First Steps: Getting Started with Vermeer

first resources

vermeer FAQ


If you are approaching Vermeer's art for the first time, you couldn't have chosen a better moment.

There has never been such an abundance of Vermeer-related publications, high-quality prints, digital images and special exhibitions as in the last decades. Moreover, the great part of Vermeer’s paintings have been restored by the most exacting standards and can be appreciated as never before. Obviously, the best way to get to know Vermeer's paintings is to visit the museums where they are housed. Unfortunately, this is not always possible (for a brief overview of Vermeer's paintings see the video ).

There exists, however, a wide range of informative publications regarding Vermeer's art and life, many of which include fine reproductions that will bring the readers as close to Vermeer’s pictures as is possible without seeing the original. Many can be purchased through online book stores (about 30 books deal directly with Vermeer and another 20 with closely related topics

Don't hesitate to email me for any further information; it will be a pleasure to help. I hope this page will help you get started.

Jonathan Janson
Author and webmaster of Essential Vermeer

Which Resources First?


1. First of all, you will probably be looking for a book with good reproductions of the Vermeer's complete oeuvre as well as a straightforward overview of his life and artistry. The quality of reproductions varies notoriously from book to book. The three publications reviewed below feature all of Vermeer's paintings with more than acceptable degree of accuracy. No doubt, Walter Liedtke's new volume furnishes some the finest reproductions available in print although a few are substandard.


2. Secondly, you will probably want to know something about Vermeer's life. There are two excellent volumes available. Until the mid-1800s, Vermeer's painting had largely been forgotten so historians knew nothing of his life. Although great progress was made during the first half of the 20th century, it wasn't until 1986, when the American economist John Michael Montias published his Vermeer and his Milieu: A Web of Social History, that the first clear picture of Vermeer's life and extended family was set down in once and for all.

Anthony's Bailey's paperback Vermeer: A View of Delft is an eminently readable account of Vermeer 's life which affords a suggestive picture of Vermeer's family and professional life, his hometown, Delft and seventeenth-century Dutch life at large.

Walter Liedtke's Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, already mentioned, offers and succinct but penetrating account of the artist's life and pictorial evolution.


3. Today, Liedtke's Vermeer: The Complete Paintings constitutes the best overall study of the artist. Liedtke's precision and intuition make the book reliable and readable.

The other two books listed in the first two categories offer accounts of Vermeer's work and life, however, more complex issues of artistry and iconographic meaning are not investigated at great length. One of the most suggestive and widely read interpretations of Vermeer's art is Lawrence Gowing's monograph, Vermeer, although it demands the reader's full attention and may pose some problems for readers whose mother tongue is not English. The other two volumes, A Study of Vermeer by Edward Snow and the catalogue of the historic Washington/The Hague Vermeer 1994 exhibition should be considered as well.

Painting Technique

4. If you are interested in how Vermeer made his paintings, Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder opens the door to Vermeer's studio. There is no comparable volume on the materilas, technqiues and day-yo-day painting proactices.

5. When you feel a bit more comfortable with the basics of Vermeer's life and art, you may wish to explore the Dutch painting genre painting (scenes of everyday life) and the artists of the so-called Delft School. The three volumes suggested below can be considered classics. Especially interesting is the lushly illustrated Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting: Its Stylistic and Thematic Evolution by Wayne Franits.

Click on the book titles to access online bookstore.

1. Oeuvre & Reproductions

The reproductions in Wheelock's book are significantly larger than those the other two books in this section allowing the observations of fine detail. While the colors of some of the paintings are very near the originals, a few are decidedly mediocre.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr is one of the most prolific writers on Vermeer's art. His views are balanced but always revealing. Perhaps the introduction to Vermeer's life and times could have been more detailed. Each painting is accompanied by an informative essay.

Vermeer: The Complete Works
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr
Vermeer: The Complete Paintings, Wheelock

The medium-sized reproductions of each painting by Vermeer are in-focus. There are a number some excellent details but, unfortunately, a general yellowish "gallery tone" pervades most. Frequently, those who have the fortune of observing a Vermeer directly are surprised by their brilliant color scheme and overall cool tone, unlike most reproductions of the past. Bailey does a good job of summing up the bare facts of Vermeer's art and life in a few pages. Each painting is accompanied by a brief essay.

