The mystery behind a Tronie 3/4

A second important part that needs to be solved is tonality, which is called in artistic jargon “plasticity”. This is the use of highlights, midtones and shadows, which determine the shape – and therefore the similarity with the model. Both works are performed chiaroscuro, which means that the contrast between dark and light is very large. The advantage of this is that you can create a lot of shape, the disadvantage is that you compromise on color. In order to compensate for this, Vermeer used the lapis lazuli head scarf, while Edwin accentuated the red color of the hair, which contrasts nicely with the green eyes of the model.


Da Vinci used a panel of poplar wood, and Vermeer used a linen cloth; Edwin uses multi-layered wood as a panel. He also uses the materials, as the old masters according to the tracts, including traditional pigments, such as lead white, vermilion, etc. Because Edwin is a qualified chemist, he is allowed to buy and use these pigments for making paint. It is strongly advised not to work with these toxic pigments without a chemical diploma. 
The painting has recently been completed, parallel to the intensive research, on which Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl is subjected. On her blog, the research leader of this large and expensive international project, Abbie Vandivere, writes the first results, and that several results will follow in the coming months and even years.
The table below lists a number of characteristics of “Het Meisje met de Parel” and Edwin’s Girl with the mysterious Eyes.

Vermeer’s Girl with pearl earringEdwin’s Girl with the mysterious Eyes
Dimensions (cm)44,5 x 3931,2 x 33
MediumOli paintOli paint
CarrierCanvasMarouflage on panel

The carrier
The choice for the carrier was made conscious, not a stretched canvas but a panel. Multi-layered wood has the great advantage that the panel can be kept thinner. Muli-laminated wood curves less quickly, since the layers are glued perpendicular to each other and the veins are therefore perpendicular to each other. Vermeer’s work is on linen. With a special glue, Edwin glued linen on the multi-layered wood; this is called marouflage and is used to absorb the residual effect of the wood. The glue serves to reduce the effect of the linen and to protect the linen against the oxidizing oil layers, causing the carrier to “burn”.

The grounding
A primer layer is applied over the glue layer of the linen. Abbie Vandivere writes on her blog, referring to De Mayerne, that the old masters used lead white, omber and sometimes a bit of charcoal. She also mentions that her team’s research shows that large quantities of chalk are present. She gives as a possible explanation that this could have been a filler. This could be a logical explanation, however, it could also be that Vermeer’s canvas used a (thin) traditional gesso as a primer coat, which according to Edwin fits better with the scientific findings: lead white, chalk and the other earth pigments. It would be interesting if the researchers could learn more about the used binder in the pigment layer: if it is oil then it is indisputably paint, if it is glue it must have been gesso. Because Edwin works on a disguised panel, his panel is primed with a traditional gesso.

The oil used
The Abbie Vandivere team came out with a very interesting discovery. Chemical analysis shows the presence of rapeseed oil in addition to linseed oil. The Vandivere team gives an interesting explanation, namely that the oil mills in the 17th century not only produced linseed oil. In addition to linseed oil, rapeseed oil was also produced. According to her team, it is possible that by batch production, linseed oil may be contaminated with rapeseed oil. Since linseed is harvested before rapeseed (mid-July versus mid-end of August), Vermeer may also have consciously used rapeseed oil, particularly in the highlight areas, because it is less discolored due to the chemical composition. Chemically, it is close to safflower oil, an oil that is widely used today in light pigments. This will undoubtedly be evident from the research results.

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