Sunday, 24 February 2013

Samuel van Hoogstraten room box

This project took me over a year to complete - not because it was particularly time or energy consuming, but because it demanded a lot of clever engineering. It all started when I went to an exhibition at Fitzwilliam Museum called Vermeer's Women. I am partial to Vermeer (who isn't! But I've been to his house in Delft, and it makes you twice as partial). In addition to Vermeer there were several of his contemporaries in the exhibition, and I made a new acquaintance: Samuel van Hoogstraten. Especially one painting, The Corridor. It is so profoundly enigmatic, even beside Vermeer's enigmatic women, that I kept coming back to it - in fact I went back to the exhibition several times just to see it. And already the very first time I said to myself: this is a room box project.

What I didn't know during my first visit was that van Hoogstraten actually made room boxes. As you can see from this painting, he loved optical illusions, and he made a room box, or a peepshow box, in which he painted the inner walls to look like three-dimensional objects.So my reaction to the painting was in fact not off the point.

My project was thus to make a three-dimensional copy of a two-dimensional painting that pretends to be a three-dimensional space. So how do you do that? There are three vertical surfaces in the painting and three sets of frames (and people say that metafiction is a postmodern invention!). It means that I needed two partitions in my box, with a door each. But unlike the painting, my box would hide something behind the walls that you could see if you looked at the right angle.

I started with a three-dimensional model, making the two walls out of cardboard. The floors were easy to copy, just finding the right colour of paper. The back wall has cream-coloured wallpaper made of a paper table cloth that I have used repeatedly in various projects. I put Girl with a Pearl Earring on the back wall for inpriration. It comes from a sticker booklet I bought at the exhibition.

Quite soon I found exactly the right bit of fabric for the table cloth, and I had a candlestick from another house. I also put in a pewter pitcher, just because it fitted in. I put up more Vermeers on the walls. The frames were 30-pence frames from thrift shops that I painted with a mix of gold and copper. And I just happened to find this magnificent mirror right then. Hiding behind the wall and looking at herself in the mirror is an enigmatic Vermeer woman.

So far so good. But believe me or not, it took me ages to find the right materials for the walls. I tried paint and I tried paper, and it looked wrong. Then finally I found what I wanted. Here is the back of the box with the side walls decorated. I made the chair with bits of wood strip and chopticks for legs. Today, after a period of advanced furniture making, I would have made it better, but it looks authentic eenough to me.


The next steps were to make the walls. This is where the clever engineering bit comes. There are flaps on the sides and on top. The back of the walls will not be visible, except in the mirror, and the edges of the farther wall will be hidden by the front wall, so they don't have to be neat, which is cheating, I know, but there are enough challenges with this project. I used dado rails for door posts

The front wall has the opening shifted to the right for a better effect.

What you cannot see inless you peep into the box is that the mirror reflects a painting on the opposite wall. I think van Hoogstraten would have loved this trick. The enigmatic lady is both looking at her own reflection and the reflection of the painting.

The enigmatic lady will make a brief appearance just to show you what she is like. She does have a pearl earring.

This is the finished box. Sort of finished, because I am sure there will be improvements. I still have not decided whether I will have light - strong light coming from the right, as in the painting.

Think: this photo is a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional object that represents a two-dimensional painting of a three-dimensional space. This is what I call postmodern!

1 comment:

  1. Do you subscribe to any other websites about this? I'm struggling to find other reputable sources like yourself

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