Today, the name Vermeer instantly conjures an image of his Girl with the Pearl Earring painting, known as the "Mona Lisa of the North." The 17th century Dutch Master's rendition of an ordinary girl, sublimely glancing at the viewer from a mysterious black background with a shining pearl upon her lobe, has become a universal icon in the canon of Golden Age artwork.
Who Was Johannes Vermeer?
Johannes Vermeer was born the in the mercantile Dutch town of Delft in October 1632 to a lower-middle-class family. His father Reijnier Jansz was a hardworking cloth weaver turned innkeeper, and then art dealer. His mother Digna Baltus is thought to have been an illiterate housewife due to her ability to sign only an "x" in place of her name on her marriage certificate.
Despite the painter's popularity during his life, criminality seems to have run in Vermeer's veins. In 1625, before the painter's birth, his father was convicted and acquitted of the manslaughter of a soldier following a brawl at an inn. It has been suggested that the acquittal was granted owing to the familiarity between the assailant and the master painter of the Guild of St Luke. The painter's maternal grandfather was also arrested and imprisoned for counterfeiting. It is of little surprise that drama and dalliances with the law were to plague Vermeer throughout his adult life.
Johannes Vermeer Paintings:
‘Christ in the House of Martha and Mary’ 1654-56
In this painting, Christ sits in the house of his close friends, the sisters Martha and Mary. While Martha is busy cleaning, cooking for, and serving the son of God, Mary sits calmly and contentedly at his feet and listens to him preach.
‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ 1665
Girl with a Pearl Earring is undoubtedly the most famous and identifiable portrait of Northern Europe and is as iconic to the Dutch as da Vinci's Mona Lisa is to the Italians. In it, a young woman's face floats against a dark background, left half in shadow. She gazes out at the audience with bright eyes and lips slightly parted as if she is about to speak. It is unclear whether she is turning towards or away from the viewer.