Very little is known about the life of the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). He left behind no self-portraits, no letters, no notes, no students or apprentices. As for his art, no records have been found to clarify how he did what he did. But now some new light is being shed on his work on the occasion of the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of his work at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Suzanne Raes directs this fascinating documentary with illuminating commentary on Vermeer by the exhibition’s curators Gregor Weber and Pieter Roelofs and collectors and conservators Abbie Vandivere and Anna Krekeler. They explain the insights gained by scanning the Dutch master’s creations layer by layer. They also assess the possible ways he might have come up with the photorealistic qualities in his paintings. They talk about the importance of Vermeer’s thematic love of domestic tableaux (depictions of female figures in domestic settings) and his spiritual use of light.

As the curators try to collect as many of Vermeer’s 37 known paintings as possible for the exhibition, we meet collectors and museum directors who have their own opinions about the artist. A lengthly section covers the debate about whether one of the paintings is really a Vermeer; it ends up in the exhibition but there are still questions, especially from the American experts.

Perhaps the nicest part of the documentary is how it captures the enthusiasm of Vermeer’s fans. One expert, looking through a microscope at a painting is just plain amazed at how he created a brick wall. Jonathan Janson, a Vermeer expert who is also a painter, praises the unique features of the paintings: “The composition, the color, the light, those effects that no other painter in Holland would actually get. He was making these mini-worlds, universes in a corner of a room. Everything is so important.”

The best story comes from curator Gregor J. M Weber. He admits that the first time he saw Vermeer paintings, he fainted! “A good exhibition should sweep you away,” he says. “It should change the way you look. Your view of the world changes as you’re drawn into this other world and you’re almost floating. Vermeer can really do that.”

The exhibition in Amsterdam is sold out but the Rijksmuseum has made an online presentation of all the paintings, with historical and artistic commentaries, narrated by Stephen Fry. You can experience it here.