The Dance of Geometryby Brian Howell
Brian Howell has masterfully interwoven three imagined episodes from the life of Johannes Vermeer. We observe the painter's own childhood and apprenticeship. We read a crime story involving an episode from the life of a modern-day 'copyist', who is blackmailed into forging this masterpiece to save the woman he loves. We follow a French connoisseur who travels to Delft to visit Vermeer, only to find himself embroiled in a clandestine and deadly debate of the Painter's Guild about a new invention.
Howell creates a work of breathtaking originality. Not only does this novel provide imaginative insight into the formation of an artist's 'vision', charting his developing obsession with geometry and remotenessbut Howell illuminates the very act of seeing in a way that informs us about the creative process.
- Toby Press LLC, The
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.75(w) x (h) x 0.90(d)
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I really enjoyed this book. I had expected a standard-format novel about Vermeer and his life. Instead, I was delighted to find a triple reflection on the history and mystery of one of Vermeer's works, The Music Lesson. In the first part, Howell lays down a biographical scenario of the artist's early life--told in a measured voice that is slightly aloof, prone to dreamy fascinations and distractions. It is a voice that could come from the artist, even as it describes the youth who walks with a characteristic slow tread through a word of light, texture and composition. Through his observations, the elements of the painting are arranged and noted but not executed; it is like the treatment of the canvas, the preparation of the pigments, the rough sketch of the concept. Howell then shifts perspective to the peculiar artistic and scientific period that shaped the painting. This is exposed in a journal entry by a French nobleman who has met the artist in his native Delft and viewed his works, and who witnessed the secret behind the mysterious fate of the painting's young and beautiful subject. Then, a third shift: the writer jumps ahead in time to the 1980s, to the further adventures of the painting, and the life of girl it features. This is told in the voice of an artist who copies the masterpiece for an art thief. Ultimately, the story very briefly returns to Vermeer, to his voice and his own final grace note on the painting and the woman captured in it. The book is well-written; it moves along nicely, and the perspective shift is beautifully done. Furthermore, with its geometrically augmented cover photo of The Music Lesson, it is, physically, an unusually pleasing little volume.