LEFT: Johannes Vermeer, Girl with the Red Hat , c. 1665/1666, National Gallery of Art, Andrew W. Mellon Collection.
MIDDLE: Johannes Vermeer, A Lady Writing, c. 1665, National Gallery of Art, Gift of Harry Waldron Havemeyer and Horace Havemeyer Jr.,
in memory of their father, Horace Havemeyer. RIGHT: Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664, National Gallery of Art, Widener Collection.
Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632-1675)
The life and art of Johannes Vermeer are closely associated with the city of
Delft. Vermeer was born in Delft in 1632 and lived there until his death in 1675.
His father, Reynier Jansz., was a weaver who produced "caffa," a fine satin
fabric. In 1631 he also registered in the Saint Luke's Guild in Delft as a master
art dealer. By 1641 he was sufficiently prosperous to purchase a large house with
an inn, the "Mechelen," on the market square in Delft, where he probably also
sold paintings. When Reynier died in 1652 Johannes apparently inherited his
father's business. By that time he must have already decided on a career as a
painter. It is assumed that he trained in Delft, perhaps with Leonaert Bramer
(1596-1674), who seems to have had close associations with Vermeer's family, or
with Carel Fabritius (1622-1654). No documents, however, exist about his artistic
training or apprenticeship, and he may have studied elsewhere, perhaps in Utrecht
Vermeer, who was baptized on 31 October 1632 in the
Reformed Church in Delft, was raised a Protestant. In April 1653 Vermeer married
into a Catholic family and seems to have converted to Catholicism shortly before
that date to placate his future mother-in-law, Maria Thins. Maria Thins lived in
the so-called Papists' Corner ("Papenhoek") of Delft, adjacent to one of the two
churches where Catholics could worship, the Jesuit church on the Oude
Langendijck. Vermeer and his wife, Catharina Bolnes, eventually moved from the
"Mechelen" into her house. They named their first daughter Maria, in honor of
Maria Thins, and their first son Ignatius, after the patron saint of the Jesuit
Vermeer became a master in the Saint Luke's Guild on 29 December
1653. His aspiration at that time seems to have been to become a history painter,
for his first works were large-scale mythological and religious paintings.
Shortly thereafter he began to paint the genre scenes, landscapes, and allegories
for which he has become renowned. While Vermeer's subject matter changed in the
mid-1650s, he nevertheless continued to imbue his later works with the quiet,
intimate moods of his early history paintings.
Although very little is known about relationships with other painters who might
have influenced the thematic and stylistic direction of his art, Vermeer
apparently knew Gerard
ter Borch II, with whom he co-signed a document in 1653.
Another artist who may well have had an impact on his work during the 1650s was
de Hooch, who painted comparable scenes in Delft during that period. Vermeer
remained a respected artist in Delft throughout the rest of his life. He was
named hoofdman of the Delft St. Luke's Guild in 1662, 1663, 1670, and
Vermeer's few works--they number only about thirty-five--were not
well known outside of Delft, perhaps because many of them were concentrated in
the collection of a patron in Delft who seems to have had a special relationship
with the artist. When Vermeer died, however, he was heavily in debt, in part
because his art dealing business had suffered during the difficult economic times
following the French invasion of the Netherlands in the early 1670s. Vermeer
was survived by his wife Catharina and eleven children, eight of whom
were underage. His wife petitioned for bankruptcy the following year. Antonie van
Leeuwenhoek, the famed Delft microscopist who was apparently a friend of Vermeer,
was named trustee for the estate.
about the Vermeer exhibition
(24 November 19996 February 2000)
is still available online.
Copyright © 2008
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC