Jan Vermeer

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Jan Vermeer was a notable seventeenth century Dutch painter. His forte was painting domestic interior scenes taken from bourgeois lifestyle. He achieved moderate success in genre painting at provincial level. However, he couldn’t accomplish commercial success as he produced relatively few paintings, which culminated in growing debt that he left for his wife and children.

Born on October 31, 1632, Johannes Vermeer grew up in Delft, Dutch Republic, now Netherlands. There was not much information discovered about the Dutch paint until recently. His father Reijnier Janszoon’s occupation was making fabrics which he later switched to art dealing. Following his father’s death, Vermeer assumed the family business. In 1653, he married a Catholic girl, Catharina Bolenes who belonged to an affluent family. His mother-in-law persuaded him to convert to Catholicism before marriage which he did so not as a bargain but with conviction. The evidence of his faith was presented in his painting The Allegory of Faith. It was painted in the early 1670s and displayed a sharp contrast to his usual naturalistic style and theme. The historians believe that the religiously symbolic painting was either for a scholarly patron or a church.

It is speculated that he was apprenticed to Carel Fabritius based on an interpretation of a controversial text, yet no hard evidence has been discovered to support the claim. Another assumption that has been made is that he taught himself the art of painting using the information from his father’s associates. Similarities between Vermeer and the Utrecht Carravagists’ works have been noted. One of the characteristic features of their paintings was the paintings within paintings. In 1653, he became the member of the Guild of Saint Luke. There was a substantial amount of sum that was to be paid to obtain the membership to the guild, which Vermeer didn’t pay according to their records. Netherlands in the mid seventeenth century was under siege and plagued with economic crisis and an epidemic. The socio-economic turmoil rendered financial difficulties for every artist.

Following the incident called the Delft Thunderclap which destroyed half of the city, a local art collector Pieter van Ruijven became Vermeer’s patron. He was influenced by “fijnschilders” Leiden based art. He competed with his contemporary Gerard Dou who used to sell his painting at outrageously high prices. He also found competition in Nicolaes Maes’ genre style artwork. Owing to his excellence and fine craftsmanship, he was elected the president of the guild year after year.

The pace of his work was slow as he produced nearly three paintings a year based on orders. His earlier works were tonal, employing monochrome shades of grey and brown. Saturated colors were used to enhance the transparent glaze. Drawings were not part of his artwork, neither does his work provide an insight into his method of painting. Vermeer was known for using exorbitantly expensive pigments in his works. Lapis lazuli and natural ultramarine were two of his commonly employed pigments. His paintings featured strongly lit rooms and interior which is the technique that was inspired by his observation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s work. His work was based on this theory that no object is to retain its natural color. Some of his seminal works include Lady Seated at a Virginal (1672), The Milkmaid (1658), The Astronomer (1668) and The Girl with the Wine Glass (1659).

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