17th century painter Johannes Vermeer has been an enigma ever since his work was discovered in the early 1900s. How did the artist manage to exercise such consummate control over tone and blur hundreds of years before the color photograph was invented? One theory involves a camera obscura — an early optical device that could project an image of what it saw onto a screen, potentially giving him the equivalent of a photograph to work from. This month, Vanity Fair tells the story of longtime tinkerer and inventor Tim Jenison, who embarked on a five-year quest to recreate the conditions of Vermeer’s workroom, hoping to see if simple technology could turn a novice into an oil painting master.