Johannes Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer

1632 – 1675

Johannes Vermeer lived in Delft throughout his entire life. Most of the scenes in his paintings such as View of Houses in Delft, also known as The Little Street (ca. 1658), take place in this city.

Gezicht op Huizen in Delft

View of Houses in Delft (The Little Street), ca. 1658, oil on canvas, 54.3 x 44 x 9 cm. Rijksmuseum collection, Amsterdam

Vermeer is a master of the Golden Age, but he never knew wealth himself. As a result of the war between France and the Netherlands in 1672, the art market entirely collapsed. Due to high debts he and his family had to move in with his mother-in-law. Since he was both a painter and an art dealer, the collapse had a double impact on him. In those days it was common for artists to have a second profession to earn money.

Nowadays Johannes Vermeer is acknowledged as one of the most famous Dutch painters of the 17th century, yet he had been of little significance for centuries. The small oeuvre consisting of 35 paintings which are now known to be his, had first been attributed to others. It was only in the 70s of the 19th century that he was rediscovered.

Vermeer is mostly known for his works of interiors in which one or several women are performing household chores or reading a letter, such as respectively The Milkmaid (ca. 1660) and The Love Letter (ca. 1669), both exhibited in the Rijksmuseum. Often the scenes are portrayed inside the house and there is always a window nearby. Vermeer played with the way light enters a room and used a limited number of colours such as yellow, blue, and white lead. These were expensive pigments.

Het Melkmeisje

The Milkmaid, ca. 1660, oil on canvas, 45.5 x 41 cm. Rijksmuseum collection, Amsterdam

De Liefdesbrief

The Love Letter, ca. 1669, oil on canvas, 44 x 38.5 cm. Rijksmuseum collection, Amsterdam

In the 17th century, the Italian artist Caravaggio (1571-1610) had an enormous impact on painters in the Netherlands. Vermeer was most likely also influenced by him. Caravaggio is the master of dramatic use of lighting, playing with light and dark. Whereas in Caravaggio’s works the light is Mediterranean warm, the cool Northern light dominates in Vermeer’s works.