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The Dutch master Johannes Vermeer himself never got the chance to see so many of his paintings in the same place.
Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum has brought together 28 of Vermeer's luminous masterpieces from around the world, in the largest-ever exhibition of the 17th century artist's works.
Curators hope the blockbuster show, featuring some three-quarters of his modest output of around 35 paintings, will also shed light on the enigmatic creator of "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and "The Milkmaid".
"Never in history have 28 paintings by Vermeer been gathered," Rijksmuseum General Director Taco Dibbits told AFP at a preview.
"He didn't even see that many together himself."
Famed for their use of light and color and their tranquil yet haunting indoor scenes, Vermeer's paintings practically shine from the walls of the dimmed galleries at the Rijksmuseum.
The works have been brought from museums and collections around the world, including Washington, New York, Tokyo, London, Paris, Dublin.
"It's a very happy reunion," said Dibbits.
Interest is so intense that the Rijksmuseum has already sold 200,000 tickets for the exhibition, which opens on Friday until June 4, the most ever for one of its shows.
Part of the appeal is the mystery surrounding the man often called the "Sphinx of Delft".
Vermeer (1632-1675) was born into a family of Calvinist traders but converted to Catholicism after marrying a wealthy woman with whom he had 11 children.
But there are very few records of his life, and compared to Dutch "Golden Age" artists such as Rembrandt his work languished in obscurity, until a reappraisal in the 19th century.
Vermeer rose to megastar status with the publication of the novel "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by US author Tracy Chevalier, based on the painting that has been loaned for the exhibition by the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
The book also spawned a 2003 Hollywood movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth.
"Wonderful, it's wonderful," Chevalier told AFP after viewing the exhibition.
"I'm so glad people are going to see these paintings together and build a picture for themselves of what Vermeer was," said the author.
Most of Vermeer's works focus on women, often caught in the midst of acts like writing a letter or playing a musical instrument, and Chevalier said he was "just presenting women in the best possible light, literally and figuratively".
Her favorite in the exhibition -- apart from "Girl with a Pearl Earring", of course -- was "The Lacemaker", a tiny work of exquisite beauty loaned by The Louvre in Paris, she said.
'Time stands still'
Highlights also include three works from the Frick Collection in New York, the newly restored "Girl Reading a Letter at the Window" from Dresden, and "Woman Holding a Balance" from the National Gallery in Washington DC.
For the curators, who say it is a "once in history" exhibition, Vermeer's appeal is also about his creation of quiet worlds so realistic that the viewer feels they could lose themself inside.
"We live in a world today where it's so hectic," said Dibbits.
"He had more than 10 children, there was a war going on outside in Europe, yet still he creates these ideal spaces where time stands still."
The exhibition has however felt the pressures of the real, modern world, with the authenticity of one of its works -- "Girl with a Flute" -- being called into question by the gallery that loaned it.
The National Gallery of Art in Washington said last year it was likely painted by a "studio associate of Vermeer" but the Rijksmuseum says it thinks it's authentic.
"It's very important to have these discussions," said Dibbits.
The magic of the master is still bewitching for staff at the Rijksmuseum.
"For me personally Vermeer is one of the greatest artists in the world," said Gregor Weber, the Rijksmuseum's fine arts department head and author of a recent book showing Vermeer was influenced by a pinhole camera that was first introduced to him by Jesuit priests.
"To have three quarters of his oeuvre together here in Amsterdam under one roof is the crown of my work."
© 2023 AFP
Ma Yu launches her makeshift polystyrene boat into a Yangon creek for another day of trawling the filthy waters for plastic and tin cans with her team of "river cleaners".
Around 10 others join her in the dawn light, driven to work the fetid grey-brown murk of Pazundaung creek by the economic crisis that has gripped Myanmar since the 2021 military coup.
They gather recyclable materials to sell to traders, their only source of income since losing their jobs after the putsch that upended the economy and sparked widespread unrest.
"There was no job for me on the land and I'm responsible for my children and my husband's healthcare," the 36-year-old Ma Yu told AFP, her cheeks and forehead daubed with the sandalwood "thanakha" paste popularly used in Myanmar to ward off the blazing sun.
"So I rented some polystyrene sheets and I went onto the creek with my neighbor. On the first day we managed to collect some plastic and cans to sell. We were happy," she said.
Myanmar's economy has been battered by the fallout of the coup, with more than a million people losing their jobs, according to the International Labour Organization.
Ma Ngal, 41, came to the river after losing her job selling vegetables and fish at a Yangon stall, with her carpenter husband also unable to find regular work.
"I didn't tell my parents and family members that we are doing this work," said Ma Ngal.
"But they found out, and I had to explain to them that I'm doing this for my family."
On a good day a picker can find trash worth 30,000 kyat ($10), but more often the take-home pay is around $3.
"Before we started working there was lots of plastic, cans and bottles on the creek," says Kyu Kyu Khine, 39, who used to collect trash from Yangon's streets.
The pickers try to time their working days with the tides -- floating downstream in search of more trash when it ebbs and riding it back upstream at the end of a shift.
But the tidal surges can be treacherous, says Ma Yu, who was knocked off her boat on one of her early forays onto the water.
"Sometimes I think that if something happens to me, I'm all alone here and I can't do anything," she said.
The waters also carry regular reminders of the breakdown of order in Yangon, where residents say crime is surging in the aftermath of the coup.
The pickers regularly see dead bodies floating on the water, said Ma Yu.
"It's not an easy job but... the important thing for me is that my children don't starve," she said.
Her fellow picker Ma Ngal says there are some lighter moments.
"Some people joke with us when they see us working. They say 'here come the municipal team, they know how to clean up the river'."
© 2023 AFP
Speaking to MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, Robert Mueller's senior prosecutor Andrew Weissmann walked through the four major criminal cases Donald Trump now faces in court.
Weissmann said it was "remarkable" that a former president of the United States would be facing so many criminal investigations that are headed toward prosecution at the same time.
"That's worth taking a moment just to realize the breathtaking nature of that inquiry," Weissmann said. "The caveat is, we actually don't know everything that the prosecutors know. We're making educated guesses. But we do have quite a bit of information about some of these investigations."
Putting them in order, he began with the Mar-a-Lago documents case.
It's the "one that we know, probably, the most about, and it seems really strong. What I mean by that is that you are looking for evidence of criminal intent, which is almost always in white-collar cases, you're looking for what is proof of the intent of the defendant. And Donald Trump, through his actions and his statements, has made that case very strong."
He explained that there are always several reasons not to bring a case, but that isn't the legal standard. He said a case should be brought if it is "meritorious" and "righteous, even if there is a risk of loss."
"The Georgia case is also very strong," Weissmann continued. "It's hard to separate the Georgia case from the federal so-called Jan. 6th case because the Georgia case is just one component of that. Except, the Jan. 6 case brings in so much more conduct than what the former president did in Georgia."
He went on to say that it might end up taking more time at the federal level than in Georgia, where things are moving more swiftly.
"We do see some signs of life in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. I've always been saying that's the sleeper case to keep your eye on, particularly because the state cases can stick. No matter who is president after Joe Biden, if it were to be a Republican, there is no ability to pardon for a state case. So, keeping your eye on Georgia and Manhattan is really key."
Finally, he noted that the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, which sent Michael Cohen to prison, is another major case.
the 4 criminal cases against Trump www.youtube.com