Childhood & Early Life
Johannes Vermeer, also known as Jan, was born in 1632, to Reijnier Janszoon and his wife Digna Baltus, in Delft, Dutch Republic. He was baptized as a Reformed Christian on October 31 of the same year. Jan also had a sister, Geertruy, who was almost twelve years older.
Reijnier was initially employed as a Sericulturist, but he later began running an inn, and selling paintings. After his death, it was Jan who took over his father's work as an art dealer. During this time, the young man developed a strong passion for painting, endeavouring to pursue it as his career.
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It is unclear as to who trained Vermeer as an artist; while some think it could have been Carel Fabritius, others believe it to be Abraham Bloemaert. However, the most widely accepted opinion is that this Dutch artist, whose works are similar to the style adopted by the painter Caravaggio, taught himself to paint.
On December 29, 1653, Johannes joined a union of painters known as the 'Guild of Saint Luke', although he was unable to afford the enrolment fee. The 'Delft Thunderclap' explosion which took place the following year plunged the city into economic crisis and sickness
It was during this time, despite the turmoil, that Jan was able to produce some of the finest works of art. In 1656, the 24 year old budding artist painted 'The Procuress' on canvas, using oil, which depicts a scene in a brothel.
In 1657, it was art dealer, Pieter van Ruijven, who came to Johannes' help, patronizing the latter's paintings. Jan's contemporaries during this period, which is also called the 'Golden Age', were Gerard Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu, and Nicolaes Maes.
In 1657-58, the illustrious artist produced two famous paintings, 'The Little Street', and 'The Milkmaid'. The first is a small oil painting that is displayed presently at the 'Rijksmuseum', in Amsterdam, Netherlands. 'The Milkmaid' depicting a maidservant, is also exhibited in the same museum, and is considered as one of the finest pieces of art.
During 1659-61, this accomplished artist completed the paintings, 'The Girl with the Wine Glass', and 'View of Delft'. 'The Girl with the Wine Glass' is now displayed at the 'Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum', in Germany, while 'View of Delft' is exhibited at The Hague's 'Mauritshuis' art gallery.
From 1662-71, Jan was appointed as the Chair of the association 'Guild of Saint Luke', on four occasions, which proved his reputation as an artist.
During this time, he worked at a slow but steady pace, ensuring that the little work that he produced turned out to be the best. Around 1665, he finished the painting, 'The Music Lesson', which is also known by the name, 'A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman'.
In 1665, he also produced his masterpiece, 'Girl with a Pearl Earring', which has been classified as a portrait done in 'Baroque' style, also known as a 'tronie'.
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From 1666-69, he painted the 'Art of Painting', 'The Astronomer', and 'The Geographer'. Of these, 'The Astronomer' and 'The Geographer' are two of the only three paintings that have been signed by this great artist. 'Art of Painting' is considered as one of the most spectacular and complex illusionistic works produced by Vermeer.
During 1670-72, he painted another masterpiece, 'The Allegory of Faith', a work of art that diverges from the usual subjects of his paintings. He also painted 'The Love Letter', which is now housed in Amsterdam's 'Rijksmuseum', and ‘Lady Seated at a Virginal’, exhibited at London’s ‘National Gallery’.
Due to attacks by the French and English armies, Netherlands suffered major economic and political calamity, making it difficult for the Dutch artists to sell their paintings. Even Vermeer was no longer able to sell his art, and was faced with dire poverty.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1653, Johannes converted into a Catholic and got married to Catharina Bolenes, daughter of the wealthy Maria Thins. The couple lived at one of Maria Thin's properties near a church in Oude Langendijk. Vermeer and his wife Catharina were blessed with fifteen children, unfortunately four of them died in their infancy.
In December, 1675, this great artist passed away after being sick for a brief period of time. According to letters written by his wife, the wars waged by the country had hampered his career, and this had caused depression. At the time of his death, Johannes had left behind his wife with huge financial debts to clear.
Vermeer was interred at the 'Oude Kerk' church in Delft, on December 15, 1675. Some of his debts were cleared off by selling his paintings on a later date.
Several later artists, like Dutch Simon Duiker, American Thomas Wilmer Dewig, and Danish Wilhelm Hammershoi, copied Jan's style of painting. Spanish legend Salvador Dali paid tribute to Johannes in his surrealistic painting, 'The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used as a Table'.
The 1953 novel, 'After the Funeral', authored by crime fiction writer, Agatha Christie, refers to a painting by the famous Dutch artist. Other books that mention his works include Susan Vreeland's 'Girl in Hyacinth Blue', Blue Balliett's 'Chasing Vermeer', and J.P. Smith's 'The Discovery of Light'.
Films that refer to either the painter or his art include Peter Webber's 'Girl with a Pearl Earring', Peter Greenaway's 'A Zed & Two Noughts', and John Jost's 'All the Vermeers in New York'.
Even musicians like Louis Andriessen, Jonathan Richman, Bob Walkenhorst, and David Olney, have paid tribute to this legendary painter, in their compositions.