Vermeer : Color Library
Martin Bailey
Vermeer : Color Library, Bailey

2. Biography & Family

In Vermeer: A View of Delft, Anthony Bailey, a British writer and art historian, presents an intriguing portrait of Vermeer's life and character. He re-creates the atmosphere of the times, introduces the reader to Vermeer's colleagues and portrays his domestic life in vibrant detail. He also sheds light on the science and artistry behind his most representative works. Carefully researched and elegantly written, Vermeer: A View of Delft,will stand as the classic work on Vermeer for years to come.

Vermeer: A View of Delft
Anthony Bailey

Vermeer: A View of Delft, Bailey

This book is not only a fascinating biography of one of the greatest painters of the seventeenth century but a social history of the colorful extended family to which he belonged and of the town life of the period. It explores a series of distinct but contiguous worlds: Delft's Small-Cattle Market, where Vermeer's paternal family settled early in the century; the milieu of shady businessmen in Amsterdam that recruited Vermeer's grandfather to counterfeit coins; the artists, military contractors, and Protestant burghers who frequented the inn of Vermeer's father in Delft's Great Market Square; and the quiet, distinguished "Papists Corner" in which Vermeer, after marrying into a high-born Catholic family, retired to practice his art, while retaining ties with wealthy Protestant patrons. The relationship of Vermeer to his principal patron is one of many original discoveries in the book. No detail of Vermeer's life is overlooked.

"[With Montias] the past is hard put to hide what were in all truth its secrets. One will read Vermeer and His Milieu several times, as [Montias] has read the archives; he is an indispensable companion for anyone who likes the seventeenth century." —Lawrence Gowing, The [London] Times Literary Supplement

3. Interpretation

Lawrence Gowing's classic study has long been treasured for the painterly sensibilities he brought to this greatly loved body of work. Finally the text is available again, with a new foreword and fresh reproductions of Vermeer's paintings. Absolutely essential: a masterpiece in its own right.

"Brilliant analysis. Must surely rank as one of the most profound interpretations of a painter ever written."—Burlington Magazine

Lawrence Gowing
1955 and 1970
Vermeer, Lawrence Gowing

Edward Snow's A Study of Vermeer starts from a single premise: that we respond so intensely to Vermeer because his paintings reach so deeply into our lives. Our desire for images, the distances that separate us, the validations we seek from the still world, the traces of ghostliness in our own human presence--these, the book proposes, are Vermeer's themes, which he pursues with a realism always in touch with the uncanny. As Snow traces the many counterpoised sensations that make up Vermeer's equanimity, he leads us into a world of nuances and surprise.

A Study of Vermeer is passionate and visual in its commitments. Snow works from the conviction that viewing pictures is a reciprocal act--symbiotic, consequential, real. His discussions of Vermeer's paintings are conducted in a language of patient observation, and they involve the reader in an experience of deepening relation and ongoing visual discovery. The book has been designed to facilitate this process: over eighty illustrations, fifty-nine in color (including two full-page foldouts), accompany the text so that the details Snow illuminates will be continually in view. Here is a book to enthrall not only students of Vermeer, but anyone who feels the exhilaration of what Cézanne called "thinking in images."

A Study of Vermeer
Edward A. Snow
A Study of Vermeer, Edward Snow

A lavishly illustrated exhibition catalogue dedicated to Vermeer held at the National Gallery, Washington D.C. and the Mauritshuis, The Hague 1995–1996. Up-to-date analysis of the iconography, artistry and history of the painter. It contains many original insights and news of recent discoveries about Vermeer’s technique and use of single-point perspective. Each of the 21 paintings in the exhibition are analyzed thoroughly by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., one of the most knowledgeable and insightful Vermeer specialists.

Requires some knowledge of Vermeer and Dutch painting to appreciate.

Johannes Vermeer
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. et al.
Johannes Vermeer, Arthur k, Wheelock Jr.

