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Artists in 60 Seconds: Johannes Vermeer

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; used with permission

Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632-1675). Study of a Young Woman, probably ca. 1665-67. Oil on canvas. 17 1/2 x 15 3/4 in. (44.5 x 40 cm). Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, in memory of Theodore Rousseau Jr., 1979 (1979.396.1).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:

Dutch Baroque

Date and Place of Birth:

October 31, 1632, Delft, Netherlands

This was, at least, the date on which Vermeer was baptized. There is no record of his actual date of birth, though we assume it was close to the above. Vermeer's parents were Protestant Reformed, a Calvinist denomination that held infant baptism as a sacrament. (Vermeer himself is thought to have converted to Roman Catholicism when he married.)

Life:

Perhaps appropriately, given the scant factual documentation about this artist, any discussion of Vermeer must begin with confusion over his "real" name. It's known that he went by his birth name, Johannes van der Meer, shortened it to Jan Vermeer later in life and was given the third moniker of Jan Vermeer van Delft (presumably to distinguish him from an unrelated family of "Jan Vermeers" who painted in Amsterdam). These days, the artist's name is correctly referenced as Johannes Vermeer.

We also know when he was married and buried, and civic records from Delft indicate the dates Vermeer was admitted to the painters guild and took out loans. Other records tell that, after his early death, his widow filed for bankruptcy and support for their eight minor (the youngest of eleven, total) children. As Vermeer did not enjoy fame - or even a widespread reputation as an artist - during his lifetime, everything else written about him is (at best) an educated guess.

Vermeer's early work concentrated on history paintings but, around 1656, he moved into the genre paintings he would produce for the rest of his career. The man seems to have painted with painstaking slowness, dissecting a whole color spectrum out of "white" light, executing near-perfect optical precision and reproducing the most minute details. This may have translated to "fussy" from another artist, but with Vermeer it all served to highlight the personality of the piece's central figure(s).

Possibly the most amazing thing about this immensely famous artist is that hardly anyone knew he had lived, let alone painted, for centuries after his death. Vermeer wasn't "discovered" until 1866, when the French art critic and historian, Théophile Thoré, published a monograph about him. In the years since, Vermeer's authenticated output has been variously numbered at between 35 and 40 pieces, although people hopefully search for more now that they are known to be both rare and valuable.

Important Works:

  • Diana and her Companions, 1655-56
  • Procuress, 1656
  • Girl Asleep at a Table, ca. 1657
  • Officer with a Laughing Girl, ca. 1655-60
  • The Music Lesson, 1662-65
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring, ca. 1665-66
  • Allegory of the Art of Painting, ca. 1666-67

Date and Place of Death:

December 16, 1675, Delft, Netherlands

As with his baptismal record, this is the date upon which Vermeer was buried. You'd want to assume his burial was very near to his date of death, though.

How To Pronounce "Vermeer":

    vur·mear

Quotes From Johannes Vermeer:

    No, sorry. We have nothing from this man of mystery. We can only imagine what he might have said. (One guess, with eleven children in the house, would be the occasional plea for quiet.)

Sources and Further Reading

  • Arasse, Daniel; Grabar, Terry (trans.). Vermeer: Faith in Painting.
    Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1994.

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  • Baker, Christopher. "Vermeer, Jan [Johannes Vermeer]"
    The Oxford Companion to Western Art.
    Ed. Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford University Press, 2001.
    Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 6 November 2005.

  • Franits, Wayne. "Vermeer, Johannes [Jan]"
    Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 6 November 2005.

  • Montias, John M. Artists and Artisans in Delft, a Socio-Economic Study of the Seventeenth Century.
    Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1981.

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  • Snow, Edward A. A Study of Vermeer.
    Berkeley : University of California Press, 1994 (revised ed.).

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  • Wheelock, Arthur K.; Broos, Ben. Johannes Vermeer.
    New Haven : Yale University Press, 1995.

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  • Wolf, Bryan Jay. Vermeer and the Invention of Seeing.
    Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2001.

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Videos Worth Watching

  • Dutch Masters: Vermeer (2000)

  • Girl With a Pearl Earring (2004)

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  • Vermeer: Light, Love and Silence (2001)

See more resources on Johannes Vermeer.

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