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MYSTERY OF THE LOST VERMEER

THE CONCERT
(1663-66)

Stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990

Jan Vermeer, View of Delft (1660 ca.)

THE CONCERT” – AN ENIGMA ON CANVAS BY JAN VERMEER

Jan Vermeer is one of the most highly prized artists of all time.His iconic works are recognized all over the world, even though much of his life is still a mystery today.

Less than forty works have survived to the present day that can be attributed to him with certainty. All display the mastery of Vermeer in dealing with the relationship between light and space, his skilled use of glazes and rendering of textures.His compositions, rich in symbolic or allusive details have always challenged the idea of an unequivocal interpretation.

Jan Vermeer, View of Delft (1660 ca.)
Jan Vermeer, “The Concert”, detail (1663-66)
Jan Vermeer, “The Concert”, detail (1663-66)
Jan Vermeer, “The Concert”, detail (1663-66)

Among these “The Concert” is an example par excellence. Probably executed between 1663 and 1666, the painting’s composition is similar to that of previous works but developed in a more complex manner. A clearly perceptible beam of light enters the scene from outside and alights on the group of figures central to the painting: a gentleman with his back to the viewer and two young women either side. The one on the left sits at the harpsichord while the other stands and sings. To the left is a table covered with a Turkish carpet and music books, while musical instruments rest below it on the black and white marble-tiled floor. Two paintings hang on the wall, the one on the right is a rendering of “The Procuress” by Dirck van Baburen, which Vermeer himself had purchased.

After changing through various hands, and above all, after the general reappraisal of Vermeer’s greatness that started in the second half of the 19th century,The Concert” was acquired by the American collector Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1892, as a central masterpiece of what was to become the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Jan Vermeer, “The Concert”, detail (1663-66)
Jan Vermeer, “The Concert”, detail (1663-66)
Jan Vermeer, “The Concert”, detail (1663-66)
One of the guards that the thefts handcuffed

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE MOST INVESTIGATED PAINTING IN THE WORLD.

18th March 1990. At midnight on St. Patrick’s Day, after a day of euphoric celebrations with policemen worn out from working overtime, two men get out of a car and ring the entry phone at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum stating that they are policemen and have been called to the site following a report. The cunning criminals took advantage of the inexperienced guards who were unable to oppose them and had forgotten the normal security procedure that forbade opening the doors to anyone, even if dressed like policemen. Once inside the museum, the thieves handcuffed the guards and when one of them asked “Why are you arresting us?” the reply was simple: “Because this is a robbery”.

In 81 minutes the criminals manage to remove 13 paintings, with a value of half a billion dollars. Among these is “The Concert”, which, from that minute on, became the most investigated painting in the world.

One of the guards that the thefts handcuffed
Christopher A. Marinello, CEO & Founder Art Recovery International
The gangster Carmelo Merlino, arrested by the police
A mug shot and a sketch of the gangster David Turner
David Turner's godfather, Robert Guarente during his interrogation

To date, most of the leads followed up by the FBI, including that which hinted at international involvement, have proved false or baseless. The only plausible line of inquiry is linked to local criminality, particularly to the names of gangsters Carmelo Merlino and David Turner, a violent criminal that many believe to be the mastermind behind the heist.

Both denied all charges and the mystery of the Vermeer continues to generate legends. The most convincing theories hold that Turner hid the paintings with his godfather, Robert Guarente, who, when he fell ill, gave them to his close friend Robert Gentile. The latter denied any in involvement in the robbery, but the results of a lie detector interrogation indicated that his testimony may be false. His statements left the police unconvinced, and a warrant was obtained to search his house. Unfortunately, the masterpiece is nowhere to be found.Despite promises by the authorities, who guaranteed immunity to anyone who returns the paintings, the frames inside the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are still empty to this day.

The gangster Carmelo Merlino, arrested by the police
A mug shot and a sketch of the gangster David Turner
David Turner's godfather, Robert Guarente during his interrogation
Stephen Kurkjian, Journalist, Pulitzer Prize Winner
Factum Arte artists discussing about the re-creation of “The Concert
One of the three artists from Factum Arte working on her own re-creation of the painting

THE CONCERT
RE-MATERIALIZED.

