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Johannes Vermeer: A Gifted Painter and Genuine Master of 17th-Century Genre Art

27.10.2021
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Johannes Vermeer self-portrait

Johannes Vermeer or simply Jan Vermeer, as known from his biography, was baptized on 31 October 1632 in Delft, The Netherlands. He is a Dutch painter whose masterpieces are some of the most favorite and admired creations in the history of art. Do you know about the locations of Vermeer’s paintings? Despite the fact that only about 36 Vermeer paintings have survived, his artworks are today the greatest treasures of the world’s greatest museums. Vermeer started his professional career in the early 1650s by painting grand biblical and epic scenes, but most of his later paintings show scenes of everyday life in interiors. His work is marked by a clarity of lightning and form that conveys a tranquil, timeless sense of dignity.

Vermeer also painted townscapes and you can see the allegory of his painting scenes. So Vermeer was a representative of which style of painting?

You can find answers to these and other questions in the Vermeer biography below. Read on and find out all you need to know about the art of painting Vermeer analysis and the birthday of Jan Vermeer, the representative of the dutch golden age and the iconic artist of his time.

Early Life of Johannes Vermeer

The Vermeer birthplace was an active and thriving place in the mid–17th century. It was also a venerable city with a long and distinguished past. Delft’s strong fortifications, city walls, and medieval gateway had protected the city for over three centuries.

The future artist was baptized in the Nieuwe Kerk church. His father, Reinier Jansz, was a weaver who manufactured a fine satin cloth called kaffa; he was also an art dealer. By 1641 the family was wealthy enough to acquire a large house with an inn, Mechelen, on the market square. When his father died in October 1652, Vermeer inherited both the inn and the art dealer. By this time, though, Vermeer must have decided that he wanted to pursue a career as an artist.

Johannes Vermeer Art Education and the Start of Artistic Life

We know very little about Jan Vermeer’s bio and his choice to become an artist. On 29 December 1653, he registered as a master painter with the Delft Guild of St. Luke’s, but the names of his teachers, the nature, and the period of his training remain a great mystery to all.

Vermeer’s name is not mentioned in Delft’s archive records in the late 1640s and early 1650s, so it is likely that, like many at the time, he went to Italy, France or Flanders. Jan could also have trained in some other Dutch artistic center. Utrecht or Amsterdam for example. In Utrecht, Dutch painter Vermee could meet artists in the tradition of Caravaggio, among them Gerrit van Hontthorst. In Amsterdam Vermeer might have met Rembrandt van Rijn, whose strong effects later heighten the mental tension of Johannes Vermeer paintings.

The stylistic characteristics of both painting traditions – found in Vermeer’s early biblical and mythological famous paintings such as “Diana and Her Nymphs” and “Christ in the House of Mary and Martha”.

The most striking connection between the two traditions can be seen in Vermeer’s “Queen” (1656).

Vermeer's “Queen” (1656)

The subject of this scene of self-serving love is borrowed from a Vermeer’s baroque painting by the Utrecht school artist Dirk van Baburen, kept in the collection of Vermeer’s mother-in-law, and the rich red-yellow colors and strong effects recall the style of Rembrandt’s painting. The dimly lit figure on the left side of the composition is probably his self-portrait, in which Vermeer’s portrait takes the form of the Prodigal Son, a role that Rembrandt also played in one of his ‘merry company’ scenes.

Jan vermeer is best known for his special painting style. The Girl with the Pearl Earring is Johannes Vermeer’s most famous painting. It is not a portrait, but a painting depicting an imaginary figure. The painting shows a girl in exotic clothing, wearing an oriental turban and with an incredibly large pearl in her ear. Johannes Vermeer was a master of light. This is evident in the softness of the girl’s face and the reflections of light on her moist lips. And, of course, the shining pearl.

Girl with the Pearl Earring Johannes Vermeer's most famous painting

In the early 1650s, Johannes Vermeer as a painter could also find a lot of inspiration in his hometown of Delft, where art was undergoing a rapid transformation. The most important painter in Delft at that time was Leonard Bramer, who created not only small history paintings – that is, edifying depictions of biblical or mythological subjects – but also great frescoes for the court of the Prince of Orange.

Another significant artist whom Vermeer must have known in Delft during this period was Karel Fabritius, a former pupil of Rembrandt. Fabritius’ expressively thoughtful images and innovative use of perspective appear to have had a profound influence on Vermeer. However, although Johannes Vermeer himself was familiar with the works of Fabricius, there is no evidence that he studied with Fabricius.

