Sunday, 14 March 2010


“There they stand, the innumerable stars, shining in order like a living hymn, written in light.” - N.P. Willis

For Art Sunday today, Vermeer! Jan (or Johannes) Vermeer van Delft, was born in October 1632 and died in December 1675. He was a Dutch genre painter who lived and worked in Delft, creating some of the most exquisite paintings in Western art. His works are rare. Of the 35 or 36 paintings generally attributed to him, most portray figures in interiors. All his works are admired for the sensitivity with which he rendered effects of light and colour and for the poetic quality of his images.

Little is known for certain about Vermeer’s life and career. He was born in 1632, the son of a silk worker with a taste for buying and selling art. Vermeer himself was also active in the art trade. He lived and worked in Delft all his life. Not much is known about Vermeer’s apprenticeship as an artist either. His teacher may have been Leonaert Bramer, a Delft artist who was a witness at Vermeer's marriage in 1653, or the painter Carel Fabritius of Delft.

In 1653 he enrolled at the local artists guild. His earliest signed and dated painting, “The Procuress” (1656; Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden), is thematically related to a Dirck van Baburen painting that Vermeer owned and that appears in the background of two of his own paintings. Another possible influence was that of Hendrick Terbrugghen, whose style anticipated the light colour tonalities of Vermeer’s later works.

The 1668 painting above is “The Astronomer” which is a portrait of a scientist in his study, examining a celestial globe.  The man is seated by a glass window, which the only source of light in an otherwise dark room, affording Vermeer the opportunity for some wonderful chiaroscuro effects.  The fact that the astronomer can afford glass windows, a painting on his wall, and a shelf full of books shows that he is a wealthy man.  This understated portrayal of wealth is common in paintings of this time period.

The astronomer in this painting is a man of science who is not posing for his portrait, but rather is shown performing his profession. This type of portrait was common in the Baroque era.  With a book open on his desk, he reaches for the globe, staring past it with a facial expression which reveals that he may have just made a great discovery.  According to some historians, the astronomer in this painting was inspired by Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who was born the same year as Johannes Vermeer.  Leeuwenhoek was the inventor of a microscope, and a master at astronomy and navigation.  Vermeer’s painting reflects Leeuwenhoek’s zeal for science.“The Astronomer” depicts not just a single man but the dawning of a new era of logical thought and scientific revolution.  In a balanced array of color and light, this painting captures the human fascination with the complexities of world around us.


  1. I love Vermeer's paintings. The way he handled light and colour were simply amazing!

  2. It's a beautiful painting!!!