Not exactly an obscure painter anymore, Vermeer had been largely forgotten for the better part of 200 years, more precisely from his death in 1675 until around 1860, when his rediscovery began.
Johannes Vermeer was born in October 1632 in Delft in the Netherlands, where he lived, survived the Delft Thunderclap in 1654, and died in December of 1675. Those were turbulent times in the Netherlands, what with wars and the plague plaguing (sic) the people continually. Vermeer was a painter as well as an art dealer, as his father had been before him, but during his lifetime he was only moderately famous, and he died poor.
But by now, Vermeer is among those considered the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age, and his most famous painting is probably the Girl with a Pearl Earring, but that’s not one of our favorites. Instead, we favor The Milkmaid, for example:
Here is someone you can actually imagine doing the work assigned to her, not just posing for a painting, although there is nothing wrong with that either, of course. But in this painting, there is so much more to see than a pretty face, down to the tiles on the wall that Vermeer’s hometown Delft is so famous for. And look at the brass kettle and the basket on the wall. Don’t they almost look like in a photograph? Note also the little wooden box on the right with the little cup, or maybe pitcher in it. What might it have been for, I wonder?
This next painting is also wonderful, although it is in part not very typical because, while it is set in one of the two rooms in which most all of Vermeer’s paintings were set, it does not show of a woman.
Here is someone else working, and how absorbed in his work he is, much like the milkmaid in the painting above. Again there is so much detail to discover, so take your time and have a look at the beautiful cloth, the fascinating globe with what looks like constellations on it, and how the light falls through the window. Look at the window itself! Note also how things used to be done by the window to take advantage of the light that fell through. Then have a look at the room itself. Less bare it is than the milkmaid’s work space: There is a cupboard with books on top and a chart hanging from it, and also a painting on the wall.
Have a look at a third person working, and our last painting for today. Observe the slightly unusual Roman numerals on the wall: 9 is usually noted as IX rather than VIIII.
The same room, and the same cloth on the table, but the chair the astronomer was sitting in is now found pushed against the wall, and his globe on top of the cupboard. More maps litter the floor. A geographer has taken the astronomer’s place, complete with a map in front of him and another tool of his trade, a divider compass, in his hand. The painting on the wall has become a map as well, and he is looking out of the window as if he can just see there the far lands his map depicts. (Note: Vermeer himself never traveled.) If you look closely, you see the same tiles lining the wall that we see so clearly in the painting of the milkmaid, so all three painting are set in the same room.
Isn’t it fascinating how these three paintings can be so similar, and yet so different at the same time? We haven’t even begun to look at the three different persons closely: Might the astronomer and the geographer be, in fact, the same man, minus the beard?
Further discoveries and musings we leave up to you… Enjoy.