Vermeer was born in 1632, the second child of Reynier Jansz.Vos (c. 1591-1652) and Digna Baltens (c. 1595-1670). His name "Joannis" was registered in Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in Delft on October 31. At that time, Vermeer had a sister who was twelve years older named Gertruy.
Vermeer was likely named Joannis, a variant of Jan, after his grandfather Jan Reynierszoon, the tailor. Jan was the most common name given to the male heirs of Delft's good Calvinist folk. Joannis was a Latinized form of Jan that Roman Catholics and upper-middle class Protestants favored. Perhaps the baby was christened Joannis instead of the plain old Jan because his parents, who had improved their economic condition in those years, thought it to be more elegant and refined. "There was also a humanist flavor to the name. Taurinus, the pastor of the New Church who probably christened the child, also called himself Joannis or Johannes. Vermeer himself never used the name Jan. Nonetheless, most Dutch scholars, in the century since his rediscovery, have dubbed him Jan, perhaps unconsciously to bring him closer to the mainstream of Calvinist culture." 1
DUTCH NAMES & PATRONYMICS
Surnames ( Family names) were relatively uncommon in 17th century Holland. Names such as Janszoon or Carstenszoon, Willemsdochter were so called patronymics or names that referred to the first name of the father, and were in common use in 15th, 16th and 17th century Holland. In written form they were then often abbreviated as Jansz., Carstensz. Willemsdr. etc., they were however usually pronounced in full, including the -zoon or -dochter. Because this form of abbreviation is not recognised as such in the English speaking world it is recommended that the full patronymic is always included in English texts, so the abbreviated patronymic is not perceived as the full name, as often often erroneously happens. They were not family names however. Some people like Abel Janszoon Tasman had a patronymic as well as as family name. Some patronymics were later used as family names although often in a slightly different form thereby becoming ‘frozen or petrified paronymics’ ( e.g. Janszoon to Jansen, Janssen, Jans etc.)
Peter Reynders, Australia on the Map, <http://www.australiaonthemap.org.au/landings-list/>
By the year 1640, Vermeer's father began to use Vermeer as his last name instead of Vos ("fox"), although he may have begun to use it at an earlier date. Vermeer's uncle Anthony had already adopted the surname as early as 1624. It should be remembered that last names did not have the same importance that they do today although by the 1630s most self-respecting burgers in Delft had taken last names. The artist always signed his Christian name plus Vermeer, omitting his patronymic, Reyierszoon, or Reyniersz.
Vermeer was not an uncommon name. It was sometimes spelled out in documents by notaries and public officials as "van der Meer" even though neither
Reynier nor his son favored this form. In 1667, witnessing a legal document in which he was referred to as "Johannes van der Meer, artful painter", the son signed "Johannes Vermeer." Three years later, evidently, encouraged by the artist who was present, a lawyer crossed out "van der Meer" and wrote above it "Vermeer."
Vermeer is a contraction of Van der Meer which means, "from the sea (or lake)." There were quite a few other Van der Meers in Delft including an apothecary, a physician, and a schoolmaster, and several artists in the United Provinces had that surname, and some of them even had the same Christian name as Johannes, which has caused some confusion.
When signing documents after 1657, Vermeer switched from using the old Gothic script to the more modern Roman script. After his marriage he preferred the more common spelling of Joannis: Johannes. Perhaps, he wished to feel in tune with the times.
Vermeer was a contraction of Van der Meer. After having experimented various ways of signing his pictures, Vermeer finally settled on his characteristic ligature. In the diagram above, we can see how the "J" of Johannes, the "V"of van der Meer or Vermeer and the "M" of Meer were all accommodated according to the artist's taste.
Vermeer' signature and date on The
Astronomer (perhaps added by a later hand)
- John Michael Montias, Vermeer and His Milieu, Princeton, 1989, p. 65
Vermeer's father's Name
The inn on the Voldersgracht was called "De Vliegende Vos" (The Flying Fox). The coincidence with Reynier Jansz.'s last name, Vos, was surely not accidental. What is not clear is whether he hung a sign board with an image of a flying fox in front of the inn to announce to the world that he, Vos, was the new boss, or whether he took to calling himself Vos only after he started leasing the inn that was already known by that name. The second alternative would imply that he was already established in the inn as early as January 1625, when he first called himself Vos. This is unlikely, because he was still living on the Small-Cattle Market when he repaid a debt for brandy in September 1626.
It happens also that "Reynier" sounds like "renard," the French word for fox, and that the great compilation of fables that the French call "Le Roman de Renard" became famous in Holland under the title "Reynaerd de Vos." Vos was a natural last name to choose for a man christened Reynier. Not surprisingly, there were many people besides Vermeer's father who called themselves Reynier Vos or De Vos in Delft.
John Michael Montias
Vermeer and His Milieu, Princeton, 1989, p. 61