In our days, the name Vermeer instantly evokes the image of the girl immortalized in the painting The young woman of the pearl. And it is that it is one of the pictorial works most easily identifiable by the general public. This piece is so important that it is called the Mona Lisa of the North.
The splendid interpretation of the seventeenth century Dutch master of an ordinary girl has become a universal icon. The painting shows the young woman, on a mysterious dark background, and highlights a pearl shining on her lobe.
The art of Vermeer became the canon of the works of art of the Dutch Golden Age; his work is intimate and costumbrista. He dedicated his expertise to explore the moments of everyday life, to document the interior spaces, the epitome of the Baroque genre.
However, his mastery of pigment and light elevated the artist beyond the realm of his contemporaries. His talent allowed him to glimpse in an inimitable way the lifestyle of his time.
Early life of Jan Vermeer
For hundreds of years, people have been fascinated and inspired by the paintings of Johannes (also known as Jan) Vermeer. This painter is often considered the most respected Dutch painter in history. However, his life and his art are shrouded in mystery.
Vermeer was born in 1632 in Delft, the Netherlands, although the exact date is not known. He was born in a low middle class family. Johannes Vermeer van Delft, also known as Joannis see Meer or Joannis van der Meer.
His father, Reijnier Jansz, was a silk weaver craftsman who became an innkeeper and, later, an art merchant. From these labors of commerce, germinated in young Vermeer the taste for painting.
It is believed that his mother, Digna Baltus, was an illiterate housewife. This belief began because Baltus signed with an ‘X’ instead of his name on his marriage certificate.
When Vermeer’s father died in 1652, young Johannes inherited his father’s two businesses. Before this event, its first 20 years of life, are barely documented. Despite the very extensive research, no clear answer has been found.
In 1653, Vermeer married Catherina Bolnes and converted to Catholicism. The couple had 15 children, four of whom died.
Interestingly, with eleven children running, only two of Vermeer’s paintings portray children directly. On the contrary, his wife Catherine served as a model for many of Vermeer’s works.
Early work and maturity
In Vermeer’s early career, the artist focused on the production of paintings based on history. In addition, at this time, he recreated many scenes from the Bible and classical mythology.
Thanks to his mother-in-law, Maria, Vermeer managed to access the richest citizens of Delft, such as Pieter van Ruijven. However, unlike most of his contemporaries, Vermeer never left his hometown and relied solely on local sponsorship for his commissions.
It is believed that Johannes and Catherine lived a happy married life until the untimely death of Vermeer in 1675. It is believed that he died of a stroke. The couple was married for 22 years.
Catherine supported her husband’s work. Like most artists during these times, Vermeer also accumulated a series of debts left to his family after his death.
The limited success of Vermeer had to do with the impossibility of finding orders outside of Delft. In addition to the fact of not having left the city to market their works and talent.
Its limited success is also related to the limitation of the materials with which it worked. Vermeer, unlike Rembrandt, did not work with prints, which were extremely popular at that time.
The painter’s little success in that historical moment is also due to fortuitous circumstances. For example, the Franco-Dutch war. The fact that the troops constantly invaded the city had an impact on the flowering of the art market.
Death and mysteries of Vermeer
Master Vermeer fell ill and died when the year was 1675. That December, his burial was performed in Delft. Given the debts they had, his wife was forced to give up her inheritance and, as a consequence, their assets were confiscated by their creditors.
Vermeer was the head of the Delft artists’ guild, a group of artists who were there to learn from each other and discuss techniques.
Although he was well respected by his companions, he died poor and almost completely unknown for a long two hundred years. When his work was rediscovered by world art in the 19th century, the mysteries surrounding his life resurfaced.
How did Vermeer dominate the art of creating clarity in his paintings, many of which could, at first glance, be mistaken for photographs? How did he capture so much light and shadow when his paintings took many months to create? These questions remain unanswered.
There are those who maintain that their domain was, simply, unmatched. Others say that he created an early type of camera, called ‘camera obscura’, which allowed him to ‘stop time’ and study the effects of light. On the other hand, there are those who find flaws in their paintings or attribute them to someone else.
Vermeer, usually, painted portraits or scenes of people doing their daily work. Only two landscapes are attributed to it. The pintoe understood the effect of light and reflection on a person or an object. Art experts attribute the realism of his paintings to this fact. Essentially, Vermeer recognized that the eye does not see the entire object and its actual color, due to the effects of light and reflection.
The girl of the pearl
Looking closely at Vermeer’s paintings, we can see their unmistakable signatures, the use of light and the ability to capture real life. The young lady of the pearl is one of his most famous works.
The painting shows a girl, her earring prodigiously reflects the light, while she turns her gaze to the painter. From this painting, the shadows projected on the girl’s cheek and nose that fade in the background marvel.
The painting provided the inspiration for Tracy Chavalier’s novel in 1999, and a film a few years later.
Undoubtedly, it is one of the most emblematic paintings in the history of art, one of those symbols that, although we are not experts in the field, we can recognize and enjoy.