Johannes Vermeer (aka Jan Vermeer)

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Johannes Vermeer
Girl with Pearl Earring artwork by Johannes Vermeer

Girl with Pearl Earring

Born: 10/31/1632
Location: Delft, Netherlands
Died: 12/15/1675
Age: 43
Movements Dutch Golden Age
Nationality Dutch
Expertise Painting

During his lifetime, Johannes Vermeer was not famous. Also known as Jan Vermeer van Delft, the Dutch painter produced most of his works for a small circle of patrons. Vermeer remains mysterious today, but his work has a huge audience.

Personal life

Johannes Vermeer proves that artists do not always lead glamorous lives. The painter did not become world famous until many decades after his death. Although he produced less than fifty paintings, his existing works are masterful enough to rival those of Rembrandt and other Baroque visionaries. Vermeer was born into relative poverty. He married Catharani Bolnes, a young woman from a wealthier family. The couple had fifteen children together, eleven of whom survived past infancy. Vermeer used his considerable talents as a painter to support his large clan. Unfortunately, his finances eventually fell into ruin. This may have led to Vermeer’s early demise.


Vermeer’s life is somewhat mysterious, but archival materials have provided a glimpse into his life and work. The artist registered with the Delft Guild in 1653. Historians believe Vermeer may have studied with Leonard Bramer or Carel Fabritius. The exact details of his training are somewhat unclear, but it is all too obvious that Vermeer possessed a natural talent. His realistic paintings of domestic scenes show a confident focus on composition and detail. Many of Vermeer’s earlier paintings display the clear influence of other renowned artists. Painted in 1656, The Procuress seems inspired by Caravaggio. Vermeer continued to develop his own style, painting in the Baroque and Dutch Golden Age traditions. He was particularly talented at capturing the movement of light and shadow on his subjects. While some of his paintings display mythological themes, such as Diana and her Companions from 1656, Vermeer primarily focused on scenes of local life. Vermeer’s lack of fame may have been tied to the fact that he stayed so close to home. His paintings mostly went to an exclusive group of local art collectors. Vermeer managed to make a name for himself in Delft, and for a time, he even headed the local artists’ guild. However, he did not gain an international audience during his short life. Now, Vermeer’s paintings are widely recognized as masterpieces. The Girl with a Pearl Earring, his luminous and serene portrait of a young woman, has become instantly recognizable. Vermeer’s 1658 painting The Milkmaid also displays his ingenious use of light. These paintings provide a window into the world in which Vermeer lived.

Fun Facts

  • Art historians believe that Vermeer used a device called a camera obscura to better capture shade and light.
  • Vermeer had expensive taste in paints and loved to work with vivid, pricey ultramarine.
  • In the 2003 movieGirl with a Pearl Earring, actor Colin Firth portrays Vermeer.

Related Artists


Some Examples of Johannes Vermeer’s Artwork

Officer and a Laughing Girl artwork by Johannes Vermeer

Officer and a Laughing Girl

The Milkmaid artwork by Johannes Vermeer

The Milkmaid

The Art of Painting artwork by Johannes Vermeer

The Art of Painting