One of the mysteries of “Sphinx de DelftHas perhaps been pierced. Donald Olson, a professor of astronomy at Texas State University, claims to have identified the precise moment when Johannes Vermeer painted the View of Delft. Given the little information on the life and work of the Dutch master, the circumstances in which this canvas was painted remained unknown until then.

According to the Guardian , Donald Olson – nicknamed the “celestial investigator– studied at length the arrangement of light and shadow on the painting. The Dutch master is said to have painted View of Delft September 3, 1659 at 8 a.m. The artist, then 27, was looking out the window from the second floor of the hostel where he was staying.

Helped by Russel Doescher, a former professor of physics, Donald Olson came to this conclusion after mapping the places during a visit to Delft, and establishing the angle of the sun which would have allowed the appearance of the thin ray of light visible on the central clock tower of Nieuwe Kerk, in the center of the painting.

Everything is played on the ray of light visible on the central clock tower of Nieuwe Kerk: it indicates where the sun is located

Donald Olson

There is the key to the mystery. “Everything is played on this detail: it indicates the place where the sun must be located so that the ray of light is visible, Olson estimates. The arrangement of light and shadow is a reliable indicator of the positioning of the sun».

According to'”celestial investigator», Once this observation is made, the pieces of the puzzle come together on their own. The painter is looking north, which means that the light is coming from the southeast. The scene therefore takes place in the morning. The clock on the facade of one of the buildings shows 7 o’clock. Back then, clocks did not have a minute hand, yet the only visible hand seems closer to 8 o’clock.

Using software, the researchers then calculated the dates when the position of the sun in the sky at 8 a.m. could have created the visible shadows on the clock. Only two moments stand out: April 6-8 and September 3-4. But the foliage of the trees depicted by Vermeer would not have been so thick in April. The two days of September therefore remain by elimination.

Mixed reception

The findings of astronomers, published in the specialist magazine Sky & Telescope, received a mixed reception. Lea van der Vinde, from the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague – where the canvas has been exhibited since 1822 alongside Vermeer’s most famous work, The Girl with a Pearl Earring -, judges the work of astronomers “interesting and fun».

Art historian Kees Kaldenbach is more skeptical. According to him, the canvas was painted in May, with the portrayed herring boats preparing for the fishing campaign scheduled for June. “I take issue with it. The facts are the facts», He laconically declared to the Dutch daily By Volskrant. A sign that the peaceful landscape depicted by Vermeer never ceases to stir up a stir.