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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:56

Video transcript

we're in the consciousness Museum in Vienna and we're looking at yawn from years the art of painting which is a painting of a painter painting a painting it is indeed and these painting model who is going to transform into the muse of history so she is clea we can identify her by what she holds the trumpet in the book and also the laurel leaves on her head so she's an allegorical figure we might think about the Statue of Liberty for example so that idea of paintings power to transform is actually central to this image doesn't it feels that we have a privileged view into this studio look at the curtain that's been drawn back that takes up the top quarter of the painting we're looking at a scene that we don't normally get to see if you look at that curtain that's been drawn back there's a kind of interesting optical quality it's a little bit out of focus it shimmers and shines but the points of light are a little too big it's as if the entire painting doesn't resolve until you get to what the artist himself is looking at that is his model that's where we start to see a clarified focus and it's almost as if the painting has a depth of field so much so that some art historians have suggested that perhaps he was using a camera obscura that is a kind of simple early camera without film to begin to process the transformation of the three-dimensional onto the two-dimensional plane and the subject always with Ramirez light we don't see the source of the light which is behind that curtain but the light filters onto the chandelier above onto the muse of history onto the objects on the table across the floor on the artists stockinged feet on the tiles catching the brass tacks on that upholstered chair on the right away we can follow its pathway I especially love the way the light catches the ridging on the map itself and creates those highlights and shadows and look at the artist he's dressed up too he's dressed up the model but he's wearing something fancier artists would traditionally wear in the studio this black vest that has these openings and slits in it in this really nice hat and the bright orange leggings this is an image that was obviously important to Vermeer it's larger than most of his work the artist and it is dressed up it was still in his possession at the time of his death his wife actually tried to save it from his creditors who were after his estate which was heavily in debt so this is an important painting it reminds me actually of the painting Las Meninas by Velazquez where the artist paints a self-portrait in that case we can see his face but he's dressed in a very formal manner in a way that is meant to place the artist within society at a very high level exactly and dignify the profession Vermeer paints in such a careful and defined way that we might actually look in past the frame of the canvas and think to ourselves that were actually looking into this room but the fact that Vermeer has depicted an artist painting reminds us that this is simply a construction that this is an artificial image ironically this painting has a very complex complex through disturbing history in some ways from years Modest reputation really dissipated in the 18th century he was forgotten but the painting riah merges in the early 19th century and somebody added the signature of an artist who was better known luckily though a Vermeer scholar later in the 19th century recognized it as a real Vermeer ever since then or mirrors reputation has only increased by the time we get to the early 20th century this painting is wildly valuable but the owner tries to sell it the American financier Mellon tries to buy it and because of export restrictions laws that did not allow for important historical or artistic works to be let out of the country that sale was stopped the person who does end up buying it is Adolf Hitler Hitler loved art he wanted to be an artist early in his life and he amassed an enormous collection of art and their idea was to make a museum of all the great masterpieces of European art the painting was delivered to Hitler at his private residence in Munich and it stayed there until it was packed away for safekeeping during the war at the end of the war the paintings recovered by the Allied forces and returned to the museum in Vienna it's interesting to me that a painting that is about the role of art in history and the role of the artist in making history has such a complex and disturbing history itself you