Weaving the canvas: weft and warp in Vermeer

Canvas paintings (ITA)

Detail of "The Art of Painting" by J. Vermeer (1666-69)
Web-source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_Painting

Vermeer mostly worked on canvas: just 2 of his 36 masterpieces are on panel. Vermeer shares a preference spreading in Italy from the 16th century. In fact, canvas were easier to prepare and carry. The word “canvas” is commonly used for different textiles – mostly linen – with a low tendency to absorb water. That is because of the presence of a net of vertical (warp) and horizontal (weft) wires. The canvas must be prepared for the pigments, as for other kinds of supports. It has to be anchored to a wooden framework. The latter is used to stretch the canvas and obtain a flat surface for painting. Then is the turn of two ground layers. The first is a mixture of ochre pigments and residues from the painter’s palette. The second, called “imprimitura”, it’s composed by lead white, gypsum, linseed oil  and other pigments, depending on the background hue of the painting. When the canvas is thus prepared, it’s the time to draw the main lines of the composition, in white chalk (on a strongly colored background) or black (for light colored backgrounds). Eventually, the painter can add the preparatory drawing, with the same technique reported for wall paintings (EN/ITA) and the underpainting, which is a monochromatic version of the final painting. The latter is realized in grey or amber hues and it’s useful to define volumes and final layout, as shown by Leonardo’s unfinished masterpiece “Adoration of the Magi”.

Afterwards, the artist can apply the finishing (“finitura”), that is the proper color rendering step by step [1], as it happens with the division in giornate cited for wall paintings. The final act is the addiction of a varnish. This has become a common practice since the introduction of oil as a binder, in parallel with a higher consensus for canvas against panel. Varnish is a final protective layer made of laque and oil, transparent and monochromatic, that is partially or totally applied on the painted surface. In this way it acquires a unique brightness.

For more information about Vermeer’s painting technique, you are invited to visit the websites essentialvermeer.com and https://www.artsy.net/artist/johannes-vermeer.

[1] You can have an idea of this long-lasting procedure if you take into account that once pigments were not stored in paint tubes. They had to be grinded and interaction between them had to be avoided, being the physical and chemical properties so different among them. Moreover, the division in steps allowed to add more and more details to the final painting.


Specialist News

The terra-cotta army


“Victorious warriors
win first
and then go to war,
while defeated warriors
go to war first
and then seek to win”

Sun Zu

L'esercito di terracotta
“I guerrieri vittoriosi
prima vincono
e poi vanno in guerra,
mentre i guerrieri sconfitti
prima vanno in guerra
e poi cercano di vincere”

Sun Zu