Johannes Vermeer

From the series Dutch Masters

Did you know that Vermeer was relatively unknown until the mid-19th century, while now he is one of the world’s most beloved artists. Vermeer's later work consists of intimate genre scenes, in which the main figure is engaged in everyday activities. The Rijksmuseum owns three of his domestic scenes and one cityscape, namely the world-famous Little Street.

The Milkmaid The Milkmaid

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The ordinary becomes extraordinary

Vermeer specialized in painting daily life in his hometown Delft. A row of houses past which many people would have walked, a domestic chore, or a woman with a letter – the artist captures our attention with such otherwise mundane tableaux.

The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660 (detail)

The Love Letter The Love Letter

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An intimate glimpse of life in the seventeenth century

Viewers can enter the intimate world portrayed in Vermeer's paintings. He makes us – as invisible witnesses – privy to private moments that unfolded over 350 years ago. What is in the letter? Did she receive it from a lover?

The Love Letter, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1669 - c. 1670 (detail)

View of Houses in Delft, Known as ‘The Little Street’ View of Houses in Delft, Known as ‘The Little Street’

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The cropping of the picture plane

The way Vermeer frames his compositions is simply phenomenal. The sides of the houses in The Little Street are abruptly cut off, whereby you have to visualize the rest of the facades yourself. The painting thus stimulates your imagination.

View of Houses in Delft, Known as ‘The Little Street’, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1658

The Milkmaid The Milkmaid

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Attention to balance

People, furniture, kitchen utensils and food: Vermeer positioned them in his paintings with utmost precision. His astutely conceived compositions with a limited number of carefully chosen figures and objects are harmoniously balanced.

The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660

Woman Reading a Letter Woman Reading a Letter

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Light as a guide

Vermeer’s paintings testify to his profound understanding of the fall of light. Fabrics shimmer and the shadows on the wall seem almost real. The letter catches the daylight, immediately drawing your eye to it. In this way, Vermeer dictates what you look at first.

Woman Reading a Letter, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1663

View of Houses in Delft, Known as ‘The Little Street’ View of Houses in Delft, Known as ‘The Little Street’

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Illusion of space

In his paintings Vermeer masterfully created depth, for instance, with through-views into different rooms. The illusion of space if reinforced by the beholder’s curiosity about what is taking place there.

View of Houses in Delft, Known as ‘The Little Street’, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1658 (detail)

Brieflezende vrouw, Johannes Vermeer Brieflezende vrouw, Johannes Vermeer

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Materials of the highest quality

Vermeer was not rich, but he spared no expense when it came to his painting materials. As a result, the bright colours still sparkle hundreds of years later. For example, he made blue paint with a pigment consisting of crushed lapis lazuli, a costly semi-precious stone from Afghanistan.

Woman Reading a Letter, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1663 (detail)

Woman Reading a Letter Woman Reading a Letter

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A harmonious palette

Vermeer created a harmonious unity by having certain colours recur in his compositions. For example, various shades of blue can be seen not only in the bed jacket of the Woman Reading a Letter, but also in the chairs, the knob of the pole for the wall map and even the shadows.

Woman Reading a Letter, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1663 (detail)

The Milkmaid The Milkmaid

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An eye for detail

Vermeer’s paintings continue to command the attention of his public, even that of people who have studied them many times. Details, such as tiles in a corner, or a nail in the white wall only become noticeable upon closer scrutiny.

The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660 (detail)

View of Houses in Delft, Known as ‘The Little Street’ View of Houses in Delft, Known as ‘The Little Street’

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A high standard

Only 35 paintings by Vermeer are known. He carefully built up his compositions with layers of skilfully applied oil paint. Vermeer’s modest oeuvre reflects the time and care he lavished on each of his paintings. The quality of these masterpieces is consistently high.

View of Houses in Delft, Known as ‘The Little Street’, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1658 (detail)