The ne plus ultra of Vermeer art books, Vermeer in Detail (Abrams, $65) is a conclusive cataloguing of all thirty-two paintings by the master, accompanied by 170 extremely intimate—often full page—magnifications. Satisfyingly, in this one volume is everything the eye can take in from a Vermeer painting, elucidated by a thorough presentation of all the documentation and research we do have about the dismayingly mysterious, historically unreachable Johannes Vermeer. And yet this canonical volume’s greatest asset is the lightness with which author Gary Schwartz wears his learning. An American art historian residing in the Netherlands, Schwartz delivers prose unencumbered by any scholastic staidness or over-certainty, taking an intelligent but lightsome tone wholly befitting Vermeer’s oeuvre (“Dear Reader: it’s every Vermeer scholar for himself on this one,” he avers at one point). The manner in which Schwartz groups his chosen details into chapters is itself a revelation, providing fascinating insight into life in 17th- century Delft, as well as into Vermeer’s technical genius, yet nowhere detracting from the sheer awe of viewing the Old Master at such microscopic proximity.
Vermeer in Detail - Gary Schwartz