Johannes Vermeer – Master of Perspective and Lighting

The Milkmaid
by Johannes Vermeer, 1660

On October 31, 1632, Dutch genre painter Johannes Vermeer was born in Delft. Vermeer always worked slowly and with great care, using bright colours and sometimes expensive pigments, with a preference for cornflower blue and yellow. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

Born as the only son to Reijnier Janszoon, Johannes Vermeer learned much about art from his father, who was a silk weaver as well as a member of St. Luke’s Guild, where he traded numerous paintings. Johannes Vermeer later also became a member of the guild and there are rumors that he began his art career as an apprentice of Leonaert Bramer.

During Vermeer’s busy years, he earned himself a great reputation and his financial situation was in comparison to other painters of his era extraordinary good. He was able to take care of his 11 children and his wife easily, he was even promoted to the dean of St. Luke’s Guild and therefore a man with great influence in the community.

Vermeer was known for his slow painting style, which may have been the cause that he only completed about 35 paintings. Also, his time as an active artist was rather short, due to his sudden and early death at the age of 43, but his pieces can be divided into 3 different periods. In the 1650’s, Vermeer expressed his deep love with the style of the baroque influenced by his time at the gild. Typical for this period was for instance ‘Christ in the House of Martha and Mary‘ of 1655, which depicts a rather modest style in comparison to his later works, but still he did not miss out the strong contrasts in the clothing of the protagonists.

The period of the 1660’s was Vermeer’s most intense. He developed whole new techniques and used the style of chiaroscuro, meaning that he strongly focused on tone contrasts. Another ‘effect’ he increasingly used in this period was camera obscura. It did not take long until he mastered this new styles perfectly and this is what he is now mainly known and appreciated for. One of his most famous paintings, the ‘Milkmaid‘ resulted from this period

The last working period Vermeer’s is characterized by his recreations of shadows and space like in the painting ‘A young Woman seated at the Virginals‘. Unfortunately his financial situation became critical in his last five years and at the end of his life, Vermeer ran into dept and also his good health started to fade. In December of 1675, he suffered from a sudden stroke an passed away.

Vermeer’s works are due to their unique style and the few number of paintings very popular on the market and several fake paintings still exist. Vermeer was able to highly influence the art scene and earned himself a great respect in the community. Even Salvador Dalí admired Vermeer’s paintings and stated that his painting ‘The Lacemaker‘ was just as great as the ‘Last Judgement‘ by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

At yovisto you may enjoy a video by curator Walter Liedke, who presents Vermeer’s masterpiece ‘The Milkmaid‘. The details of the composition and subject matter of The Milkmaid and other paintings are explored in this lecture.

References and Further Reading:


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