Jan or Johannes Vermeer van Delft (1632-1675) was a Dutch genre painter who lived and worked in Delft. He created some of the most exquisite paintings in Western art. His works are rare. Of the 35 or 36 paintings generally attributed to him, most portray figures in interiors. All his works are admired for the sensitivity with which he rendered effects of light and color and for the poetic quality of his images.

Little is known for certain about Vermeer's life and career. He was born in 1632, the son of a silk worker with a taste for buying and selling art. Vermeer himself was also active in the art trade. He lived and worked in Delft all his life. Not much is known about Vermeer's apprenticeship as an artist either. In 1653 he enrolled at the local artists guild. His earliest signed and dated painting, The Procuress (1656), is thematically related to a Dirck van Baburen painting that Vermeer owned and that appears in the background of two of his own paintings.

During the late 1650s, Vermeer began to place a new emphasis on depicting figures within carefully composed interior spaces. Other Dutch painters painted similar scenes, but they were less concerned with the articulation of the space than with the description of the figures and their actions. In early paintings such as The Milkmaid (circa 1658), Vermeer struck a delicate balance between the compositional and figural elements, and he achieved highly sensuous surface effects by applying paint thickly and modeling his forms with firm strokes. Later he turned to thinner combinations of glazes to obtain the subtler and more transparent surfaces displayed in paintings such as Woman with a Water Jug (circa 1664/5).

A keen sensitivity to the effects of light and color and an interest in defining precise spatial relationships probably encouraged Vermeer to experiment with the camera obscura, an optical device that could project the image of sunlit objects placed before it with extraordinary realism.

Moralizing references occur in several of Vermeer's works, although they tend to be obscured by the paintings' vibrant realism and their general lack of narrative elements.

After his death Vermeer was overlooked by all but the most discriminating collectors and art historians for more than 200 years. His few pictures were attributed to other artists. Only after 1866, when the French critic W. Thore-Burger "rediscovered" him, did Vermeer's works become widely known and his works heralded as genuine Vermeers.

Barely 35 works are known to have been painted by Vermeer. His early paintings - mainly history pieces - reveal the influence of the Utrecht Caravaggists. In his later works, however, he produced meticulously constructed interiors with just one or two figures - usually women. These are intimate genre paintings in which the principal figure is invariably engaged in some everyday activity: one is reading a letter, another is fastening a collar about her neck, yet another is pouring out milk. Often the light enters Vermeer's paintings from a window. He was a master at depicting the way light illuminates objects and in the rendering of materials.


"The little Street" (circa 1658) Oil on canvas, 54.3 x 44 cm - 21.3 x 17.3 in. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Nederlands.




"The Kitchen Maid" (circa 1658) Oil on canvas, 45.5 x 41 cm - 20 x 16 in. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Nederlands.




"Young Woman with a Water Pitcher" (circa 1664-65) Oil on canvas, 45.7 x 40.6 cm - 20 x 16 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.




"Girl with a Pearl Earring" (circa 1665-66) Oil on canvas, 44.5 x 39 cm - 21.8 x 15.3 in. Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Nederlands.




"The Art of Painting" (circa 1666-73) Oil on canvas, 130 x 110 cm - 51.1 x 43.3 in. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.




"A Lady Drinking and a Gentleman" (circa 1658) Oil on canvas, 76.5 x 66.3 cm - 30.12" x 26.1" in. Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany.




"A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman" (1662-65) Oil on canvas, 64.5 x 73.3 cm - 25.39" x 28.86" in. Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace, London, UK.




"Woman in Blue Reading a Letter" (1663-64) Oil on canvas, 39.1 x 46.6 cm - 15.39" x 18.35" in. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Nederlands.




"Lady with Her Maidservant Holding a Letter" (circa 1667) Oil on canvas, 78.1 x 89.5 cm - 30" x 35.24" in. Frick Collection, New York, USA.




"View on Delft" (circa 1660-61) Oil on canvas, 96.5 117.5 cm - 37.99 46.26 in. Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Nederlands.




"The Astronomer " (circa 1668) Oil on canvas, 51 x 45 cm - 20 x 17.71 in. Louvre, Paris, France.




"Christ in the House of Martha and Mary" (before 1654-55) Oil on canvas, 160 142 cm - 63 x 56 in. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK.

Text source: 'Webmuseum' (www.ibiblio.org/wm).

Related Artists:


Related Terms: Realism, Genre Painting.


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