Jan Vermeer was a prolific painter during the Dutch Golden Age of painting. Shrouded in mystery, he was most recognized in his native Delft and The Hague during his lifetime. His style is strongly associated with the Baroque movement which favors paintings of historical, mythological, and biblical subjects, but Vermeer is a master of genre paintings and is best known for his depictions of scenes from the daily life of the middle class. Though there is little documentation surrounding his life, here are the following known facts about him:
1. There is much confusion over Vermeer’s real name.
- The moniker Jan Vermeer is the shortened form of his birth name Johannes van der Meer. Some have even referred to him by a third name, Jan Vermeer van Delft, in order to differentiate him from an unrelated family of Amsterdam painters called Jan Vermeers.
- As of recent developments, the “correct” name referring to the Delftian painter is Johannes Vermeer.
2. Vermeer had a fascination with the play of light in his works.
- So much so, he was painstakingly slow in completing his paintings. He would reproduce the most minute details and seemingly derive a whole color spectrum from “white” light. This near-perfect visual precision made his paintings appear as if they were glowing and gave otherwise everyday scenes a sense of enchantment.
- Some historians believe Vermeer used a camera obscura to study light, as well as perspectives for his paintings of interior scenes, making them appear exaggerated and intimate to the viewer.
3. The dates of his birth and death are undocumented.
- There are no actual records of both dates. Instead, historians use the dates of Vermeer’s baptism and burial to make close estimates of when he was born and when he died, respectively.
- Despite his great success as an artist, Vermeer himself remained in obscurity throughout his life. This continued for nearly two centuries after his death. He was “discovered” in a monograph published by a French art critic and historian in 1866.
Though not much is known about his life, Vermeer’s paintings have been displayed in many prestigious museums all over the globe, earning him his place as a world-renown artist. His ability to imbue mystique into scenes of daily life continues to awe and inspire people to this day.