The Concert by Johannes Vermeer was stolen from the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum (Boston) in 1990. The painting was well-documented and there exist many scholarly studies on Vermeer, his methods, and his time. Information from various sources was collected as a means to inform the re-creation and the team at Factum Arte used both traditional methods and the latest digital technologies in their approach.
Silvia Alvarez studies the technique used by Vermeer in different works.
Painting ‘The Concert’
The first step in the process to recreate The Concert used the best image available of the lost painting as a guide for Factum’s artists. The image was enlarged to real-size and digitally printed on canvas prepped with gesso. It is thought that Vermeer’s underpaintings were commonly done in grisaille – grey monochrome – to which he later added colour. By printing the guide image in greyscale and sepia, it functioned as a true underpainting may have done, and gave better results in the attempt to capture Vermeer’s tones as closely as possible.
Three artists worked on their own re-creations of the painting, which would later be combined using digital methods. The physical re-creations were invaluable to the process, giving the final printed object the feel and semblance of a real painting.
Experts believe that Vermeer may have used a camera obscura, a pinhole camera that projects a reversed image of a scene onto a surface, to assist in the creation of his paintings. At Factum, a camera obscura was constructed to better understand how this technique may have worked and its influence on the painter. Research was also carried out in order to recreate Vermeer’s limited palette as faithfully as possible, looking at pigment analyses and studies on the materials bought by his studio.
Silvia Alvarez prepares one of the various versions of this work.
Moreover, so as to better re-create the poor conservation state of the original in 1990, the colours were chosen in order to better represent the slightly yellowed, muted tones. In the versions used for the final re-construction, Factum employed only the highest-quality oils, including now-rare and expensive pigments such as lapis lazuli.
The artists working on the re-creations each brought something different to the painting, but all agree that Vermeer’s most important qualities lie in the way he represents light and in his ordered scenes. By focussing on these aspects of the painting and trying to mimic the light as closely as possible, they achieved an important degree of fidelity to the original.
Apart from photographs of the original painting, Factum’s team were also able to study high-resolution 3D and colour data from a Vermeer painting belonging to the Royal Collection. Alongside advice from the Vermeer expert Jonathan Jason, this proved useful when thinking about Vermeer’s general style and technique.
Combining different versions with digital reconstruction
Digital reconstruction was used to fuse the different painted versions and to achieve a level of detail impossible in the physical world. Each version of The Concert painted at Factum was photographed at high-resolution. In Photoshop, the best sections from each painting were combined to create a final version. The most delicate areas, including the faces and hands of the figures standing around the instrument, were taken from a photograph of the original.
The surface of the original painting would have been textured with a delicate paint craquelure. In order to achieve this effect in our re-creation, the craquelure from the Royal Collection Vermeer was used to texture the Photoshop image of The Concert. Other details, such as the character of the floor, where each of the marble slabs is intricately lined and coloured, were also digitally reproduced based on other Vermeer paintings.
Completing ‘The Concert’
The 3D data from the Vermeer at the Royal Collection was modified; the scale was also reduced. The 3D model was printed using OCE’s elevated printing technology and a silicon mould taken from this print. The mould was cast in gesso. The cast was transferred onto a linen canvas to provide a textured surface for colour printing. The colour was printed using Factum’s modified flatbed printers, which allow a very exact registration of the print and the canvas. The final step in the re-creation of The Concert was applying a coat of varnish to this textured print.
The final reconstruction of Vermeer's masterpiece.