4. Painting Technique

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder
by Jonathan Janson (painter and author of Essential Vermeer)

Who would have not wanted to look over the shoulders of one of the greatest painting technicians of Western art while he was at work?

Looking Over Vermeer's s Shoulder is the big, illustrated eBook about the materials and day-to-day painting practices of the seventeenth-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, and those of the his most technically advanced colleagues.

In the first section, in-depth investigation sheds full light not only the artist's unique treatment light, color, composition, drawing and perspective but how he painted some of the most defining yet overlooked motifs of his interior scenes, such as marble floor tiles, wall maps, drapery and white-washed walls. Detailed information is given about the artist’s studio environment, how he devised his perfectly balanced scenes and how he was inspired by and made use of the camera obscura in a practical setting. The stylistic components of Vermeer’s art are described and understood in both their similarities and divergences with prevailing artistic theory and the Dutch fine-painting manner.

In the second section, each passage of Vermeer’s rigorous, multi-step method is unraveled in the order one might encounter them in the painting process. This allows the reader to follow how the artist patiently built up his images during the months of unremitting attention to every aspect of the painting proces,, from the stretching of his fine-woven linen canvas to the final touches and glazes.

While carefully analyzing of all know data regarding Vermeer’s painting procedures—with the aid of hundreds of full color images—the author combines his life-long study of Vermeer’s art and his qualifications as a trained painter to produce an intimate, three-dimensional view of the painter, which no iconographical or art historical study can yield.

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder
(second edition)
by Jonathan Janson

Looking Over Vermeer's Shoulder

eBook (ePub)
+ 300 color illus.
January, 2016

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5. History & Background

This book is a collection of writings on aspects of painting in Delft during the period 1650–1675. Walter Liedtke, a highly respected curator and scholar of Dutch and Flemish art, discusses at length the work of four artists: Carel Fabritius, Gerard Houckgeest, Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer. Liedtke considers recent interpretations and research on these artists' works, exploring in particular the relationship between style and observation in their paintings.

The appealing genre paintings of great seventeenth-century Dutch artists—Vermeer, Steen, de Hooch, Dou and others—have long enjoyed tremendous popularity. This comprehensive book explores the evolution of genre painting throughout the Dutch Golden Age, beginning in the early 1600s and continuing through the opening years of the next century. Wayne Franits, a well-known scholar of Dutch genre painting, offers a wealth of information about these works and about seventeenth-century Dutch culture, its strengths, predilections, foibles and prejudices. The author approaches genre painting from a variety of perspectives, examining their reception among contemporary audiences and setting the works in their political, cultural and economic contexts.

Both the choice and quality of the illustrations are admirable. Anyone even vaguely interested in Dutch genre painting (scenes of daily life) will find this volume enlightening.

Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, Ruisdael, Cuyp, de Witte, Van Goyen, Van de Velde, Saenredam and De Hooch are just some of the painters whose works document the uniqueness, vitality and genius of seventeenth-century Dutch painting. It was an age of discovery of the natural world and of the everyday world. There was a new humanization of art and a rich and varied range of subject matter in Dutch painting of this period.

Madlyn Kahr describes and interprets this fascinating period as a whole and the different artists and their most notable works, providing a fresh appraisal and understanding.

Dutch Painting in the Seventeenth Century
Madlyn Millner Kahr
2nd edition 1992

Dutch Painting in the Seventeenth Century, Madlyn Kahr


Where are Vermeer's paintings? See the interactive map of the geographical location in Vermeer's paintings in Europe and America or access detailed information about the museums in which they are housed,
How may paintings by Vermeer are there? See all 35 (36?) paintings on the complete online Vermeer catalogue with dimensions, geographical locations and in-depth information about each work.
What was Vermeer's life like? See a biography Vermeer's life, a detailed timeline of Vermeer's life and times, a chronology, Vermeer's children, Vermeer's wife and even a detailed interactive, family tree.
Are there any special exhibitions of Vermeer's paintings going on now? See the special events page with Vermeer and Vermeer-related exhibitions.
How can I stay updated on special Vermeer exhibitions and new publications Subscribe free to the Essential Vermeer Newsletter and stay informed about Vermeer exhibitions, conferences and multi-media events.