Vermeer's Family Secrets
Genius, Discovery, and the Unknown Apprentice

The seventeenth-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, best known today for his Girl with a Pearl Earring, has famously been seen as an enigma since his “discovery” as an unknown genius around 1860. In Vermeer’s Family Secrets, Benjamin Binstock offers crucial solutions to the riddle of the “Sphinx of Delft.”

This iconoclastic book provides the first systematic account of Vermeer’s family members as models, carefully follows his gradual artistic evolution, responses to predecessors such as Rembrandt and Carel Fabritius, and exchanges with his peers, and re-interprets crucial documents concerning Vermeer. Lavishly illustrated with over 180 black and white images and more than sixty color plates, the book also includes a remarkable two-page color spread that presents the entirety of Vermeer’s oeuvre arranged in chronological order and relative scale for visual comparison. Through word and image, Binstock advances a new understanding of Vermeer’s art in light of his life and his singular vision.

On almost every page of Vermeer’s Family Secrets there is an insight that involves rethinking what we know about Vermeer, his oeuvre, Dutch painting, and Western Art. Perhaps the author’s most arresting revelation is his final one. In response to inconsistencies in technique, materials, artistic level, and other evidence, he posits that seven paintings currently thought to be by Vermeer were in fact by Maria Vermeer, his eldest daughter and secret apprentice. According to the author, Maria was the model for both Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and her own early self-portrait study, Girl with a Red Hat , widely recognized today as a masterpiece. She also appears to have forged her father’s works as a means to pay the family’s debts to the baker. How Binstock argues these points is one of his book’s many pleasures.

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