Art: Shadows And Light

A survey of Vermeer and his fellow artists in Delft shows why he was the master

The name Johannes Vermeer now carries a vast aura of desirability and sweetness. It has become one of the most beloved way points of art history, like Rembrandt, Piero della Francesca or Watteau. Nothing, it seems, is going to change that, but it wasn't always so. Vermeer's reputation is almost wholly posthumous. One of the reasons why he is so admired and his pictures are so unattainable a goal for collectors is precisely the cause of his obscurity in the 19th century: the rarity of his work.

The first rule of artistic survival is to leave a large mass of...

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