The number of surviving documents which regard Vermeer, his art and his family are very few indeed. Although historians have only recently determined a bit more clearly Vermeer’s artistic stature within his society, very little is known of his immediate family and almost nothing of Vermeer the man. The following is an outline of Vermeer’s brief personal and civic life.
1591 Vermeer’s father Reynier Jansz. (c. 1591-1652) was born on Beestenmarkt number 14 in a house called Nassau. His parents were the tailor Jan Reyersz. who had moved from Flanders to Delft by 1597 and Cornelia (alias Neeltge Goris, who died 1627). Neeltge Goris was active as “uijtdraegster” or second hand goods dealer, liquidating estates of deceased people. Reynier’s interest in dealing in second hand paintings may have been encouraged by his mother’s activity since paintings were often part of estates.
1615 Vermeer’s father, then a silk weaver, marries Digna Baltens (d.1670) in Amsterdam.
1620 The couple baptizes, Geertruijt, their first child.
c. 1627-1630 Reynier Janz. – who since 1652 called himself Vos – rents an inn on the Voldersgracht in Delft called “The Flying Fox” (De Vliegnde Vos). The reason for the change of name is unknown.
1631 Reynier Janz. Vos becomes a member of the Saint Luke’s Guild as a “Master Art Dealer.” This title allows him to buy and sell paintings.
1632 Baptism of Johannes Vermeer as “Joannis” in the Nieuwe Kerk on October 31, Johannes becomes Reynier’s second son.
1640 Reynier signs himself in a deposition as “Vermeer,” again, the reason for the change in name is uncertain.
1641 Reynier Janz. Vos buys the house and inn called “Mechelen” on the Grote Markt, in Delft.
1652 On October 12 Reynier Janz. Vos is buried in Delft.
1653 April 5, Johannes Vermeer registers his intentions to marry Catharina Bolnes, the youngest daughter of Maria Thins and Reynier Bolnes. The night before, the well-known Delft painter Leonard Bramer and a Captain Melling state that Maria Thins has refused to give her consent in writing but states that “she would suffer the (marriage) banns be published and would tolerate it.”
April 20, Johannes Vermeer and Catharina Bolnes get married in Schipluiden, a small village south of Delft.
April 22, Vermeer and the painter Gerard Terborch sign a document in Delft.
December 29, Vermeer is registered as a member of the Saint Luke’s Guild.
1655 December 14, Vermeer and his wife sign a document.
1656 Vermeer pays the remaining sum of the master’s fee in the Saint Luke’s Guild. Vermeer signs one of his first known paintings, The Procuress.
1657 Maria Thins, in the first draft of her testament, leaves to Vermeer’s daughters jewels and the sum of three hundred guilders to Vermeer and Catharina.
Vermeer borrows the sum of two hundred guilders from Pieter Claesz. van Ruijven, a wealthy Delft citizen who may have purchased more than twenty of Vermeer’s works.
1660 Vermeer and his wife bury a child in the Oude Kerk. The same document states that at the same time, Vermeer and his wife were living in the house of Maria Thins on the Oude Langendijk in Delft.
1662 Vermeer is appointed one of the headmen of the Saint Luke’s Guild. This fact has been interpreted as a testimony of the high esteem in which the artist was held at the time. However, when Vermeer was elected headmaster, many of the painters resident in Delft had left for the more prosperous Amsterdam and so his election may have had less significance than has usually been thought.
1663 A French diplomat and art connoisseur, Balthasar de Monconys, visits Vermeer in Delft, in his diary he notes that he was unable to see any paintings there and had to visit the house of a baker, where he saw a painting with a single figure. De Monconys remarked that the price paid was far too high.
1664 In a death inventory of the English sculptor, Jean Larson, who lives in the Hague, is listed “a head by Vermeer.”
1665 Pieter van Ruijven and his wife Maria Knuijt leave five hundred guilders to Vermeer in their last will and testament. This kind of a bequest is very unusual and testifies a close relationship between Vermeer and Van Ruijven.
Maria Thins empowers Vermeer to collect various debts owed to her and to reinvest the money according to his will and discretion.
Another of Vermeer’s children is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft.
1668 Vermeer probably paints the Astronomer.
1669 Vermeer probably paints the Geographer.
Vermeer’s mother leases the inn Mechelen to a shoemaker for three years.
Pieter Teding van Berckhout, who was from an important family in the Hague, visits
Vermeer twice and enters in his diaries his impressions.
Vermeer and his wife bury another child in the Oude Kerk.
1670 Vermeer is appointed for a second time headman of the Saint Luke’s Guild.
Vermeer’s mother is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft, February 13.
Geertruijt Reynier Vermeer, Vermeer’s sister, is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft.
Vermeer inherits Mechelen from his mother, July 13.
1672 Vermeer leases Mechelen to an apothecary for six years.
Vermeer travels with two other headmen to the Hague in order to appraise a collection of disputed Italian paintings. They testify before a notary that the works are “great pieces of rubbish and bad paintings.”
1673 Another child of Vermeer’s is buried in the family grave in the Oude Kerk.
1674 Vermeer’s name appears on the register of the Delft militia.
1675 Vermeer borrows one thousand guilders from an Amsterdam merchant.
Maria Thins empowers Vermeer to collect and administer money owed to her son.
Vermeer is buried in the Oude Kerk, 16 December. He leaves an impoverished widow and eleven children, ten of whom are still minors.
1676 An inventory of movable objects from Vermeer’s estate is compiled.
Anthonie Leeuwenhoek, inventor of the microscope and famous scientist from Delft, is appointed executor of Vermeer’s estate.
Catharina Bolnes petitions the high court of Holland and Zeeland to issue letters of cession to her creditors taking into account her disastrous financial condition brought on by the war with France. Her request is granted.
1677 2 and 5 February Leeuwenhoek appears before the Lords Aldermen of Delft to settle Vermeer’s debt with Jannetje Stevens, who then transfers back to Vermeer’ estate twenty-six paintings in the possession of Jan Coelenbier. A public sale of the paintings is planned.
Maria Thins notifies that The Art of Painting (‘ de Schilderconst’ ) was transferred to her by her daughter and that the painting should not be included in the sale of Vermeer’s estate in the Guild Hall of Saint Luke.
Leeuwenhoek denies the legality of the transfer.
The sale of the paintings takes place in the Guild Hall, March 15.
1680 27 December, Maria Thins is buried and her daughter Catharina Bolnes inherits her possessions.
1687 Catherina died in Delft during a visit to her daughter Maria Vermeer and Johannes Cramer at their house the Blue Hand on Verwersdijk. She was given her Last Sacraments on December 30 and is buried three days later.Her relatives could afford to pay twelve pallbearers. She had still five children under 25 who were still unmarried.