One of the great mysteries of the entire history of art, Vermeer is the unchallenged master of Dutch intimist painting of the 17th century. Only 36 of his paintings have come down to us - which makes his Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, authenticated recently, all the more precious as an addition to his ouvre. His life, of which so little is known, remains an enigma. To find out what lies behind the secret, secretive figure of the master of Delft, we must go to the subtle, fascinating hints found at the heart of his canvases: works in which the simplest of subjects are transformed by the artist's hand into the stuff of masterpieces. This book sets Vermeer and his entire ouvre in the historical, religious and social context of the Delft of his time, a city of prosperous merchants and industrialists. And through comparisons with works of the artist's contemporaries, it offers us Vermeer's art in all its breadth and grace. Vermeer was truly one of the great geniuses of Western painting.