Great Artists: Vermeer

Like the four other laserdiscs released in Pioneer’s Great Artists series (Cezanne, Degas, Manet, and Tintoretto), Vermeer begins with a disappointingly windy, pretentious, Brit-narrated documentary tracing the thematic interests of a great painter. But each of the discs rebounds with a dazzling appendix of 600 to 1,000 still- frame reproductions of the artist’s works, along with a sampling of relevant contemporaries. Viewed on a quality TV monitor, these video galleries boast a clarity and richness of color comparable to the best slides and art books.

The greatest limit in viewing paintings via picture tube is that the average TV set can’t remotely convey the sweep of huge canvases. That’s what makes this Vermeer disc such a standout: His elegant studies of women in domestic interiors are typically so small, about 20 by 18 inches, that a 25- inch set barely reduces their dimensions. Even better, each canvas gets four or five close-up ”detail” frames, revealing subtleties in the brushwork and pigment that you’d be hard-pressed to observe even in a museum — just try pressing your nose against an original and see how fast the guards come running. While there’s still no substitute for direct observation, Vermeer comes startlingly close.

Great Artists: Vermeer
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