Johannes Vermeer, who died in 1675 in his native city of Delft at the age of 42, created a small body of what are now considered to be almost perfect works. A master of composition and in the use of space, he was also one of the most skilled of the Dutch painters of his era in the use of light, producing mostly precise interior scenes of geometrically perfect composition that evoke a world of tranquillity and deep restfulness.
Given his exalted reputation in the late 20th century, it is a little hard to believe that the painter's works lay in obscurity for decades, not receiving significant attention after his death until the mid-19th century. The intimate scale of his paintings that is now revered was for a substantial period of time a liability. For example Gowing (1970) writes that "nowhere else are the complicated references of Western painting so resolved" (p. 17).
Relatively little is known of Vermeer, a point that now adds to his reputation. This coupled with the fact that only about 40 paintings generally recognized to be his survive lends an air of mystery to the life of this painter, a sense of the artist as an unknown entity that is enhanced by the seeming lack of emotional narrative and personal references in his work. For example, Arasse (1994, p. 15) notes that despite the fact that Vermeer and his wife, Catherina, raised 11 children, not a single child ever appears in any of his interior scenes this despite the fact that children were common in other Dutch paintings of the era.
Gowing (1970) summarizes this peculiar absence of the painter that viewers have over time sensed in Vermeer's work: "What kind of man was Vermeer? Here is the ambiguity. We may examine the pictures from corner to corner and still be uncertain. It seems as if he was of a god-like detachment, more balanced, more civilized, more accomplished, and more immune from the infection of his time than any painter before or since" (p. 1...