Anna and Johanna: A Children's Book Inspired by Jan Vermeer
Anna and Johanna:
A Children's Book Inspired by Jan Vermeer
written by Géraldine Elschner, illustrated Florence Kœnig
Review Copy from Prestel Publishing
Story: Inspired by Vermeer's paintings, "The Milkmaid" and "The Lacemaker," Elschner imagines the two women from the painting as young girls, Anna and Johanna. In Delft on October 12, 1666, Anna, daughter of the master of the house, works to make a lace collar for her best friend, Johanna, daughter of the housemaid. In the kitchen, Johanna is using a pot of fresh milk to make a chocolate treat for her best friend, Anna's, birthday. Sharing a birthday, these best friends are surprised to find a letter from Anna's father that tells a remarkable story. Anna and Johanna learn that they are twin sisters, rescued from a fire and taken to Monika, the housemaid. Longing for a child, but not able to care for two, Monika closes her eyes and reaches into the basket. The other infant is left on the doorstep of her master's house, knowing that he will welcome her into his large family. The girls are overjoyed to learn that they are sisters and spend their birthday together at the seashore.
Pictures: Kœnig's illustrations draw from Vermeer's palette, working to reflect the original paintings' elegant compositions while also emulating the subtle color choices Vermeer made. Using acrylics, she layered the paint for depth and worked to, "get even closer to the two characters, to share their intimacy and to observe them for a whole day, including the trivial, almost forgettable parts right through to the sunny afternoon spent on the beach when their view of the world was about to change. From an inwardly confined and intimate atmosphere, they are brought together following the discovery of their roots and are compelled toward the sea and the light."
Why Read? Why Buy?: Vermeer's and his paintings, of which only 35 remain, have long intrigued and beguiled art lovers. As the back matter in Anna and Johanna tells readers, the world of Vermeer's paintings seems to stand still, "eternally capturing a moment of life's silence." Vermeer's use of light and shade (chiaroscuro) adds depth to the paintings and the subjects, making you wonder about them. It's no surprise that writers have used words to create worlds and lives for the subjects of Vermeer's paintings, who were anonymous models in a time when other artists were benefitting from commissioned portraits of wealthy patrons. Anna and Johanna is a delightful story of friendship and family as well as a delightful way to experience paintings by a master who, despite leaving behind a small collection of paintings, continues to engage and enthrall almost 400 years later.