Friday, November 14, 2014

Vermeer, Johannes

Girl reading a letter at an open window
oil on canvas
83 x 64.5 cm
Old Masters Gallery, Dresden, Germany

"Truth is the daughter of time, and I feel no shame in being her midwife." (Vermeer)

Johannes, Jan or Johan Vermeer (1632-1675) was a Dutch Golden-Age painter who specialized in exquisite, domestic interior scenes of middle class life. Relatively little is known for certain about his life and career. He was born in Delft, Netherlands. After his baptismal record at a local church, he seems to disappear for nearly 20 years. He likely had a Calvinist upbringing. His father worked as a tavern keeper and an art merchant, and he inherited both of these business upon his father's death in 1652. The following year, he married Catherina Bolnes. Bolnes was Catholic, and he converted to her faith. The couple moved in with her mother, and would eventually have 11 children together. His paintings commanded high prices and he was able to support his large family, but he struggled financially in his final years, due in large part to the fact that the Dutch economy had suffered terribly after the country was invaded by France in 1672. He was deeply indebted by the time of his death. He died in Delft.

With Rembrandt and Frans Hals, Vermeer ranks among the most admired of all Dutch artists, but he was much less well known in his own day and remained relatively obscure until the end of the nineteenth century. The main reason for this is that he produced a small number of pictures, perhaps about forty-five (of which thirty-six are known today), primarily for a small circle of patrons in Delft. Adding to his image as an isolated figure are the fact that Vermeer's teacher is unknown, and that he evidently had no pupils. However, he was a respected member of the painters' guild in Delft, and he exchanged pictorial ideas with painters active in that city and in the region. All his works are admired for the sensitivity with which he rendered effects of light and color and for the poetic quality of his images. The influence of Caravaggio is apparent in Vermeer's early works, including "The Procuress" (1656).