What is the secret of these extraordinary creations we call “icons”? In fresh lucid prose, the writer Max Kozloff explores the impact on viewers of the 17th century painter Vermeer, one of the most emblematic and fascinating artists of our visual history. “Here is an eye of immense power,” Kozloff writes, “unrelentingly trained in every direction all at once.” Acknowledging the “phenomenal radiance” of these Dutch interiors, the “silent eventfulness of light itself,” Kozloff suggests that Vermeer creates an atmosphere of “volatile proximity” that, across centuries and societies, delights and envelops us—and draws us deep into his paintings.
“In the history of Western painting, certain works have been accorded a standing higher even than fame. Admired without reserve, they belong to a special class, luminous across time, distance, and varied societies….Popular culture naturally exalts such pictures, though it also has the capacity to degrade them….Yet a work’s familiarity to the widespread public does not minimize, it actually enhances the mystery of its power. In order for an image to become an icon, magnificence may be an asset, whereas charisma is a prerequisite.”