Johannes [Jan] Vermeer (1632–1675). The Astronomer (1668)


" W hat is it about Johannes Vermeer? " contemporary art lovers and historians ask. The enigmatic painter, apparently well known in his day, lapsed into obscurity after his death only to surface again in the 19th century and capture the imagination and esthetic taste of modern times. Even though he produced no more than 40 paintings, their originality and refinement place him among the greatest 17th-century Dutch artists (1). Vermeer's life story can only be patched together from public records, and no portrait is available of his physical appearance. He was sufficiently trained in his trade to belong to an artists' guild and was esteemed enough by his colleagues to be twice appointed guild leader. Nonetheless, financial hardship, aggravated by his inability to support a brood of 15 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood, limited his artistic output. He made little money from his paintings and died poor at age 43 (2). " Because of…the large sums of money we had to spend on the children, sums he was no longer able to pay, " his wife lamented after his death, " he fell into such a depression and lethargy that he lost his health in the space of one and a half days and died " (3). Though untraveled, Vermeer was well connected with other artists, including Gerald Ter Borch and Dirk van Baburen, and might have been influenced by Caravaggio and Carel Fabritius, the brilliant student of Rembrandt. Vermeer's work is also reminiscent of 15th-century Flemish art, especially in the use of color and meticulous detail; however, he brought to these elements unique sensitivity and novelty (4). During the 17th century, the arts broke away from classical style into genre (scenes of everyday life). Vermeer's work assumed the domestic intimacy of the Dutch school yet moved beyond its monochromatic, evenly lit, raucous gatherings. Although more than any of his contemporaries Vermeer saw poetry in everyday activities (The Lacemaker, The Procuress, The Milkmaid), his characters had an air of introspection and seemed to be engaged in more than the activities themselves. In scenes of extraordinary simplicity and clarity, he placed solitary figures, whose dimensions were sometimes enlarged in relation to the surroundings, within the confines of carefully constructed spaces (1). Then, elaborating on textures and details, he used light to peer through the external trappings into the soul. While the arts were abandoning classical themes for scenes …

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@inproceedings{Potter2004JohannesV, title={Johannes [Jan] Vermeer (1632–1675). The Astronomer (1668)}, author={P. G. Potter}, year={2004} }