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IN HIS acknowledgements pages to this very readable book, the author refers to the publication in 1989 of Professor Montias’ revolutionary study Vermeer and His Milieu, after a decade’s research in the Delft archives in which he revealed all sorts of facts about the artist, a Protestant innkeeper’s son, and Vermeer’s extended family, including his grandfather Balthasar’s criminal record, his awful brother-in-law Willem who “thrusts a stick with an iron spike at the end” at Vermeer’s “full and sweet” wife, Catharine, a prosperous Catholic girl, his rich mother-in-law, Maria Thins, and the “frenzies” into which, debt-ridden and full of anxieties from the need to support a wife and 11 children, he died impoverished in 1675, without pupils and with a surviving œuvre of some 35 paintings.

In his author’s note, Anthony Bailey comments that his book is “an attempt to make accessible much of the research that has been done in the last century or so into the life of Johannes Vermeer… it tries to strike a balance between the historian’s task and the interests of the intelligent reader… it is primarily a biography, an account of an extremely elusive man, rather than a book about his paintings.”

Anthony Bailey, the author of Rembrandt’s House and A Life of Turner, gives us 12 chapters of fine descriptive power in his outlines of life in 17th century Delft, of Vermeer’s art, of his colleagues and his celebrity, and in the chapter Burdens of the House he described the extraordinary difficulties of life in the Vermeer household, none of which discord is ever reflected in the wonderful stillness and reserve of Vermeer’s work. Mr Bailey is a modest man and is quick to say that his book is not original and that much of his material has come from Mondrias’ archival book but Mr Bailey’s passion for his subject and a spare writing style make this a fine biography of Vermeer, painted as it were, for us.