Prior to the robbery in 1990, the painting was well documented and there were already numerous scientific studies on Vermeer, on his methods and his era.The Factum Arte team gathered information from various sources to re-materialize the missing Vermeer masterpiece, using traditional techniques and cutting-edge technology.

The Factum Arte artists used the best image available of the painting as a guide in the recreation of “The Concert”. The photo was enlarged to the actual dimensions of the painting and printed on a canvas prepared with gesso. It is thought that the initial layers of the Vermeer painting were done in grisaille – a monochrome gray – over which the artist later added the rest of the color.

Factum Arte artists discussing about the re-creation of “The Concert
One of the three artists from Factum Arte working on her own re-creation of the painting
One of the three artists from Factum Arte working on her own re-creation of the painting
One of the three artists from Factum Arte working on her own re-creation of the painting

By printing the guide image in greyscale and sepia, it functioned as a true underpainting may have done, and gave better results in the attempt to capture Vermeer’s tones as closely as possible.

Three separate artists worked on their versions of the painting. These three canvases would then be combined in a single image using digital techniques. The physical recreation of the painting by the hand of artists was an important part of the process of re-materialization, giving the finished, printed item a feel and semblance of a real painting.

Experts believe that Vermeer used his knowledge in the field of optics to help in the creation of his paintings. It is thought that the artist used a camera oscura, an optic device consisting of a box with a pinhole that projects an upside image of the outside world on one of the surfaces inside.

One of the three artists from Factum Arte working on her own re-creation of the painting
One of the three artists from Factum Arte working on her own re-creation of the painting
Jordi García Pons, Artist and Painter, Factum Arte
The mould of the painting is cast in gesso
The cast of the painting is transferred onto a linen canvas to provide a textured surface for color printing

In Madrid, Factum Arte built a camera oscura to better understand this technique and its influence on Vermeer’s painting.A great deal of research was done, even into the faithful recreation of the limited selection of colors that characterizes the Dutch painter, by consulting analysis on the pigments and on the materials bought by his studio. In the versions used for the re-materialization of the final work, Factum used only the highest quality pigments, including the extremely rare and expensive Lapis Lazuli.

Each artist who worked on the re-materialization of the work brought something significant to the final result, and all agreed thatthe most important quality of Vermeer is his ability to depict light in his compositions.By concentrating on these aspects of the painting and by striving to copy the light within the scene, they managed to achieve faithful recreation of original.

Together with the photographs taken of the original painting, the Factum Arte team was able to study 3D and color information by analyzing a Vermeer painting in the Royal Collection with the help of the expert Jonathan Jason.

The mould of the painting is cast in gesso
The cast of the painting is transferred onto a linen canvas to provide a textured surface for color printing
The digital laboratory of Factum Arte's last control before the final printing of the work
Print of the rematerialization of “The Concert” by Factum Arte

The digital reconstruction was used to fuse the versions created by the artists and to achieve a level of detail impossible in the physical world.

Each version of the “The Concert” painted by Factum Arte was photographed in high resolution. Using digital processing programs, the best sections from the various versions were united to create the final version. For the most delicate parts, such as the hands and faces, portions of the original photograph were used.

The surface of the original painting would have been textured with a delicate paint craquelure. In order to achieve this effect in our re-creation, the craquelure from the Royal Collection Vermeer was used to texture the Photoshop image of “The Concert”. Other details, such as the character of the floor, where each of the marble slabs is intricately lined and coloured, were also digitally reproduced based on other Vermeer paintings.

The 3D data from the Vermeer at the Royal Collection was modified; the scale was also reduced. The 3D model was printed using OCE’s elevated printing technology and a silicon mould taken from this print. The mould was cast in gesso. The cast was transferred onto a linen canvas to provide a textured surface for colour printing. The colour was printed using Factum’s modified flatbed printers, which allow a very exact registration of the print and the canvas. The final step in the re-creation of “The Concert” was applying a coat of varnish to this textured print.

The digital laboratory of Factum Arte's last control before the final printing of the work
Print of the rematerialization of “The Concert” by Factum Arte
Adam Lowe with Jonathan Janson and expert Kees Kaldenbach

RECREATION OF
THE CONCERT

Digital Recreation of Jan Vermeer’s “The Concert” (1663 – 66)
2017 Pigment and gesso on canvas
Recreation by Factum Arte