Vermeer Visitations


It seems we’re on a homeschooling roll here at The Wine Dark Sea. It will probably settle down as we settle into our school year. But for now what we’re doing is at the top of my mind. This post, though, refers to books we were reading a couple of weeks ago. Things have just been too crazy to finish it before now; but I’m tired of it nagging me, so here goes.

Bella is already well on her way to being conversant with a number of artists thanks in large part to the Mike Venezia Getting to Know the World’s Great Artist series—I confess I’m not a huge fan of Venezia’s cartoons but Bella and Sophie love the series and I love the resulting familiarity with the artists. If you ask Bella who her favorite artist is, she’ll answer Mary Cassat. She also knows and loves Georgia O’Keefe and is familiar with Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Pierre-Auguste Renior, Edgar Degas, Edward Hopper, and perhaps a few others I can’t think of. I decided I wanted to tackle Vermeer next because well, I really like his work and I thought it would be interesting to her as well. So while I was ordering up our stack of Antarctica books, I also threw in a few books on Vermeer too.

I was right. It took a few days to get past the penguins but Dom did read Venezia’s Vermeer book to Bella one night and I am sure it sank in at least a bit. I think I’ll buy this one and add it to our library because she does love to read them over and over again but only when the mood strikes her. They are very kid friendly and the perfect tool to begin what I hope will be a lifelong love affair. After all, it was Venezia’s Mary Cassatt book that had Bella almost in tears when we saw a real life Mary Cassatt painting at the MFA.

Then one afternoon found Sophie and Bella and I snuggled on the couch looking at a big beautiful book of Vermeer’s paintings: Vermeer: The Complete Works. This book was perfect for us because it was large enough to really get a good sense of the details in the gorgeous full color, high-quality plates and yet was thin enough to easily hold on our laps. It contained his complete works but had only a very brief text accompanying each picture, so it was much lighter than the huge coffee table book that also had pages of text only. The descriptions weren’t hugely satisfying to read; but since I was mostly interested in looking at the pictures, that was fine by me.

And look we did. And discuss. We talked about the people and wondered what they were doing, imagining stories for them. We compared various people in different pictures. We noticed the light and shadows. We enumerated the various objects in each picture and then noticed the objects and articles of clothing that appear in more than one picture. Vermeer is very fun for that kind of I-spy game because he does use the same props over and over again. Sophie and Bella each had their favorites and Sophie found a few of the pictures uninteresting and wanted to skip over them. Mostly, though, they were entranced.

This book I found a copy of for very cheap and bought for our own collection. I also purchased a set of postcards, which I haven’t brought out yet. I think I want to save them for some kind of activity but I’m not yet sure what that will be. Highly recommended because it is both beautiful and affordable. Perfect for any home library.

I also picked up one book that was just for myself when it jumped out at me from the library’s catalogue page: In Quiet Light:Poems on Vermeer’s Women by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. Poetry inspired by paintings can be pretty insipid so I didn’t have huge expectations of this volume but I thought it might be interesting and was willing to give it a go. After all there is really no cost to getting a library book. I was very pleasantly surprised by the first poem, which may well remain my favorite of the collection. I read it in the car on the way somewhere and really wanted to read it aloud to Dom—however I was foiled by a certain three year-old who just had to make himself heard as he pontificated about trucks. I had to return this one to the library after reading it only once—poetry is like that, it takes so much more time than fiction or non-fiction—but I’m definitely adding it to my personal wish list. I need to read this book again. I want to have it on my shelves.

We checked out a few other Vermeer volumes; but these were the best of the lot. One of them was a huge coffee table book. It would be nice to have as a resource; but wasn’t something you could easily cozy up with on the couch. There were a couple of other children’s books; but they just weren’t ones the kids picked up and looked through or asked to be read. So they lost out by a sort of process of natural selection.


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  • I loved your recent post about this Mass; thanks for sharing the link to the Cardinal’s blog too!  Praying for you and yours in your homeschooling journey.

  • Colleen, That’s very cool. I realize that our family has been really blessed to have met our cardinal so many times—mainly in conjunction with Dom working at the Pastoral Center. It does seem like the kids are always very impressed.