Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Sphinx of Delft

The artist, Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), left no evidence of his biography except for a few legal documents. No confirmed images. No information about his art training. No evidence of having served an apprenticeship. Yet, he is in full bloom as a master painter in 1653 when he joined the Guild of Saint Luke - meaning he had completed an apprenticeship with someone, somewhere.

In fact, on three occasions, he served as head of the guild. So, why is there so little mention of him in the notes of other artists in the guild?

Vermeer needed money to support his wife and 11 surviving children, but it appears that he only produced 3 paintings a year and never took on apprentices. How did he manage?

All the questions led Théophile Thoré-Bürger, the 19th century art critic, to refer to Vermeer as the "Sphinx of Delft."

All the gaps in his background and his artworks have provided authors with a wonderful opportunity to make stuff up. There are many books of fiction about his subjects, his works and his life. If we can't know who was his master, at least we can know something about who influenced him - and that will be the subject of next week's blog.


  1. I've read a couple of books where the authors take off from the few facts known about him. Entertaining, but it'd be nice to know his real bio. Jennie

  2. I love a good mystery. I can't wait for next week's blog. sz

  3. love,love, love his work.