Jan Vermeer was born in Delft in 1632 and lived his entire life in that city. Although he is now considered one of the greatest of all Dutch painters, his genius was not recognized by art critics of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is possible that this failure to see his talent was because many of his works were unsigned and therefore not identified as his own. His entire body of work is small: forty paintings are now attributed to Vermeer. Despite this minimal output, the absolute beauty of his work has ensured his reputation as an artistic master.
Little is known of Vermeer's life. It is believed that he was a student of Care Fabritius and that he married in 1653. He became a member, and eventually the dean, of the Guild of St. Luke in Delft. He had eleven children and constantly needed money to support his family. Despite his lack of wealth, he lived extravagantly and died leaving many debts behind.
Early in his career, Vermeer painted some portraits and two views of Delft. Otherwise he concentrated on the Biblical and mythological subjects which were popular at the time. As his career progressed, he began to paint the Dutch domestic scenes which established his artistic genius.
Vermeer gave everyday mundane actions including eating, drinking, music-playing and letter-writing, an air of enchantment. The minutely detailed figures and furniture which occupy his paintings seem to give a detailed record of the way regular men and women lived during his time. He used rich color adventurously and effectively. Vermeer was also a master of light and shade; sunlight streams into his interiors from left to right and radiantly glows off the marble floors and white walls. The same pieces of furniture and decoration often reappear in Vermeer's works, adding to the 'everydayness' of the images. Vermeer's use of mirrors in his art is also intriguing. It is often difficult to know if he is painting an actual scene or its reflection.
Vermeer died in 1675. Today, he is considered an artist of the highest order, not because he painted grandiose and elaborate works, but because he took a great delight in the simplicity of life around him.