Whatever the circumstances of his early artistic education, by the second half of the 1650s Vermeer had begun to depict scenes of everyday life. It is with these genre Vermeer landscape paintings that he is most often associated with. Gerard Therborch, a painter from Deventer who masterfully conveyed texture in his depictions of domestic affairs, may well have encouraged Vermeer to depict scenes of everyday life.

Vermeer’s interior scenes during this period were also influenced by the work of Pieter de Huh, the leading genre painter of Delft at the time. De Huh was a master of using perspective to create a light-filled interior or courtyard in which figures were comfortably arranged. Although there is no documentation linking Vermeer and de Huh, it is very likely that the two artists were in close contact during this period, as the subject matter and style of their paintings during those years were very similar. Vermeer’s “View of Houses in Delft” is one such work. Here Vermeer depicted a world of domestic tranquility, with women and children going about their daily business in the soothing environment of their homes.

Vermeer's View of Houses in Delft

What about Vermeer’s still life work?

Vermeer never painted still life paintings as such, but many of his interiors included them. For example, the white jug appears in three of his 37 paintings: Vermeer’s “The milkmaid”, a girl with a glass of wine, and a music lesson. These images incorporate the seduction and intoxication of the times.

Vermeer’s “The milkmaid”

Johannes Vermeer’s Golden Years

Since the late 1650s, Vermeer has created many of his greatest pictures, most of them interior scenes. No other modern Dutch painter created scenes with such vividness and purity of color, and none of Vermeer’s complete works was imbued with a comparable sense of timelessness and human dignity.

Having reached the pinnacle of his abilities, Vermeer became famous in his hometown of Delft and in 1662 was appointed head of the painters’ guild. Although nothing is known about orders for Vermeer’s pictures, it seems that during this period and others he mainly sold his work to a small group of patrons in Delft. For instance, two decades after Vermeer’s death no fewer than 21 of his paintings were sold from the possessions of Jacob Dissius, a Delft collector.

The Personal Life of the Legendary Creator

In April 1653, in fact, Vermeer married Katherine Bolnes, a young Catholic woman from Papist Corner, Delft. This alliance forced him to change from his Protestant beliefs to Catholicism. Later that same decade Vermeer and his wife moved to the home of the bride’s mother, Maria Tins, who was a distant relative of the Utrecht painter Abraham Blomaert. The couple had 11 children.

Creative Path to His Final Days

In 1670 Vermeer was again elected head of the Delft Guild of Painters. Later Vermeer’s style of painting is marked by a clearer character, more atmosphere, and clarity than in his paintings of the 1660s. The carefully modulated tones and colours he used in his drawings, around 1670, gave way to a more direct, even bold technique. For example, he used harshly outlined planes of color and an angular rhythm to convey emotional energy in paintings such as “The Lady Writing a Letter to Her Maid and Playing the Guitar”.

Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid

Towards the end of his life, the artist’s fortunes declined sharply, largely due to the catastrophic economic conditions in Holland after the invasion of French troops in 1672. When Vermeer passed away in 1675, he left behind a wife, 11 children and huge debts.

Johannes Vermeer’s Legacy

After his death Vermeer paintings continued to be admired by a small group of admirers, mainly in Delft and in Amsterdam. By the 19th century a series of Vermeer’s pictures began to be credited to other more prolific Dutch painters.

When the French painter-critic Etienne-Joseph-Théophile Thoret published his enthusiastic descriptions of Vermeer’s paintings, however, the enthusiasm for the artist’s work spread to a wider public. As in the early years of the 20th-century private collectors and state museums actively sought to purchase rare Vermeer paintings, the prices of his works skyrocketed. This situation encouraged the production of fakes. At the end of the 20th century, his fame kept rising, helped in part by the exhibition of Johannes Vermeer artworks at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Mauritshuis in The Hague. The exhibition also attracted public interest.

You can see for yourself what Vermeer saw in nature through his work. He was fantastically accurate in revealing the poetry that exists in the fleeting moments of human life. The artist rarely gave a precise explanation of the meaning of his paintings, preferring to give each viewer an opportunity to ponder the meaning for himself. As a result, his masterpieces continue to completely captivate every modern observer, just as they must have fascinated their audience in 17th century Delft.

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