Art may inspire thoughts and thinking. That is why it is supposed to have triggered a cultural revolution in many locations. Sometimes art shows us about the people and their lifestyles; these genres of paintings depict scenes of everyday life of the people. This article is about one of the artists Jan Vermeer in the Dutch golden age who follows genre painting. Today, Jan Vermeer is one of the most celebrated artists and a “Master of lights”. 

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The milkmaid _©rijksmuseum.nl

Overview of the artist

There was little information known about Vermeer’s life until recently; he was a mystery character in art history for generations, with little known about his personal life, giving him the title “The Sphinx of Delft.”. He was born in October 1632 in Delft, Netherlands. His father, Reynier Jansz, was a weaver who made a magnificent satin fabric called caffa, and he was an art dealer. It assumed that the engagement with the artists and seeing his work who visited his shop Vermeer got influenced. It is believed that Jan Vermeer is a self-taught artist. On December 29, 1653, he registered as a master painter in the Delft Guild of Saint Luke, but the name of his masters, the nature of his training, and the length of his apprenticeship are unknown. 

Following his father’s death in October 1652, he took over the art dealing business. But, by this time, Vermeer may have decided that he desired to be a painter. On his 21st, he married a Catholic woman, Catherina Bolnes, and moved to a large home in Delft’s Catholic quarters. Catherina gave birth to 15 children, approximately four of whom were buried before being baptised. 

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Vermeer’s painting, “The Procuress” – believed to be a self-portrait _©Digitally enhanced by Author-Abirami elangovan

Career, Philosophy, style of work

There are only 36 paintings by Jan Vermeer that survive today. In the early stage of his career, he painted large-scale biblical and mythological scenes. After he painted ordinary people’s daily life in an interior setting this kind of painting made him world-famous. These works are remarkable for their purity of light, form and qualities that convey a serene. The composition in his paintings gives a balanced harmony to our eyes. In Most of his indoor paintings, he was well versed in using interesting elements like checkered floors, carpets, earthenware, and stringed instruments more representative of the subject’s costume. 

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The Art of Painting_©KHM-Museumsverband

Notable works

Jan Vermeer was much less well known in his day and remained obscure until the end of the nineteenth century. His paintings were collected by local patrons, following his death the paintings were admired by a small group of art experts, particularly in Delft and Amsterdam. The Most Iconic Works include The Lacemaker, The Procuress, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Milkmaid, Woman Holding a Balance, The Art of Painting, View of Delft and The Wine Glass; these paintings are now staged all over the world. He also painted several tronies; his most famous tronies is the familiar artwork Girl with a Pearl Earring, also known as the “Mona Lisa of the North,”. It became legendary because of the girl’s peculiar pose, her mysterious expression, the colours and the delicate quality of the light. 

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The Girl With The Pearl Earring_©Mauritshuis, The Hague

More than famous paintings like Girl with a Pearl Earring, Milkmaid also painted cityscapes and allegorical scenes. The Little Street is a real piece of vividly rendered architectural details. Another gem of his outdoor painting work is the View of Delft, the most renowned Dutch 17th-century cityscape. The stunning interplay of light and shade, the cloudy sky and delicate reflections in the water make the painting more realistic.

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View of Delft _©Mauritshuis, The Hague

Painting technique

The brilliance of Vermeer’s paintings is their luminosity; there is a lot of evidence showing that he is using the instrument camera obscura to help to depict pictures seen from the line of sight with the correct perspective. These techniques project the image of what the painters intend to paint on the canvas and study the most elusive effects of colour, light and shadow. 

Some artists also said that he used “dead colouring”, which is the underpainting technique. After the initial sketches the artist paints the monochrome version of the painting that helps to fix the composition, give volume to the subject and distribute darks and lights to create the effect of illumination. Laboratory analysis demonstrates that Vermeer employed the underpainting technique as a creative process in his painting. 

Choice of colour pallete 

Vermeer used a limited palette like other artists in that period, he also made lavish use of natural ultramarine rather than the much cheaper azurite. The use of ultramarine is found practically in every Vermeer painting, and it shows how Vermeer amazingly uses the pigment. Not only in the blue object and its traces are Surprisingly found in the white-washed walls, shaded portions of white drapery, ceramic jugs and even in the shadows of the brilliant orange gown in the painting The Glass of Wine.

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Traces of ultramarine in Vermeer’s paintings _© Digitally enhanced by Author-Abirami elangovan

Recognition after death

Vermeer’s painting Woman Reading a Letter in museum _©renee jones schneider – dml – star tribune

Vermeer was never recognised for his talents throughout his lifetime. The ruinous war with France made him unable to sell his artwork. While he did make a livelihood as a painter, he was not well-known outside of Delft; and he was never affluent. Vermeer died on December 15, 1675, following a short illness at his 43 and was buried in the Protestant Old Church. Pieter van Ruijven, a local patron, had acquired much of his work, limiting the possibility of his popularity expanding. When the French painter-critic Étiene-Joseph-Théophile Thoré published his passionate observations of Vermeer’s paintings in 1866, a general populace became interested in Vermeer’s work. After the 19th century, he was rediscovered by the world for his paintings became famous. Vermeer’s popularity grew further during the end of the twentieth century, when his paintings were displayed in the Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Today Jan Vermeer’s painting is in various country museums in Edinburgh, The Hague, Dresden, New York, Amsterdam, Berlin, Braunschweig, England, Washington, Vienna, Paris, Dublin, and London. There is no need to visit all the places to see Jan Vermeer’s works; you can sit on your couch and see those masterpieces virtually.

Check out this link for a virtual tour of Jan Vermeer’s paintings and get inspired.

https://artsandculture.google.com/pocketgallery/1QVRSOcHMzQMmQ

References:

  1. Wheelock, A.K. (2019). Johannes Vermeer | Biography, Art, & Facts. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Johannes-Vermeer.
  2. www.essentialvermeer.com. (n.d.). Essential Vermeer. [online] Available at: http://www.essentialvermeer.com/index.html [Accessed 6 Jul. 2022].
Author

As a budding architect with Inquisitive eyes on architecture, she loves to construct those understanding into words. She feels that architecture allows one to perceive the world through new eyes together with understanding the language of art.

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