Vermeer Mania (03:54)
Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer died in 1675. His works were later misattributed, and his name faded from memory. Centuries later, his art was rediscovered, shown in galleries around the world, and appropriated into popular culture.
Shrouded in Mystery (05:38)
Many factors contributed to Vermeer fading into obscurity after his death. He left little behind to provide clues regarding his life or appearance, though many have speculated that he painted himself into a handful of his works.
Vermeer's Holland (03:25)
Holland was experiencing a golden age during Vermeer’s lifetime. Painting flourished, financed by the bourgeois class, and competition was fierce, with many artists influencing and copying one another. Among Vermeer’s contemporaries were Rembrandt van Rijn, Frans Hals and Jan Steen.
Types of Paintings (02:09)
The art market was divided into three categories at the time Vermeer started to paint: historical paintings and depictions of mythology; portraits of notables, still life paintings and landscapes; and genre paintings depicting scenes from daily life.
Hedonistic Imagery (01:52)
Calvinist preachers encouraged their flocks to keep their souls as clean as their houses, but painters depicted the people as being torn between orderliness and disorder. The Dutch were pleasure seekers; and genre painting, disguised as moral education, depicts pleasure and sensuality in excess.
Spread of Ideas (01:28)
The wealth of books and journals promoted new ideas. Notable intellectuals of Vermeer’s time included philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who was born in Amsterdam the same year as the painter, and Delft-based scientist Antoine van Leeuwenhoek, who invented the simple microscope.
Hostile Neighbors (02:19)
Holland was the richest country in the world, and the aristocracy of other countries could not understand how such a tiny nation, with no king and vulgar taste in dress, could become such an economic power. French hostility was first expressed in the form of propaganda and insults.
Mechelen Tavern (04:04)
Delft was a scenic town that was crisscrossed by canals and home to the immense mausoleum of William the Silent. Vermeer may have been introduced to art at his father’s tavern; artists and art lovers rubbed shoulders there, and his father displayed paintings that were for sale.
Who Was Vermeer's Master? (03:21)
Vermeer was too young to be recognized by the painters’ guild and would have gone through a six-year apprenticeship. His master is unknown, but scholars believe it was Leonard Bramer, Evert van Aelst, Gerard Terborch, Carel Fabritius, Abraham Bloemaert, or possibly multiple artists.
Early Works (06:25)
Vermeer converted to Catholicism and married Catharina Bolenes in 1653. The marriage allowed him to take advantage of a guild rule that afforded him the rank of painter despite his youth. His early paintings included “Saint Praxedis,” “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” and “Diana and Her Companions.”
Vermeer moved beyond historical subjects with “The Courtesan,” a painting that is now more commonly known as “The Procuress.” It was likely influenced by a Dirck van Baburen painting that his mother-in-law owned, and a smiling man in the image may be Vermeer.
Family Life (02:04)
Vermeer was elected head of the Guild of St. Luke at a time when Delft was becoming the center of Dutch painting. His wife bore him 15 children, of which 11 survived. He was a man of meager means, and his wealthy mother-in-law’s support was essential.
"Maid Asleep" (03:34)
Vermeer lays down the fundamentals of his style in “A Maid Asleep,” which he painted at some point between 1656 and 1657. An x-ray of the painting has revealed that he made corrections. Who is the woman writing in “A Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid?”
"Girl Reading a Letter ..." (03:42)
Vermeer also painted “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” around 1657. Other Dutch painters of the time generally referred to “Iconologia,” a lexicon of symbols developed a century earlier by Cesare Ripa; but Vermeer did not to burden himself with this rigid and outdated codification.
French Threat (02:25)
France was getting tough on dissident religions and non-conformist opinions under Louis XIV, and the Dutch were oblivious to the looming threat. Vermeer produced just two to three canvases a year during his early career. What was the cause of his low output?
Dutch Depiction (03:49)
“The Lacemaker”—which is housed at the Louvre in Paris—depicts a woman absorbed in her task with no concern for the future. In subsequent work, Vermeer depicts a country inhabited by refined and cultivated women, respectful or troublesome servants, charming young people and learned men.
"Astronomer" and "Geographer" (04:10)
“The Geographer” and “The Astronomer” are the only Vermeer canvases in which the subject is a man alone. There has been speculation that the model for both is either the artists himself or Deft scientist Antoine van Leewenhoek. The works illustrate that repetition is part of Vermeer’s mindset.
"The Little Street" (02:28)
Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum houses one of Vermeer’s most renowned paintings; it highlights the virtues of domesticity and the quiet dignity of the Dutch. Vermeer would have been familiar with the townscapes of Pieter de Hooch who he rivals in technique.
Vermeer's Use of Pigments (03:18)
Paint was made for immediate use during Vermeer’s time, and he combined pigments to produce various effects. He painted “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter” and “A Woman Holding a Balance” between 1663 and 1664; the latter was sold to the King of Bavaria in 1826 as a work of Gabriel Metsu.
Vermeer may have utilized a camera obscura to recreate the cityscape depicted in “View of Delft.” Painters pinned a powdered thread to their canvases in order to construct the lines of perspective, a technique evident in “The Art of Painting” and “The Milkmaid.”
French Aggression (02:09)
The lines of perspective and vanishing point of “The Music Lesson” create a profound aesthetic that is similar to the work of some 20th century artists. Louis XIV waged the War of Spanish Succession in 1667, and victory strengthened his desire to subjugate the Dutch.
"Art of Painting" (03:51)
“The Art of Painting” is one of Vermeer’s largest and most complex paintings. The artist refused to part with it when he was alive, and the struggle for ownership continued after his death. It wound up in the possession of Adolf Hitler during World War 2.
Vermeer's Final Years (05:52)
Vermeer painted “The Allegory of Faith” toward the end of his life. The years 1670 to 1675 brought a number of deaths and other misfortunes, including the French invasion of 1672. Vermeer was poverty stricken and died on Dec. 15, 1675.
Obscurity and Rediscovery (05:38)
Jacob Dissius’s collection of 21 Vermeer paintings was sold at auction in 1696. The artist was relegated to obscurity for the next 150 years, until French journalist, art critic and revolutionary Théophile Thoré championed his work in the mid-19th century.
Credits: Vermeer, Beyond Time (01:01)
Credits: Vermeer, Beyond Time
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