JACQUES-EDOUARD BERGER FOUNDATION: World Art Treasures

Johannes Vermeer, Delft 1632 - Delft 1675

On October 31, 1632, Jan, the son of Reynier and Digna Vermeer, was baptized in New Church in Delft. In 1641, Reynier Jansz bought the "Mechelen" house with an adjoining inn on the Grote Markt square in Delft. His father, a weaver and inn keeper, was enrolled in the Guild of Saint Luke as Mr. Constvercoper (master merchant of artworks). Jan Vermeer would see his first paintings in his father's establishment. On April 23, 1653, the civil marriage of Jan Vermeer and Catharina Bolnes was celebrated in the Delft city hall; she was from Gouda and five years his senior. They would have 15 children, 4 of whom died at a young age. On December 29, 1653, Vermeer enrolled as a master painter in the Guild of Saint Luke in Delft. In 1662, Vermeer was elected the Guild's president. On December 16, 1675, Jan Vermeer, a painter by trade, forty-three years old, was entombed in Old Church in Delft.
These are the only three documents which have survived: his birth, his marriage and his death certificates. Some stories about his family, inheritance, debts and that is all. This man's masters, models and companions are unknown to us. We do not have a single handwritten line or a self-portrait. Vermeer is not part of art history and has become a ghost which we can only glimpse fleetingly and guess at through the work he left us.

At the time of his death, Vermeer left behind eleven children, of which 10 were minors. On April 24 and 30, 1676, Catharina Vermeer filed petitions with Holland's and Zeeland's High Courts to obtain assignment letters to his creditors, invoking the disastrous conditions caused by the war and her husband's decease. The ruling was in her favor. On March 15, 1677, the Vermeer estate's paintings were sold at the Guild. Twenty-one of the master's paintings were dispersed. On December 30, 1687, Catharina Vermeer-Bolnes received last rites; she was buried three days later. The last of Vermeer's works were sold to Delft's last collectors, who locked them up in their cupboards. The shutters closed. Nobody spoke about Jan Vermeer. His name was forgotten.

In 1842, an art historian and critic, Joseph Théophile Thoré, who liked to be known as William Bürger, discovered the View of Delft. He was in ecstasy and devoted twenty years of his life to researching the artist's true identity. In 1866, W. Bürger published the first monograph on Vermeer, which lists 42 works. Thanks to him, Vermeer is one of the most justifiably famous artists today.