JACQUES-EDOUARD BERGER FOUNDATION: World Art Treasures

The Egg and the Pearl

Consider the possibility: Vermeer did not paint "genre" scenes, as is often repeated, certainly adding that it was done with the "stroke of a genius", but that from the start to the end of his work, Vermeer painted the metamorphoses of the pearl and the egg, the alchemy of its beginnings and its ends. The Pearl, not an ornament, Pearl in the singular, with a capital P, as any object which abolishes the existential distance and becomes a Symbol, pulp and source, Number and Matrix. And here are fruits, bread, jugs and headdresses entering into the metamorphosis at the same time as they are completing it. From the faces, the busts, the stomach of an expectant woman (the artist's wife?), a pearl of flesh where the egg of birth lies dormant, to the eyes which release their vision like a flowering seed, to the paintings within paintings, follicles quivering with reflections and colors, as the carpets and curtains quiver at the rhythm of the hands of the letter readers or the lacemaker, paper and wool combined in the same opalescent flow. This is what Vermeer synthesizes in this example, once by the closed sphere of the Astronomer and again in the opened sphere of the book under the Geographer's compass. But always and everywhere, folds and pleats are continually repeated, sometimes to round out the nail heads which pierce chairs and armchairs, other times to define sleeves and collars of sun and honey. Down to the point of the paint brush which scatters its stellar particles in the quick of the pulp.
Alchemy? Panspermia? Above and beyond the engendered forms, the pearl's translucent light combines with the egg's porous orb. Ab Ovo, said Klee on the bottom of one of his most beautiful paintings. Four centuries apart, two artists found, in the guise of representation, the original Forms waiting for a new dawn.


René Berger, April 1996