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View of Delft
4' x 5' - Mixed Media with Acrylic Binder on Canvas
Collage with Vermeer's View of Delft, Photograph of the Globe from National Geographic, and Nilsson's Photograph of a Human Heart.

Vermeer’s View of Delft and the Bodily Enhancement of Sensa

In Vermeer’s View of Delft , bodily enhancement result in subtle yet powerful feelings to produce intense satisfaction. Considered by some to be the finest landscape painting in all of Western art, the painting’s power makes it worthwhile to call attention to some of its effects that stem from bodily feelings.

In the painting, areas of reflected light register a series of contrasts. Note the bright, almost flesh-like surfaces of walls and roofs (1) at far right. The brightness is so vivid as to initiate a sense of bodily nerves and flesh, an effect similar to the bright, fleshy arm of the Milkmaid. Even though this sense is not produced by the sight of an actual piece of the body as in the milkmaid, it still engages a significant bodily reference by its heightening of sensation. Next, the yellow square of wall and the warm orange intervals (2) register as a distinct set of warmly colored rectangles; then, (3) the less bright but definitely warm set of red tile roofs that are receding at left; then (4) the pale light on the Gothic church tower that mediates the sky with the warmer, darker tones of the surrounding architecture. Finally, (5) the cool, blue roofs at right an the bright, white chimneys that accent the cool roofs and mediate the “fleshy” bright patch mentioned in (1). In these discrete tonalities, light assimilates in a structured society, like a chord capable  of harmonizing and modulating a gamut of bodily experiences such as warmth, coolness, recessive and calming darkness, brightness and “fleshly” brightness. The result is a transmuted feeling of a complex and unified range of light, and of bodily states made more compelling by Vermeer’s uncanny sense of realism and verisimilitude.

A similarity rich range of contrasts is present in the shading of the sky, the water and the dark foreground walls. The clouds, like my memory of the face of Head of a Young Girl, scintillate with the most subtle pointillist gradations, engaging both mind and eye to create a strong sense of reality, and of an “abstract” ideality both powerful and delicate. The same can be said of the reflective water. Where have we ever seen such limpid water or such vaporous clouds? As we gaze at them, our visceral-tactile experience is matched with the remembered experience of seeing actual sky, cloud, vapor and water.  These atmospheric and fluid textures form an extremely strong contrast to the feeling of the masonry and the solidity of most of the buildings.

All of these tactile contrasts occur within a highly structured pattern of pointillist dots, proportions, sets and groupings that directs our interests to an abstract unifying order. Notice the pair of barges, arches, roof towers and women. These pairs are interspersed with important single entities-specific windows, dormers, arches and chimneys. These patterns and harmonies contribute to the sense of a potent yet mysterious order that we attribute to the picture. Mathematical generality is showing relationships without specific reference to concrete instance. The human mind has developed to respond to this order as an overlay integrating with good or bad bodily and conceptual feelings, as exemplified by the arresting and satisfying proportions of the Parthenon, harmonies of sound in music, or to whatever concrete instances are overlaid. No wonder Proust was moved to eloquent self-deprecation over the View of Delft, and van Gogh considered it to be the greatest work of art that he had ever seen.

At first glance one may not notice the dramatically free and ambiguous handling of space and the boundaries of objects in the View of Delft that is found in the Turner.  The geometric boundaries of building against building and building against sky are fairly definite. But there is much ambiguity within the textures and patterns of the masonry buildings, as well as in their intersection with the water. Upon closer inspection one sees the painting as a masterful artistic example of presenting both clear and vague sensa. As Whitehead states, clear and vague sensa are required for depth of satisfaction. In his terms, clear and definite objects can take their place in the foreground and become referent to the breadth order of possibilities suggested in the vague background. Within the vagueness, a sense of connection and structured relationships to the clear objects is required. This condition is necessary for the immanence of relevant possibilities. Thus the body, with its ability to give to other images qualities of goodness, badness, balance, extension, and so forth, and that provides the ground underlying all symbolic reference, has developed with a mind that depends on the recognition of pattern to further its understanding of how contrasting entities can be connected and felt in togetherness. Using Whitehead’s terms, I suggest that the View of Delft can be considered as one of the world’s finest demonstrations of the mind’s development toward the production o good within a finite unit of feeling. In his essay, Mathematics and the Good, Whitehead tells us how pattern plays its part in that up rush of feeling that is the awakening  of infinitude  to the finite activity of coming to closures of meaning, such as Clark’s reference to the View of Delft and its projection of “the light of the mind.”

Such is the nature of existence: It is the acquisition of pattern by feeling, in its  emphasis on a finite group of selected particulars  which are the entities patterned- for example, the spatial arrangements of colours and sounds… The notion of pattern emphasizes the relativity of existence, namely how things are connected. But the things thus connected are entities in themselves. Each entity in a pattern enters into other patterns, and retains its own individuality in this variety of existence…The point I am emphasizing is the function of pattern in the production of Good or Evil in the finite unit of feeling which embraces the enjoyment of that pattern.

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