Jan Vermeer

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Vermeer, Jan or Johannes

(vərmēr`, Dutch yän vərmār`, yōhän`əs), 1632–75, Dutch genre and landscape painter. He was born in Delft, where he spent his entire life. He was also known as Vermeer of Delft and as Jan or Johannes van der Meer. Carel FabritiusFabritius, Carel
, 1622–54, Dutch painter; pupil and outstanding follower of Rembrandt. His early death in the explosion of a powder magazine at Delft cut short a career of great promise.
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 is presumed to have influenced him greatly. In 1653 he was admitted to the painters' guild, of which he was twice made dean. He enjoyed only slight recognition during his short life, and his work was forgotten or confused with that of others during the following century. Today he is ranked among the greatest Dutch masters and considered one of the foremost of all colorists. His most frequent subjects were intimate interiors, often with the solitary figure of a woman. Although his paintings are modest in theme, they exhibit a profound serenity and a splendor of execution that are unsurpassed. No painter has depicted more exquisitely luminous blues and yellows, pearly highlights, and the subtle gradations of reflected light, all perfectly integrated within strictly ordered compositions.

Vermeer apparently produced only one or two pictures a year during his period of greatest activity. His career is a mystery to art historians because, although his work was of the finest quality, his output was too small to have been the sole support of his family of 11 children. Only about 35 paintings can be attributed to him with any certainty. Among them are The Milkmaid and The Letter (Rijksmus.); The Procuress (Dresden); The Art of Painting (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna); View of Delft (The Hague); Soldier and Laughing Girl (Frick Coll., New York City); Girl Asleep and Young Woman with a Water Jug (Metropolitan Mus.); Woman Weighing Gold and Young Girl with a Flute (National Gall. of Art, Washington, D.C.); and The Concert (Gardner Mus., Boston). Forgeries of Vermeer's work have been frequent, Hans van Meegeren's being the most successful (see forgeryforgery,
in art, the false claim to authenticity for a work of art. The Nature of Forgery

Because the provenance of works of art is seldom clear and because their origin is often judged by means of subtle factors, art forgery has always been commonplace.
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, in art).


See biographies by F. W. Thienen (1949), A. Vries et al. (1988), and A. Bailey (2001); studies by P. L. Hale (repr. 1937), P. Descargues (tr. 1966), L. Goldschieder (rev. ed. 1967), L. Gowing (new ed. 1970), M. Pops (1984), J. M. Montias (1989), and A. K. Wheelock, Jr. (1995); catalog of exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., ed. by A. K. Wheelock, Jr. (1996). See also P. B. Coreman's study of Van Meegeren's forgeries (tr. 1949).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Vermeer, Jan


Baptized Oct. 31, 1632, in Delft; buried there Dec. 15, 1675. Dutch painter.

Vermeer worked in Delft and developed as an artist under the influence of C. Fabritius. Even in his early paintings (Diana With Nymphs, Mauritshuis, The Hague; and Christ With Martha and Mary, National Gallery, Edinburgh) he tried to combine an elevated emotionality of images with closeness to nature. His large-figured canvas At the Procuress (1656, Picture Gallery, Dresden) is marked by an unusually monumental portrayal of a vividly realistic scene, filled with youthful energy and fullblooded sensuality. In this painting the artist boldly combined elements of tonal coloring with resounding splashes of pure color.

Beginning in the second half of the 1650’s, Vermeer produced small paintings with one or several figures placed in the silvery light of the interior of city houses (Girl With a Letter, Picture Gallery, Dresden; Soldier and Laughing Girl, Frick Collection, New York; and Maid Servant Pouring Milk, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), giving less attention to the action and subject matter and more to the condition and general lyrical atmosphere of the scene and the variety and richness of the material world. The poetry of everyday home life and the unity of man with his environment are expressed here with extraordinary power of generalization and classical clarity and harmony. The sharp expressiveness of the spatial composition, vivid vibration of light and air, luminosity of saturated pure colors, rich play of the most subtle shades, and reflections and patches of light spiritualize the world of ordinary people and household articles, imparting internal significance to it. At the end of the 1650’s, Vermeer created two masterpieces of landscape painting: the inspired and extraordinarily subtly executed Alley (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) and the brilliantly fresh, beautiful View of Delft (Mauritshuis). In the 1660’s, Vermeer’s work became more contemplative and refined, and his painting became colder, enamel-like, done in generally pearly tones with vivid accents of blue and lemon yellow—for example, in Girl With a Pearl (Mauritshuis) and pictures of comfortable, richly furnished rooms where fashionably dressed women and gentlemen engage in small talk, play music, or examine jewels (A Goblet of Wine and Lady Trying on a Necklace, Staatliche Museen, Berlin-Dahlem).

The allegories, academic techniques, and variety of local colors in Vermeer’s later painting reflect the geneial decline of Dutch painting. However, he retained the content and charm of his images in the paintings of the 1660’s that are devoted to working people, artists, and scholars and convey the self-absorption of a person in moments of creativity (The Lacemaker, the Louvre, Paris; The Painter, Museum of Fine Arts, Vienna; and The Geographer, Städel Art Institute, Frankfurt am Main).


Lazarev, V. N. Ian Vermeer Del’ftskii. Moscow, 1933.
[Rotenberg, E.] Ian Vermeer Del’ftskii: Al’bom reproduktsii. Moscow, 1964.
Vries, A. B. de. Jan Vermeer van Delft. Basel, 1945.
Swillens, P. T. A. Johannes Vermeer. Utrecht-Brussels, 1950.
Bloch, V. Tutta la pittura di Vermeer di Delft. Milan, 1954.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.