17th century masters of art

            In the 17th century, a new art style emerged. Baroque style  became the dominant art form during this period. This form of style is associated with “drama, energy, extravagance and intense emotions”[1]. Many artists shifted their subject matter from biblical or mythological themes to portraiture of “still-life, scenes of daily life and landscapes”[2] Two artists who have embodied the characteristics of the Baroque style were Jan Vermeer and George de la Tour. Vermeer was a Dutch painter whose works include “Young Woman with a Water Jug” while George de la Tour was a French painter whose famous works include “The Fortune Teller.”

            Jan Vermeer was born on October 31, 1632 in Delft, Netherlands. Little is known about  Vermeer’s historical background. His artistic inclination was  probably raised by the nature of his father’s work who was an art dealer. [3] He created a style that was clearly his own. Vermeer demonstrated his interest for chiaroscuro. He played with colors and tones that showed  his appreciation for these elements. As he grew older, he altered his painting style to  being more refined and  he was more skillful in creating subtle colors.[4] His works of art have been regarded as one of the best during his era. The color values, his treatment of the square touch, his design,his poin tille touch and his edges were Vermeer’s main qualities that were rarely seen in the works of his predecessors. He died in 1675 due to health problems at the age of 43. [5]

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            Meanwhile, George de la Tour was considered as a celebrity in the French art scene. Same with Vermeer, information about De la Tour’s biography was rarely chronicled.  In 1593, he was born as the son of a baker in Vic sur Seille in France. He started out by doing a some commission works and as time passed by he found his niche in the realm of painting and was acknowledged as a master painter. His paintings were influenced by Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro. More so, “geometric simplification of the human form  and the representation of interior scenes illuminated by the glare of  torches and candles” marked the development of De la Tour. In 1652, he together with his family died because of  an epidemic in Luneville, France.[6]

            Jan Vermeer’s painting called “ Young Woman With a Water Jug” was finished in the year 1662. This art piece was painted on a canvass using oil paint. Its measurement is 18 x16 inches.[7] Majority of the paintings produced by Vermeer have depicted domestic scenes. In “ Young Woman With a Water Jug, ” it showed a woman wearing a dress in royal blue. She was placed near a window absently gazing through it. The woman was holding a silver picture signifying the interruption in her domestic duties. Some interpreted this painting as the woman’s attempt to escape her duties.  The space surrounding the figure suggested the “extension of the woman’s inner life.”[8] Meanwhile, “The Fortune Teller” was one of George de la Tour’s rare works. It was finished around the 1630’s. Same with the painting of Vermeer, it is an oil painting on canvas but it is bigger with measurements of 40 1/8 x 45 5/8 inches. It illustrated an anecdotal scene of five conniving woman covertly distracting a man so that they can steal his priced possessions. The man was preoccupied with the old woman who was pretending to predict his future by means of assessing his palm or commonly called palm reading. As the man remained unaware of the situation, a gypsy lady slipped her hand on his pocket while the other women cut the chain of the medallion. Many believed that De la Tour gained his inspiration from a play because of the element of suspense present in the subject matter.[9]

            The peaceful scene of “ Young Woman With a Water Jug” showcased the simplicity of the elements that demonstrated Vermeer’s “sensitivity in the observation of reality.” The colors incorporated in the painting were limited to whites and shades of blue, red and yellow. The elegant dress of the woman and the deep red Persian carpet on top of the table indicated that she is part of the privileged class. The intricate details like the cordial facial feature of the woman and modulation of lines in her arm gave the painting an impression of restrain and warmth. In terms of space, the objects in the painting were strategically positioned to eliminate the idea of being too cramped or highly decorated. Lighting was a major element that contributed to the tranquil atmosphere in the painting. The source of light came from the metallic windows that exquisitely diffused the rays of the light that were transcend on the wall making a homogeneous  composition. The combination of colors, space, light,  and subject insinuated purity and serenity.[10]

            Compared to Vermeer’s painting, “The Fortune Teller” had more intensity because of the use of bold colors and elaborate designs. It is regarded as one of the most amazing “daylit paintings” and for that same reason this painting was forged and illegally duplicated.[11] The blending of  red, blue and brown color schemes was a  trademark of De la Tour. The ostentatious designs of the garment with splash of tiny details represented the richness of the characters. Facial features captured the variety of emotions that the painter was trying to convey which were being  mischievous and naive. The five figures were depicted as the central characters but the focal point  was centered on the young ma,n the fortune teller and the stealing gypsy woman because of the subtle illumination of light on their faces and bodies. Overall, the medley of colors, light and space expressed a convincing narrative of robbery.[12]

            Vermeer and De la Tour were relatively similar painters. Both employed  realistic lighting. Vermeer simulated the appearance of daylight while De la Tour played with chiaroscuro and diffusion of artificial lighting. More so, both painters put much attention to details to emphasize the theme of their respective paintings. Vermeer was successful in conveying tranquility and simplicity by balancing the elements uses including colors, shapes and light. Meanwhile, De la Tour’s depiction of a controversial subject was filled with ornamental details to highlight the intensity of the scene. Furthermore, Vermeer and De la Tour were influenced by the Baroque style. The flamboyant and decorative style were evident in the two paintings. In terms of the appearance of the two paintings, they looked different because the artists used contrasting treatments of the visual elements. Vermeer used subtlety while De la Tour utilized a theatrical effect.


Gowing,  Lawrence . Vermeer. University of California Press, 1997.

Hagen,Rose-Marie. What Great Paintings Say.Taschen, 2003.

Hale, Philip L. Vermeer. Boston: Hale, 1937.

Harris, Ann Sutherland. Seventeenth-Century Art & Architecture. New Jersey:Pearson     Education, Inc, 2005.

Kren, Emily & Marx, Daniel. “La Tour , Georges de.” Web Gallery of Art. Retrieved March       31, 2008, from http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/bio/l/la_tour/georges/biograph.html

Solomon, Deborah. “He Captured the Soul Of Silence.” The New York Times, 4 March 2004.

The Metropolitan Museum.“Young Woman with a Water Pitcher.” The Metropolitan Museum. Retrieved March 31, 2008, from            http://www.metmuseum.org/works_of_art/collection_database/european_paintings/


vergara, Alejandro.Vermeer and the Dutch Interior. Museo Nacional del Prado, 2003.

[1]     Ann Sutherland Harris, Seventeenth-Century Art & Architecture (New Jersey:Pearson Education, Inc, 2005), xxi.

[2]     Ibid, xviii.

[3]      Lawrence Gowing, Vermeer (University of California Press, 1997), 1-14.

[4]      Philip L. Hale, Vermeer (Boston: Hale, 1937), 63.

[5]   Ibid., 3

[6]   Emily Kren & Daniel Marx, “La Tour Georges de,”Web Gallery of Art, Retrieved March 31, 2008, from http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/bio/l/la_tour/georges/biograph.html

[7]  The Metropolitan Museum, “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher,” The Metropolitan Museum,Retrieved March 31, 2008, from http://www.metmuseum.org/works_of_art/collection_database/european_paintings/Young_Woman_with_a_Water_Pitcher/viewObject.aspx?&OID=110002334&PgSz=1

[8]        Deborah Solomon, “He Captured the Soul Of Silence,” The New York Times, 4 March 2004, p.1.

[9]       Rose-Marie Hagen, What Great Paintings Say, (Taschen, 2003), 224.

[10]     Alejandro Vergara, Vermeer and the Dutch Interior (Museo Nacional del Prado, 2003), 253-254.

[11]     Hagen, 224.

[12]     Harris, 264-266.

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