The Man Who Turned a Warehouse into a Vermeer

by articulatenyc

Tim Jenison assembles an experimental optical device. Photo: Shane F. Kelly, ©2013 High Delft Pictures LLC, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.

Tim Jenison assembles an experimental optical device. Photo: Shane F. Kelly, ©2013 High Delft Pictures LLC, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.

In a rented warehouse in San Antonio, Texas, inventor and tinkerer Tim Jenison whittles the leg of a wooden harpsichord. Midway through the laborious process, he realizes that the lathe he is using to carve ridges into the leg can’t accommodate its length. Rather than risk compromising the accuracy of the reconstruction he is working on by cutting it in two parts, Jenison improvises and takes a power saw to the machine, slicing it in two. This allows him to extend the lathe just a few more inches.

Jenison is in the process of constructing an exact replica of the scene in Vermeer’s The Music Lesson (1662–5) and this instrument is a key element. In the Dutch artist’s painting, a man and a young woman stand at a harpsichord in a sunlit room. Through a series of geometric tricks, lighting effects, and reflections, the viewer’s eye is drawn directly to the couple. By recreating the scene in fine detail and then painting it, Jenison hopes to demonstrate how Vermeer could have accomplished such optical illusions.

Jenison’s obsession is the subject of a new film by his longtime friends, the magicians Penn & Teller. Titled Tim’s Vermeer, the documentary opens in select cities Friday and nationwide on January 31. Read the full story on artnews.com!

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