Johannes Vermeer

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1632 (Delft) - 1675 (Delft)

by Jan Melkert

Johannes Vermeer was born in Delft. His father was an worker in the silk industry and he also owned an inn. It is not known where Vermeer received his school education and later on his lessons in painting. It is possible that he received his painter education from Leonard Bramer, who was an important painter at that time in Delft. Vermeer married with Catharina Bolnes, who came from a higher social class than Vermeer. He became member of the Saint Lucas painters guild in 1653. There are possible relations between Vermeer and the so called caravaggists in Utrecht such as Dirck van Baburen. Caravaggists are painters in the style of Caravaggio, a Italian famous painter. On the basis of documents on the life of Vermeer it is possible to sketch a rather accurate portrait of Vermeer. But much of these documents have a financial character. We can conclude from these documents that his financial position varied from rather well to less well. Vermeer himself traded in pictures and in the service of Gerrit Uylenburgh, a son of the well-known merchant in art Hendrik Uylenburgh in Amsterdam, he was an adviser for Italian art. After 1672 his financial position became worse and after his untidy death in 1675 he left behind his wife and eight children in a bad financial position. As to the chronology of his works, it is also difficult to get a good view of it, for only three pictures are dated. In total there are left only 35 pictures of Vermeer. Really a small oeuvre. Most of his oeuvre consists of interior scenes of houses with women in a certain position in a room. Often these women are doing something, e.g. reading a letter, of they have a music lesson or a certain handling made by a maid. They often stand in the same room, the same position. So it is quite certain that Vermeer used his own house and room for the scenes. And there is always the light coming in from the left side through the window. In this respect the works do remind us of the work of Pieter de Hooch. One often speaks of the ‘’DELFTSE SCHOOL”. The technique of Vermeer is brilliant, unsurpassed. In the beginning of his career he worked with thick layers of paint, later on he became a real precisely painter with clear contour lines and transparent colours. After 1656 Vermeer emphasized more on the figures in the rooms with one or two figures. And the interior became more important as composition. The window motive became a important characteristic of his work. As we look at the picture we are drawn, so to speak, into the picture. Vermeer is causing this by putting a still life in the foreground. The deceitful reality of the painting is getting stronger. Because of the fact that the persons on the paintings are captived in their handlings, these pictures give a certain measure of rest. After the death of Vermeer, he fell in oblivion. Only in the 19th century Vermeer was rediscovered. Two of his most famous paintings were no interiors, but views of the city of Delft: VIEW ON DELFT and VERMEER’S LITTLE STREET.

There is still one unsolved problem: whether or not Vermeer used a camera obscura.

VIEW ON DELFT

VIEW ON DELFT
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vermeer-view-of-delft.jpg | Click on the picture to go to its source.

VERMEER’S LITTLE STREET

VERMEER’S LITTLE STREET
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jan_Vermeer_van_Delft_025.jpg | Click on the picture to go to its source.

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