Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Vermeer, Jan from Philip's Encyclopedia

Dutch painter, one of the most celebrated of all 17th-century Dutch painters. Early mythological and religious works gave way to a middle period featuring the serene and contemplative domestic scenes for which he is best known. The compositions are extremely simple and powerful, and the colours are usually muted blues, greys, and yellows. He treated light and colour with enormous delicacy, as in the superb landscape, View of Delft (c.1660). Towards the end of his life, Vermeer began to paint in a heavier manner and his work lost some of its mysterious charm.

Summary Article: Vermeer, Jan
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Dutch painter, active in Delft. He painted quiet, everyday scenes that are characterized by an almost abstract simplicity, subtle colour harmonies, and a remarkable ability to suggest the fall of light on objects. Examples are The Lacemaker (c. 1655; Louvre, Paris) and Maidservant Pouring Milk (c. 1658; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).

Vermeer is remarkable among Dutch painters for the stress he places not on the subject of a picture but its formal qualities: the balance and simplicity of design, colour harmonies, and the subtleties of texture, tone, and light. Italian influence can be seen in his early work, for example Diana and her Nymphs (c. 1655; Mauritshuis, The Hague) and The Courtesan (1656; Gemäldegalerie Alter Meister, Dresden), but a totally independent – totally Dutch – vision appears in such landscapes as the View of Delft (1658–60; Mauritshuis, The Hague) and The Little Street (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), works which convey an astonishing sense of physical immediacy (Vermeer may well have used a camera obscura).

The interiors for which he is best known – transcending the delicacy and brilliance of Pieter de Hooch, Gerard Terborch, and Gabriel Metsu – include Lady Standing at the Virginals (National Gallery, London), The Painter's Studio (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), Girl with a Turban (Mauritshuis, The Hague), and A Woman Weighing Pearls (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC).

Vermeer was probably the pupil of Carel Fabritius, and was admitted to the Delft Guild of Painters 1653, being Master of the Guild 1662 and again 1670. He died in poverty, the obligations of a large family no doubt being a contributory cause, and he was evidently not a prolific painter – less than 40 authentic works remain. After his death he was forgotten until the French critic ‘W Bürger’ (Théophile Thoré) rediscovered him 1866.




Essential Vermeer

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Vermeer, Jan
Chambers Biographical Dictionary

1632-75 Dutch painter Born in Delft, he inherited his father's art-dealing business and painted purely for pleasure, though he may have studied under

Full text Article Vermeer, Johannes
Chambers Dictionary of Literary Characters

Girl With a Pearl Earring , 1999 ; Tracy Chevalier A fictionalized version of the 17th-century Dutch painter, Vermeer is reliant on the...

Full text Article Vermeer Jan (1632 - 1675)
A Biographical Dictionary of Artists, Andromeda

Jan Vermeer van Delft was a Dutch painter who came from Delft. His response to the transient beauty of light and colored surfaces,...

See more from Credo