Not a lot is known about Johannes Vermeer because he spent his short life in relative obscurity. There are no known letters by him and very little public records about his life. He is thought to have been born sometime in October of 1632, in the city of Delft in South Holland, a province in the Netherlands.
Vermeer’s father was an inn keeper who also took an interest in art. He began buying and selling paintings before Johannes was born. When Johannes was only 20 years old, his father died so he took over the art business.
This is most likely when he developed an interest in art. No one knows who Vermeer’s art teacher was or whether he ever took in students to teach.
Not long after the death of his father, Johannes Vermeer married a young woman named Catharina Bolens. Since he was born a Protestant, and Catharina was a Catholic, her mother required Johannes to convert to Catholicism before their wedding. The couple had eleven children – seven girls and four boys.
Throughout his art career, Vermeer specialized in painting domestic scenes from everyday Dutch life. His process was very slow and meticulous, completing only two or three paintings a year. Consequently, he produced a relatively small amount of paintings in his lifetime (some believe only 45, while others say up to 74). Today, only 34 paintings can accurately be attributed to him, while 3 others are disputed.
Although he was elected as head of the local painters’ guild several times, and had a patron (someone who supported him financially so he was free to paint), he was never a wealthy man. In fact, many of his paintings went to his patron, so he wasn’t able to sell them to others for profit. Nor were his paintings seen by many people in his lifetime.
Vermeer was plagued with financial troubles throughout his life. Due to an illness, most likely made worse by stress and anxiety over money, he died in 1675, at the age of 43, leaving his family with a large amount of debt.
In spite of the beautiful artwork he produced, he was virtually forgotten for almost 200 years until 1866, when art critic, Thoré-Bürger, discovered his work and began cataloging his surviving pieces.
Johannes Vermeer is now considered one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age, distinguished by his brilliant use of light and color in his carefully thought out compositions.
Today, he is known as “The Master of Light.”
Alisha Gratehouse is an artist, art instructor, minister’s wife, and homeschooling mom of three. Her days are filled with creating, painting, writing, drinking lots of tea, laughing with (and at) her family, and spontaneously bursting forth into song. Alisha is the author of several books including, A Life That Flourishes.