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Johannes Vermeer

Dutch Painter

Johannes Vermeer Photo
Movements and Styles: The Baroque, Dutch Golden Age

Born: October 1632 - Delft, The Dutch Republic

Died: December 1675 - Delft, The Dutch Republic

"The art of a Vermeer...seeks not to amaze and appal but to invite the observer to come closer, to close with the painting, peer into it, become intimate with it. Such art reinforces human dignity"

Germaine Greer

Summary of Johannes Vermeer

Today, the name Vermeer instantly conjures an image of his Girl with the Pearl Earring painting, known as the "Mona Lisa of the North." The 17th century Dutch Master's rendition of an ordinary girl, sublimely glancing at the viewer from a mysterious black background with a shining pearl upon her lobe, has become a universal icon in the canon of Dutch Golden Age artwork. Vermeer's career was devoted to exploring tender moments of everyday life, documenting the private interior spaces of both mind and environment that epitomized the age of Baroque genre works. Yet his mastery of pigment and light elevated the artist beyond the realm of his contemporaries, providing an inimitable glimpse into the lifestyle of his thriving historical era.

Key Ideas

Vermeer specialized in scenes of domestic life, a genre he helped catapult within the Baroque lexicon. Many of his paintings contain the same furnishings or motifs that inhabited his own private studio, and his models were often women that he knew or relatives of patrons.
Vermeer was posthumously titled the "Master of Light" due to the delicate attention he paid to express the way light played upon skin, fabrics, and precious stones in his work. His expertise stemmed from using Renaissance techniques such as chiaroscuro, mixed with his own signature utilization of light, shadow, and paint to evoke texture, depth, and emotion.
Colors and pigments were of extreme interest to Vermeer and he was known for his exquisite mixing of ethereal hues. It is said that his long-term patron Pieter van Rujiven bought and provided the artist with expensive ingredients such as lapis lazuli and carmine for these efforts. It is perhaps unsurprising that it was around this time that the painter began his own downward slide into debt, as obsessive as he was about his prized materials.
Vermeer was a modestly successful painter in his lifetime, yet only 34 paintings are attributed to him today (a few more are under question), signifying the artist's semi-lackadaisical handling of his career, which would eventually leave him and his family in debt and despair.
Because financial insecurity, madness, and depression peppered the artist's life, it has been surmised that the calm idyll Vermeer was known to capture in paint reflected a world that he, himself, perhaps wished to inhabit.
Johannes Vermeer Photo

Johannes Vermeer was born the in the mercantile Dutch town of Delft in October 1632 to a lower-middle-class family. His father Reijnier Jansz was a hardworking cloth weaver turned innkeeper, and then art dealer. His mother Digna Baltus is thought to have been an illiterate housewife due to her ability to sign only an "x" in place of her name on her marriage certificate.

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