Jan Vermeer was born in Delft, Holland, on October 31, 1632. He
was the son of a silk weaver and tavern owner, Reynier Vermeer, who sold art as well as beer. This being a very common combination of wares for 17th century Holland.
Jan Vermeer is sometimes referred to as Jan van der Meer van Delft to distinguish him from other Dutch painters. It is believed that Vermeer served an apprenticeship under Carol Fabritius, a pupil of Rembrandt’s, as well as a prominent Dutch painter of the times.
1653 was an excellent year for Vermeer. He was admitted to the Guild of Saint Luke of Delft, a trade association of artists, as a master artist. At this time, he also married Catherina Bolnes, the daughter of Maria Thins. Jan and Catherina ran Raynier Vermeer’s tavern following his death in 1655. Together they had eight children and a content life. Jan still painted in his spare time away from the tavern. Unfortunately, there was rarely enough spare time to go around. Most of it was used up trying to make ends meet. Vermeer was worried by financial matters and problemd throughout his brief life.
One of Vermeer’s dreams was fulfilled when he was chosen as a member of the Board of Saint Luke’s Guild. The same dream was realized yet again when he served yet another term on the board.
Vermeer’s paintings are carefully designed with figures and furniture, featuring wonderful usage of light and realistic color schemes. Perhaps no artist until Vermeer perceived natural light and color with such absolute awareness. Vermeer observed that not everything a person views in a room or interior scene is in equal focus and clarity. He also made use of the fact that colors from objects are reflected upon other objects or areas of a room. He employed a soft palette of blues, golds, and soft reds to achieve the dream-like plays of light. He recorded the effects of light with a subtlety, delicacy, and a purity of color that has probably not been surpassed.
Vermeer often touched on deeper subjects and meanings in his works. In A Woman Weighing Gold, Vermeer shows a painting in the background of Christ weighing souls on Judgement Day. The woman in the foreground weighing pearls and gold brings new significance to the picture by showing the absolute meaninglessness of earthly material possessions.
Most of Vermeer’s works portray a single female figure quietly occupied at a “feminine” or domestic task. These tasks are usually something like lace-making, reading, pouring beverages, writing, or playing musical instruments. Two figures appear in these works occasionally, and their relationship appears to be one of utter silence.
Vermeer’s compositions seem relatively simple , but they are quite detailed and intricately laid out. Careful analysis of his works show interlocking rectabgles filling up the surface with volumes rounded by silvery light coming from the side. Vermeer turned the world into a huge geometric pattern where people appear to be delicate objects occupying space. Vermeer was a master of composition and of representation of space. His arrangement of neutral, muted hues, provides natural perspective in his works. Vermeer excelled in his interior works of art, and apparently he realized this. There are only 2 to 3 works that Vermeer is known to have done of outdoor scenes. In his indoor works, he arranged tonal values and perspective over the foreground, into the middleground, and farther into the distance.
On December 15, 1675, Vermeer passed away at the shockingly young age of 43, just five short years before the death of his mother-in-law, Maria Thins. Vermeer’s untimely demise left his wife, Catherina, in severe financial debt. She was forced to sell some of his paintings to cover expenses they had acquired. Anton van Leeuwenhoek, the worls famous microscopist, was named the trustee of the small Vermeer estate.
Jan Vermeer was virtually forgotten following his death. His work was not rediscovered until the late 19th century. His reputation steadily increased thereafter. Today Jan Vermeer is considered one of the best Dutch painters , and possibly the greatest of all time.