Johannes, Jan or Johan Vermeer (baptized on 31 October 1632 as Johannis, and buried in the same city under the name Jan on 16 December 1675) was a Dutch Baroque painter who specialized in exquisite, domestic interior scenes of middle class life.
Vermeer was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime. He seems never to have been particularly wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.
Vermeer worked slowly and with great care, using bright colours, sometimes expensive
pigments, with a preference for cornflower blue and yellow. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.
Recognized during his lifetime in Delft and The Hague, his modest celebrity gave way to
obscurity after his death; he was barely mentioned in Arnold Houbraken's major source book on 17th century Dutch painting (Grand Theatre of Dutch Painters and Women Artists), and was thus omitted from subsequent surveys of Dutch art for nearly two centuries. In the 19th century Vermeer was rediscovered by Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Thoré Bürger, who published an essay attributing sixty-six pictures to him, (although only thirty-five paintings are firmly attributed to him today). Since that time Vermeer's reputation has grown, and he is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.
Delft in 1652, by cartographer Willem BlaeuRelatively little is known about Vermeer's life.
He seems to have been exclusively devoted to his art, living out his life in the city of
Delft. The only sources of information are some registers, a few official documents and
comments by other artists; it was for this reason that Thoré Bürger named him "The Sphinx of Delft".
Youth On 31 October 1632, Johannes was baptized in the Reformed Church. His father, Reijnier Janszoon, was a middle-class worker of silk or caffa (a mixture of silk and cotton or wool).
As an apprentice in Amsterdam Reijnier lived in the fashionable Sint Antoniebreestraat, then a street with many resident painters. In 1615 he married Digna Baltus, and in 1620 Reijner and his wife had a daughter, who was baptized as Gertruy. In 1625 Reijnier was involved in a fight with a soldier named Willem van Bylandt, who died from his wounds five months later.
Around the same time Reijnier started to deal in paintings, but in 1631 he leased an inn called "The Flying Fox". In 1641 he bought a larger inn at the market square, named after the Belgian town "Mechelen". The acquisition of the inn constituted a considerable financial burden. When Vermeer's father died in 1652, Vermeer replaced him as a merchant of paintings.
Marriage and family
View of Delft (1660–61)In 1653 Johannes Reijniersz Vermeer married a Catholic girl named Catherina Bolnes. The blessing took place in a nearby and quiet village Schipluiden. For the groom it was a good match. His mother-in-law, Maria Thins, was significantly wealthier than he, and it was probably she who insisted Vermeer convert to Catholicism before the marriage on 5 April. Some scholars doubt that Vermeer became Catholic, but one of his paintings, The Allegory of Catholic Faith, made between 1670 and 1672, reflects the belief in the Eucharist. Liedtke suggests it was made for a Catholic patron, or for a schuilkerk, a hidden church. At some point the couple moved in with Catherina's mother, who lived in a rather spacious house at Oude Langendijk, almost next to a hidden Jesuit church. Here Vermeer lived for the rest of his life, producing paintings in the front room on the second floor. His wife gave birth to 14 children: four of whom were buried before being baptized, but were registered as "child of Johan Vermeer". From wills written by relatives, ten names are known: Maria, Elisabeth, Cornelia, Aleydis, Beatrix, Johannes, Gertruyd, Franciscus, Catharina, and Ignatius. Quite a few have a name with a religious connotation and it is very likely that the youngest, Ignatius, was named after the founder of the Jesuit order.
The Milkmaid (c. 1658)
The Astronomer (c. 1668)It is not certain where Vermeer was apprenticed as a painter, nor with whom, but it is generally believed that he studied in his home town. While Vermeer owned some paintings or drawings by Carel Fabritius it was suggested that Fabritius was his teacher. The local authority, Leonaert Bramer, acted as a friend but their style of painting is rather different. Liedtke suggests Vermeer taught himself and had information from one of his father's connections. Some scholars think Vermeer was trained under the Catholic painter Abraham Bloemaert. Vermeer worked in a similar style as some of the Utrecht Carravagists. In Delft Vermeer probably competed with Pieter de Hoogh and Nicolaes Maes who produced genre works in a similar style.
On 29 December 1653, Vermeer became a member of the Guild of Saint Luke, a trade association for painters. The guild's records make clear Vermeer did not pay the usual admission fee. It was a year of plague, war and economic crisis; not only Vermeer's financial circumstances were difficult. In 1654, the city of Delft suffered the terrible explosion known as the Delft Thunderclap that destroyed a large section of the city. In 1657 he might have found a patron in the local art collector Pieter van Ruijven, who lent him some money. In 1662 Vermeer was elected head of the guild and was reelected in 1663, 1670, and 1671, evidence that he (like Bramer) was considered an established craftsman among his peers. Vermeer worked slowly, probably producing three paintings a year, and on order. When Balthasar de Monconys visited him in 1663 to see some of his work, the diplomat and the two French
clergymen who accompanied him were sent to Hendrick van Buyten, a baker.In 1672 a severe economic downturn (the "Year of Disaster") struck the Netherlands, after Louis XIV and a French army invaded the Dutch Republic from the south (known as the Franco-Dutch War). Not only the French burned and robbed country estates. During the Third Anglo-Dutch War an English fleet, and two allied German bishops attacked the country from the east, tried to destroy the countries hegemony. Many people panicked; courts, theaters, shops and schools were closed, and five years passed before circumstances improved. In the Summer of 1675 Vermeer borrowed money in Amsterdam, using his mother-in-law as a lien.
The Girl with the Wineglass (c. 1659)
Girl With a Pearl Earring (1665), considered a Vermeer masterpieceVermeer produced transparent colours by applying paint to the canvas in loosely granular layers, a technique called pointillé (not to be confused with pointillism). No drawings have been positively attributed to Vermeer, and his paintings offer few clues to preparatory methods. David Hockney, among other historians and advocates of the Hockney-Falco thesis, has speculated
that Vermeer used a camera obscura to achieve precise positioning in his compositions, and this view seems to be supported by certain light and perspective effects. The often-discussed sparkling pearly highlights in Vermeer's paintings have been linked to this possible use of a camera obscura, the primitive lens of which would produce halation. Exaggerated perspective can be seen in Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman (London, Royal Collection). Vermeer's interest in optics is also attested in this work by the accurately observed mirror reflection above the lady at the virginals.
The young adult novel Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett centers around the fictitious theft of Vermeer's A Lady Writing.