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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“The Little Street” by Johannes Vermeer

"The Little Street" by Johannes Vermeer

View of Houses in Delft – ‘The Little Street’ by Johannes Vermeer

View of Houses in Delft, known as ‘The Little Street’ by Johannes Vermeer depicts a quiet street, with four people conduction routine tasks in everyday life in a Dutch town. It is one of only three Vermeer paintings of views of Delft, and it captures a perspective that Vermeer knew well. The house on the right in this painting belonged to Vermeer’s aunt, and Vermeer’s mother and sister also lived on the same canal, diagonally opposite.

The composition of straight lines and the triangle of the houses give the painting a vibrancy and reflects reality. The walls, stones and brickwork are painted in a solid colour of limited pigments which provides a solid and concrete aspect to the painting. This painting is a relatively small picture and is signed on the left-hand corner below the window “I V MEER”.

Johannes Vermeer is one of Netherlands’ most prominent Dutch painters. He painted relatively few paintings, most of which had common attributes such as the use of yellow and blue tones, the depiction of women and the depiction of domestic settings. Vermeer offered glimpses into the lives of Holland’s cultured citizens. Although little is known about Vermeer’s life, historians do know of his baptism and life in Delft where he was raised by a craftsman father and married a Catholic girl by the name of Catherina Bolnes.

Johannes Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675) was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialised in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful painter in his lifetime. However, he was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death.

There are only thirty-four paintings by Vermeer, and they are challenging to date. Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes, and most of his pictures are set in the rooms of his house in Delft. There are similar furniture and decorations in various arrangements in his domestic scenes and his art often portray the same people.  He was not wealthy, as he left his family in debt after his death. He produced relatively few paintings compared to his contemporaries. Art historians mainly overlooked Vermeer’s works for several centuries after his death. However, his reputation has skyrocketed in the last few hundred years, and he is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

The Little Street

  • Title:                 View of Houses in Delft, known as ‘The Little Street’
  • Dutch:              Gezicht op huizen in Delft, bekend als ‘Het straatje’
  • Artist:               Johannes Vermeer
  • Year:                 1658
  • Type:                Oil on canvas
  • Period:              Dutch Golden Age
  • Dimensions:     H: 54.3 cm (21.3 in); W: 44 cm (17.3 in)
  • Museum:          Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Johannes Vermeer

Questions about Vermeer and his Art

  • Where was Johannes Vermeer born?
    • Born in 1632 in Delft, he lived there most if not all of his life.
    • Delftware or Delft pottery is a general term now used for Dutch tin-glazed earthenware. Most of it is blue and white pottery, and the city of Delft in the Netherlands was the primary centre of production.
  • What was Vermeer’s faith?
    • Vermeer was born and raised Protestant but converted to Catholicism on the occasion of his marriage into a Catholic family.
  • What do we know about Vermeer’s parents?
    • His father was Reynier Janszoon, an inn-keeper, silk weaver and art trader and his mother was Dingenum Balthens.
  • What type of painter was Vermeer?
    • His long term interest in domestic genre scenes but his earliest known works, such as ‘Saint Praxedis’ (1655) were history paintings.
    • The motif of the woman by a window in a  domestic setting, or reading a letter, is a recurring element in Vermeer’s art.
    • Of his 36 paintings, 32 feature women in them, and 23 of the 36 feature only women.
    • Eleven of Vermeer’s 36 paintings have pearls in them. Pearls were a status symbol, and he painted them three-dimensionally, most famously in the famous “Girl With a Pearl Earring”.
  • What do we know about Vermeer’s wife?
    • He married Catharina Bolnes who came from a well-to-do family. She was from Gouda. She was slightly older than Vermeer and very devoted to preserving his work after he passed.
  • Did Vermeer have children?
    • Vermeer was the father of eleven children, but children do not appear in his paintings, except for the kneeling children with obstructed faces in ‘The Little Street’.
  • What are the critical dates in Vermeer’s life?
    • Baptised – 1632 in the Nieuwe Kerk
    • Married – 1653 to Catharina Bolnes in a clandestine church in Schipluiden
    • Admitted – 1653 to the Guild of St. Lucasguild as “Master” in
    • Buried – 1675 in the Oude Kerk
  • Which art museums have the most Vermeers?
    • Twelve of Vermeer’s approximately thirty-five extant paintings are housed within the U.S., mainly at the Metropolitan and Frick Museums of New York City, and at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
  • What technology did Vermeer use to help him in his visual effects?
    • Vermeer’s works suggest that he used the camera obscura, an optical device that reflects the subject onto the canvas, to achieve his close imitation of visual reality.
  • How old was Johannes Vermeer when he died?
    • 43

Reflections

  • Did Vermeer live near here?
  • Born in Delft, he lived there most if not all of his life.
  • Vermeer’s neighbourhood.
  • Why did children not feature more in his paintings?
  • Only 34 Vermeer paintings have survived. Which are your favourite?

Camera Obscura

Camera obscura also referred to as pinhole image, is the natural optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen is projected through a small hole in that screen as a reversed and inverted image on a surface opposite to the opening. The term “camera obscura” also refers to constructions or devices that make use of the principle within a box, tent or room.

While the technical principles of the camera obscura have been known since antiquity, the extensive use of the technical concept in producing images with a linear perspective in paintings started in the Western Renaissance and the scientific revolution. Camerae obscurae with a lens in the opening has been used since the second half of the 16th century and became popular as an aid for drawing and painting.

Explore the Rijksmuseum

Dutch Proverbs and Quotes

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“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

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Photo Credit: 1) Johannes Vermeer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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