Here you find information about the painter Johannes Vermeer which you can use for talks and projects.
After a lot of research more and more has become known about the works and life of Johannes.
Johannes Vermeer was born in Delft in 1632 en died here in 1675. He was buried in the Oude Kerk (Old Church). He was 21 when he married. He lived on the Markt in the house ‘Mechelen’ where his father had an inn and a weaving establishment and traded in art.
Johannes has not made many paintings compared to his contemporaries. He made about 50 paintings during his lifetime. He earned money by painting and by estimating the value of other painters (determining what it’s worth). Because of the occupation by French troops in 1672 (Disaster year), for many people it was difficult to earn money. Johannes also had money problems. Three years later, when he was 43, he died.
In 1696 21 of Johannes’s paintings were auctioned (sold publically) in Amsterdam.
There are only 37 known Vermeer paintings. In the Vermeer Centrum Delft there are digital copies in real life size of all 37 paintings.
His first canvases (paintings on linen) are full and colourful. Later on, his works become more tranquil and the depictions simpler. The light’s clear, cool and a little bit mysterious. Because of his painting technique he became famous around the world and he was called the Master of light.
In the 17th century the 'camera obscura' was often used during painting. It is a predecessor of the modern camera. In one side is a lens that projects the outside world onto the opposite side. According to some scientists Johannes also used it, but it’s not certain. We think that Johannes immediately started painting on a canvas. He didn’t make any sketches beforehand, but might have used tools, such as the camera obscura.
His very precise manner of painting could be a reason why he left us so few works. He was someone who was permanently busy changing details, going away and coming back with new ideas and continuing again.
Where can Johannes’s paintings be seen? Three of his paintings can be seen in the Mauritshuis in The Hague and four can be seen in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The other 30 paintings can be seen in various countries throughout Europe and in the USA.
Paint consists of pigment and binding agent – this was so in Johannes’s time as well. Only there weren’t any ready made paints available. Paint was made in small amounts in studios.
The artist – but more often his assistant – mixed pigments with rapeseed oil and rubbed the mixture onto a stone, to give it the right consistency. Then the paint was ready for use.
Johannes could buy his pigments from the chemist’s or pharmacist around the corner. Whether he did this is unknown. The pigments were extracted from all kinds of raw materials: lead, urine, rare minerals, Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan, glass, plants, wood, etc.
Johannes often chose more expensive and better quality pigments. That’s why the colours of, for instance, ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earringl’ are still so beautiful.
Johannes was very clever and used many ways to adapt his paint to his paintings. Sometimes he applied a thin layer of coloured varnish, to show depth, for example in fabrics or glass. Another time he mixed sand and thick paint to make it look like the texture of a brick, such as in ‘View of Delft’.
The St. Lucasguild was for people who wanted to become professional painters. This guild was not just for painters, but also for glass makers, potters, book printers and book binders. Outside on the gable of the Vermeer Centrum Delft you can detect the symbols of these professions.
The St. Lucasguild house in Delft was located on the Voldersgracht, on the spot where now the Vermeer Centrum Delft is. The painters chose St. Lucas as patron.
Johannes Vermeer was admitted to the painter’s guild in 1653. From then on he had the right to sign and sell his paintings. Eight years later he became head of the St. Lucasguild for the first time.
Vermeer in short:
|Baptised||31 October 1632 in the Nieuwe Kerk|
|Married||5 April 1653 to Catharina Bolnes in a clandestine church in Schipluiden|
|Parents||Reynier Janszoon (inn-keeper, silk weaver and art trader) and Dingenum Balthens|
|Children||15 children, of whom only 11 were still alive when he died|
|Guild||admitted to St. Lucasguild as “Master” in 1653|
|Buried||15 December 1675 in the Oude Kerk|
The Vermeer Centrum Delft has a lot of information about Johannes Vermeer and Delft in the 17th century. Below is a list:
In the Vermeer Centrum Delft you start downstairs with a film about Johannes and Delft. You will be told about his works and Delft during the Golden Age.
There are copies of the 37 paintings in the Vermeer Centrum Delft. Each painting has a sign with explanation.
The time line
On the floor you will see the chronological time line of the paintings from Johannes.
The mentor’s game
Because we do no know who the mentor of Johannes was, we give you several options. Who do you think is Johannes’s mentor?
The guild table
Listen to a conversation between 5 guild members of the St. Lucas Guild. The guild that Johannes was a member of.
Vermeer and the world
Because of the VOC travels more of the world was being discovered. This also played an important role in Johannes’s paintings.
The Golden Age was the age of inventors and travels of discovery. Johannes’s contemporary was Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the improver of the microscope. Have a look at his discoveries and his ‘dierckens’ (little creatures).
The paint table
As you have read, paint wasn’t sold ready made. Have a look at the beautiful pigments and materials that Johannes used to make his own paint.
The light studio
Johannes was called the master of light. In the light studio will be explained how he worked with light and how unusual this was in that time.
The camera obscura
Another invention was the camera obscura. The predecessor of the modern camera. Look at the screen and see how the outside world looks in mirror image.
A painting is made in a certain way. Johannes used perspective to create depth in his paintings. He attached string onto the paintings to determine where everything should come.
Video presentation about restoration
Here we follow the process of the just restored painting ‘Woman in Blue Reading a Letter’.
There are many places that refer to Johannes and his life in the town of Delft. Buy the city walk at the counter and learn about Johannes and his town Delft.
If you visit the Vermeer Centrum Delft, you get a free treasure hunt with every ticket. With this quest you discover everything about the life of Johannes Vermeer, his paintings and about Delft when he lived there.
We have two treasure hunts, one in which you look for very small pieces from different paintings and one with questions of which the answers are hidden in our center.