The documentary directed by Teller tells the story of Tim Jenison, who believes the painter Vermeer used mirrors and lenses to create his work and sets out to try to prove the theory.
Computer zillionaire Tim Jenison believes that the great Dutch painter Vermeer used a combination of mirrors and lenses to achieve the extraordinary exactitude of his artistry. The remarkable documentary “Tim’s Vermeer,” directed by Teller with the on-camera participation of his magician partner Penn Jillette, paints a cinematic portrait of their friend Jenison that is part detective story, part art history seminar, and part bromance.
The theory that Vermeer used optical devices to aid his eye has been around a long time – for example, both David Hockney and author Philip Steadman have written books proposing that Vermeer used a camera obscura. Jenison goes a step further. Fashioning lenses that would have been operative in the 17th century, and reproducing Vermeer's studio in a San Antonio warehouse, he proceeds, over the course of 213 days, to reproduce, brushstroke by brushstroke, a famous Vermeer canvas, right down to the costumes and the stained-glass windows.
The final result is graphically faithful to the original to a remarkable degree. Does this mean that Jenison is right about Vermeer? And if so, does it detract from Vermeer’s genius to say that he used mechanical devices to achieve his ends?