It's About the Process, Not the Product
The film takes the viewer on the journey of Tim Jenison's experiment to test theories of
how the great seventeenth-century Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer, was able to capture light in
his paintings with such photographic quality. This experiment, as with all others, begins with a
hypothesis, a question. Tim's questions stem from the over 100 years of speculation and
controversy surrounding claims that Vermeer used a camera obscura to create these famous
images. However, quickly Tim determines that the camera obscura alone was not sufficient to
capture the range of color and tones that are the heart and soul of Vermeer's paintings. How
could the technologies of Vermeer's time have been combined to assist him in capturing light
variations that are not visible to the naked eye?
The film explores how Tim came up with, and then tested, his idea of using a mirror to
allow the artist not only to trace the shapes but to precisely duplicate the color of real objects.
Using a combination of a camera obscura and two mirrors -- equipment that would have been
easily available in Vermeer's Holland -- Tim created a device (depicted above) that allowed him
to paint in the same manner as Vermeer. Tim Jenison, a man who had never painted before, with
the use of his device, attention to detail, and patience, was immediately able to paint with
astonishing, Vermeer-like accuracy. Each time it worked it surprised all who witnessed it. It
was as if it were a magic trick.
Tim next set about selecting one of the Vermeer pictures, then replicating the scene
depicted in the painting and the conditions under which Vermeer painted, as closely as possible.
Tim chose The Music Lesson. In his warehouse in Texas, Tim handmade the lens, hand crafted
the paint and pigments, calculated and designed the room, built replicas of the furniture and all of
the objects in the room, etc.
The film depicts the massive undertaking of this process, and all that had to occur before
Tim could even pick up a paintbrush. Tim discovered that using the device did eliminate some
of the decision making for the painter such as: what color to use, when to adjust the tone quality
and where to start and stop a line. However, it was far from an easy process. Painting with this
method required a certain level of obsession in the painter's attention to detail. It was slow,
meticulous and often backbreaking work for the painter and the models. Tim spent 130 days
painting in this manner.
His results -- and the startling evidence he uncovered in the process -- could change the
history of art forever.
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