Until the end of nineteenth Century, he remained relatively obscure and was not much known in his own days, as he produced not many paintings, may be around forty five of which only thirty seven are known today (Liedtke, 2011, Para 1).
His works are rare and portray figures in interiors. His work is distinguished by the poetic quality of images and the effect of strong and bright colors. Though Vermeer’s work was famous in The Hague, Antwerp and Amsterdam but nearly half of his work was acquired by Pieter van Ruijven (Pioch, 2002, Para 2).
Very little is known about Vermeer or his teacher and evidently he himself had no pupils. His teacher could either be Leonaert Bramer or Carel Fabritius of Delft. He was a respected member of the Delft painter’s guild (Liedtke, 2011, Para 2).
“Vermeer’s father was a silk weaver but by about 1630 became an innkeeper and art dealer. He got married in 1653 to a wealthy catholic divorcee and converted to their religion” (Liedtke, 2011, Para 1). He moved into his wife’s house in the heart of Delft. He died at a young age of forty three leaving his wife with eleven children and his paintings. Though his paintings commanded high prices but due to the miserable Dutch economy of 1670’s made his last few years miserable(Liedtke, 2011, Para 1).
Vermeer’s original concept was not like today’s balanced composition. In the period of 1950s and 1960s the Dutch genre painters most commonly used the theme of a woman at her toilette. Vermeer’s famous painting ‘The Young Woman before a Mirror’ in 1962 was an iconographic work. “He made some critical changes in his composition according to the revelation of neutron autoradiography”(Janson, 2011). He concentrated his vision on the upper part of the composition.
“He reshaped the bluish clothe of the still life and removed many black and white floor tiles and many other complex structure of table” (Janson, 2011). That is why the viewers mainly focus on the upper portion. His major modification was to exclude the musical instrument like cittern (Janson, 2011).
According to Arthur Wheelock, “in the present work the artist minimized the apparent physical activity of the figure, portraying her at the moment she has the ribbons pulled taut.
Her thoughts may be inward, but they are expressed through her gaze, which reaches across the white wall of the room to the mirror next to the window. The whole space between her and the side wall of the room thus becomes activated with her presence.
It is a subtle yet daring composition, one that succeeds because of Vermeer’s acute sensitivity to the placements of objects and to the importance of spaces between these objects”(Janson, 2011).
In the painting ‘The Young Woman before a Mirror’ the most exclusive modification was “the exclusion of a large wall map that surrounded the standing girl absorbing her from into the rest of the composition and eliminating the direct line of her gaze towards mirror” (Janson, 2011). Wheelock mentions that “the map, representing the physical world, and the musicalinstrument, referring to sensual love, would have given a context for interpreting the mirror and the pearls negatively rather than positively.
Indeed, the sensual earthy connotations are similar to those associated with ‘Vrouw Wereld” (Janson, 2011). “The Vrouw Wereld (the Lady World) was a well-known allegorical figure dating back to medieval times who personifies worldly pleasures and transience.
By removing the map and musical instrument, Wheelock proposes that Vermeer transformed the image into a poetic one evoking the ideals of purity and truth,” which actually have been the main qualities of renaissance era (Janson, 2011).
The importance of mirror in his paintings: Normally the mirrors can be associated with many innovative meanings and associations.“They are used generally as the symbol of wisdom and self-knowledge built at the same time they can be associated with vanity, an unhealthy amount of self-regard” (Janson, 2011).
Renaissance artists are popular for using the mirrors more objectively to analyze reality. The Roman goddess Venus’s characteristics also can be associated with the use of mirrors as in the olden time, “the mirrors could be related with the world of women” (Janson, 2011).
“From the Renaissance, Vanity and Deception were the connotations the mirror carried most often rather Truth and Prudence”(Janson, 2011).
There is no evidence about Vermeer’s interaction with his colleagues. He boldly did not follow the innovative themes and painting techniques as his colleagues did. His paintings reflect his character and nature and present him as a quiet and balanced person. He seems to be an “even-tempered, confident, controlled and likely graced with above average social skills” (Janson, 2011).
Hooker, Richard. 1996. “Humanism.” WSU.
http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/REN/HUMANISM.HTM(accessed January 30, 2011).
Janson, Jonathan. 2011. “The Complete Interactive Vermeer Catalogue.” E V.co,
http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/woman_with_a_pearl_necklace.html (accessed January 30, 2011).
Kreis, Stever. 2000.“Renaissance Humanism.” The History Guide,
http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/humanism.html(accessed January 30, 2011).
Liedtke, Walter. 2011. “Johannes Vermeer.” Heilbronn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/verm/hd_verm.htm(accessed January 30, 2011).
Pioch, Nicholas. 2002. “Vermeer Jan.” WebMuseum, Paris,
http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/vermeer/ (accessed January 30, 2011).