Johannes Vermeer Biography, Paintings and Facts

Johannes Vermeer: Master of the Golden Age
By Melissa Montgomery

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Johannes Vermeer was born in Delft, in the Netherlands in October of 1632. He was the son of an Innkeeper, silk worker and art dealer. His father was also a member of St. Luke’s Guild of Delft; an organization that would become an important part of Johannes’ life. The guild was an organization with branches located in every town and they controlled and encouraged the production of all forms of art; pottery, painting, tapestry, engraves, glassmakers, and sculptors. It is believed that Johannes early exposure to art influenced his later decision to become a painter. The family was working class, but thanks to his father’s wise investments they lived in a big house that was both an inn and had space for Johannes’ father, Reynier Janz ( he later changed his last name to Vermeer but it is not know why) studio.

In 1653 Johannes married above his class and outside his religion. This was very uncommon in those days and it is believed that his religious conversion influenced his painting. Johannes willingly converted from Protestantism to Catholicism and brought up his eleven children as Catholics. It is interesting that Johannes did not name any of his children after members of his family- we do not know why he chose to distance himself from his own family in this way.

Johannes’ mother in law had in her possession a small group of paintings by a painter from a nearby Utrecht as well as a friendship with the painter Abraham Bloemart. This combined with his religious conversion no doubt informed Johannes’ early works as seen in the painting Christ in the house of Mary and Martha. In the late 1650’s Vermeer began to change his subject matter from religious and mythical subjects to those of the every day and the mundane. It was here he would find his true talent.
Vermeer’s talent for colour, composition and his ability to show even the smallest gradations of light are evident in the forty paintings that experts are certain he made in his career. Among them are: Girl with a Pearl Earring, A woman asleep and Reading a letter by an open window.

He was made Dean of the Guild in 1662, 1663, 1670, and 1671. He was very famous in his home town. By 1672, Vermeer burdened by debt and a large family to feed moved into a much smaller house owned by his mother in law. There was also the French invasion into Delft in 1672 which greatly affected Vermeer’s ability, as well as all artists and craftsmen, to make a living.

It is sad that after he died in1675 at age forty- three, many of his paintings had their names changed so that they would fetch more money and that Vermeer, like many great artists, died poor and in debt. His wife, Catharina Bolnes, had to fight to stop from creditors taking his few remaining works that she had in her possession for debt repayment. Collectors and museums have kept his name alive and today Vermeer is known as one of the great Dutch Masters of the Golden Age.

Relevant links:

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  Alberta College of Art and Design
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