Johannes Vermeer (1632 - 1675)

One of the most celebrated Dutch 17th century masters

Place of birth

Vermeer was among the most prominent painters of the Delft school in the second half of the 17th century. He is best known for elegant, meticulously crafted interior scenes characterized by brilliant use of light, the subtle gestures and expressions of his subjects and an atmosphere of hushed calm. The Rijksmuseum has three domestic interiors by Vermeer and one outdoor scene: his world-famous Little Street in Delft, the city where he lived and worked all his life.

The Little Street (Around 1658) by Johannes VermeerRijksmuseum

Woman Reading a Letter (c. 1663) by Johannes VermeerRijksmuseum

Vermeer’s interiors are celebrated for their perfect interplay of line, form, light and colour. He infused his paintings with a restrained and unparalleled sense of serenity. He often relied on the same elements to create this effect. Just look at these three interiors. 

The Love Letter (Around 1669) by Johannes VermeerRijksmuseum

The milkmaid (Around 1660) by Johannes VermeerRijksmuseum

Vermeer lavished attention on the smallest of details. He even painted the shadow of this tiny nail in the wall with extraordinary precision.

References to love abound in Vermeer’s paintings. This foot-warmer can be associated with the lover’s desire for constancy, caring and warmth. Naturally, the little cupids depicted on the tiles have an amorous connotation as well.

A maidservant pours milk, and the girl in the Love Letter hands her mistress a letter: Vermeer specialized in genre painting, a term referring to scenes of everyday life.

Woman Reading a Letter (c. 1663) by Johannes VermeerRijksmuseum

Vermeer painted quite a few pearls during his life. They were extremely popular in his time. On the painting 'Woman Reading a Letter', a pearl necklace lies on the table ready for the woman to put on. 

The Love Letter (Around 1669) by Johannes VermeerRijksmuseum

The look that the woman gives her maidservant seems anxious – or, is it expectant? Her expression draws all of the attention in the picture. Does her gaze betray curiosity, or concern, about the contents of the letter?

The letter occupies a central place in the picture. Writing or reading a letter was a popular theme in 17th–century Dutch art. Here Vermeer has depicted the moment when the letter is delivered. It is still sealed with red wax, its contents known only to the person who penned it.

The Little Street, Johannes Vermeer, Around 1658, From the collection of: Rijksmuseum
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This painting of a quiet street with a few figures occupies an exceptional place in Vermeer’s oeuvre. Its painted around 1658.

The Address

Frans Grijzenhout, Professor of Art History at the University of Amersterdam, consulted 17th-century records that had never before been used for this purpose. These records clearly indicate the actual site of the little street in the town of Delft.  

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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