from The New Book of Knowledge®
The Dutch painter Jan (or Johannes) Vermeer was little known for almost 200 years after his death. Today his works are rare and highly prized. He was born on October 31, 1632, in Delft, the town in which he spent his whole life. His father was a silk weaver, art dealer, and tavern operator. In 1653, Jan became a member of the painters' guild. In the same year he married Catharina Bolnes.
Few documents exist to give us exact information about Vermeer's career as an artist. We do not even know the name of his teacher. But he did leave a number of clues to his temperament and interests. In most of his paintings, one or two figures—often women—stand or sit quietly in a room. They may be reading, chatting, or performing some household task. Everything combines to create an impression of peaceful calm. Vermeer painted every object and piece of furniture in realistic detail. Some of the wall decorations--paintings and maps—in his works have even been identified. Sometimes these paintings within the painting depict symbols that were well known to the people of the time. They were intended to add meaning to the activity of the figures in the room.
Vermeer was extremely interested in color and the optical qualities of light. He was an extraordinary artisan who worked with many delicate glazes to create his effects.
After his father died in 1655, Vermeer managed the family art business. He probably supported his wife and eleven children by selling other painters' work. When France invaded the Netherlands in 1672, Vermeer's dealership began to fail. He died on December 15, 1675, leaving his wife with many debts. Vermeer was almost forgotten until a French critic "rediscovered" him in 1866. He ranks today among the world's greatest masters.
Reviewed by Arthur Wheelock, Jr.
Author, Jan Vermeer