Although he only painted a total of thirty-six paintings, Johannes Vermeer has captivated viewers since the seventeenth century. The French art critic and journalist Étienne-Joseph-Théophile Thoré once referred to Vermeer as the "Sphinx of Delft," because for many years his life and work were veiled in obscurity. Thanks to the efforts of Thoré and the Netherlands' King William I, Vermeer was rediscovered in 1866. Still, much of his life remains a mystery.
Vermeer was well respected enough to have been the head of Delft's painting guild twice: once in 1662 and again in 1671. In Vermeer's The Art of Painting, the seated artist represented in this ambitious composition may well be s self portrait of the artist at work, but since his back is turned to the viewer his identity remains speculative. Although the artist's face is not visible, his fluffy, chestnut-colored hair is similar to the hair of a figure in another painting that many believe is an authentic portrait of the young Vermeer.