Vermeer was an inquisitive individual who found enjoyment in capturing lives from the opposite ends of society. Rather than becoming a court painter such as Diego Velazquez or Francisco de Goya where an artist's time would be devoted entirely to the ruling classes, Jan was able to balance his inspirations.
The artist rose to fame at a time when Dutch art was dominating the world, with the likes of Vermeer and Rembrandt having followed in the footsteps of other masters to have come from this region of Northern Europe, such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
Much of the early work of Vermeer would hint at influences from Italian artist Caravaggio, taking in religious and mythological themes and incorporating that master's extraordinary use of lighting. It was then his later work which began to bear the elements of the work of Rembrandt van Rijn.
Vermeer's own qualities as an artist were found in the realistic detail that he was able to reproduce in his paintings. His innovative techniques could bring surfaces to life, giving the impression that the viewer was in the painting themselves.
Typically this was an artist who would present a scene of relative simplicity and allow the viewer to construct their own narrative for it. He was also not an overly self-reflective person, rarely choosing to paint self-portraits.
There was certainly a greater subtletly to his work than, say, Bruegel's Hunters in the Snow or Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. Those had activity and detail right across the canvas, where as Vermeer would elect to pay attention to the finest detail of surfaces and textures in a gentler setting.
Art academics would appreciate this subtlety more than an everyday art fan and this has also ensures his reputation as a true master. His control over shadow and light was aided by using a camera obscura. That would increase the contrast between different areas of a scene, allowing him to address finer details of a composition than most other artists.
These techniques helped to lift a scene off the canvas and feel truly 'real'. This three dimensional feeling would transport the viewer right into the scene.