COMPLETE BOOK on Vermeer of Delft & the 17th Century city of Delft

Art history and social history by Vermeer specialist, art historian Drs. Kees Kaldenbach, Amsterdam.


0) Introduction
1) The fortified City of Delft
2) Artisans and the Guild of St Luke
3) Science and Technology in Delft
4) Vermeers Private House
5) Women - Courtship - Music
6) Beer - Bread - Markets
7) Hidden Corners in Delft
8) Selected Bibliography




Discovering Hidden Corners in Delft


In this chapter we survey a number of Delft’s hidden corners, and we will discuss how these sites functioned in Vermeer’s era and how they appear now.

A detailed discussion Vermeer’s painting View of Delft forms the first part of this chapter. We will show how the topographic reality of this painting can be tested with the help of maps and views made by other masters, so that we can appreciate how Vermeer chose to follow and deviate from physical reality. We will also see how very little is left of that townscape in present day Delft. The Armory, the ‘Armamentarium’, shown by Vermeer is still in existence. It now houses the Army Museum. Opposite is the VOC East India Company House, now used as student housing for the Delft University of Technology.
Next on our itinerary is the Oostpoort (East gate) positioned at the south-eastern corner of Delft, the only remaining gate in Delft, whose architecture still conveys something of the fortress-like defense perimeters of Vermeer’s time.
Then we go downtown to Oude Delft canal and explore the Old church with its precariously leaning tower. It is a beautifully restored monument, inside and out, situated right in the middle of a fine group of historic buildings.
A spectacular façade is that of the Delft area Water Board, the Gemeenlandshuis, located next to the Municipal Archives, whose reading room is open to the public.
Close by the Old Church we find the garden and courtyard of the Prinsenhof museum and slightly further north we see the remnants of the Beguinage (Bagijnhof, Beguin court).
A short walk brings us to Market Square with the town hall. Immediately in the back is the old weighing hall. Situated around Market Square are residences of people who figured in Vermeer’s life.
Next we discuss the New Church and its tower, the largest and most eye-catching monument in Delft. Inside the spacious church is the grave monument of William of Orange, leader of the revolt against the Spanish king.


Visiting Old Delft


Delft ranks high on anybody’s shortlist of well-preserved historic city centers in The Netherlands. Its fabric of brick buildings pleases the eye almost anywhere one walks, because of the human scale, the color of the brickwork and natural stone and a pleasant diversity of styles, size, spacing and rhythm.  The overall use of fine quality reddish brown brickwork and the carefully applied gray or white grouting or pointing between the bricks provides coherent unity. The houses seem either developed organically or as the outcome of a mastermind urban design plan. One could probably make the strongest case for the organic theory. During the last hundred years or so, zoning laws and historic preservation awareness have prevented modern and out-of-scale architecture from being built in the historic center of the city.

In the wealthy western section of town, with Oude Delft canal as its backbone, buildings often are on a larger scale, interspersed with even grander monuments, churches, towers and interesting hidden corners. They all show a fine sense of scale and rhythm.
A network of wide and narrow canals, essential arteries of traffic and trade, at least up to the end of the nineteenth century are located all over town. There are scores of brickwork bridges and there is even one unique, very long bridge: the Boterbrug, which seems to be a street, an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ element in the cityscape. It was built in 1558 when an extra connection between Oude Delft and Wijnhaven was needed. In order to win commercial space, it was immediately bridged over in its entire length and the wider section near the Market side still shows remnants of the local commercial exchange.


Most Delft houses in the south, east and north of the old town were built on a small scale, especially considering that behind the facades an entire family once lived.
The fabric of Delft architecture speaks of centuries of human-sized organic planning and effort by frugal, hard working, proud, serious minded citizens, burghers of a venerable and ancient town located just 10 miles south of the seat of government in The Hague.


View of Delft

Undoubtedly, the ultimate View of Delft was painted by Vermeer. Right from the start his painting exerted an immediate strong impact upon viewers because of its large size, bold composition and vibrant luminosity. Often reproduced, this painting has become one of the great icons of western art.


Earlier generations of viewers from the seventeenth century must have recognized these qualities as well, but only a few early written observations have been passed down to us. Recurring key words seem to be 'power', 'mystery' and 'luminous paint'. When the View of Delft was put up for sale in Holland in 1822 the sale catalogue sung its praises:
"This most capital and famous painting of this master shows the town of Delft on the Schie river... The execution of the painting is the most audacious, powerful and masterly that one can imagine; everything is pleasantly illuminated by the sun; the tone of air and water, the nature of the masonry and the human figures make for a superb whole, and this painting is quite unique in its kind."

At that time, the advisor for the state art collection, De Vries wrote:"It has a full value of f 5000,- and would give the highest lustre to the National School in the fatherland, whereas the loss of this unparalleled work would be unimaginable.”
By a strange twist of fate this Vermeer was among a small group of paintings, that had just been acquired and paid for by the king. Another painting within this set was actually preferred at that time by the director of the Trippen house in Amsterdam, the predecessor to the Rijksmuseum. Thus the Vermeer picture came to be in the Royal Mauritshuis museum by default and the ‘better one’ went to Amsterdam. As the Mauritshuis collection was open to the general public, the French art critic Théophile Thoré-Bürger was able to study the painting some decades later. At first he was repulsed by the rough daubs of paint on The View of Delft, but from 1858 onwards he viewed it again and changed his mind. He then decided to champion and promote its creator, 'Van der Meer de Delft': "In the museum of The Hague, a superb, unique landscape stops visitors and keenly impresses artists and connoisseurs of painting. It is a view of a town. (...) The silver gray of the sky and the tones of the water call to mind Philip Koninck. The burst of light, and the intensity of the color, the solidity of the impasto in certain areas, the hyper-real yet very original effect also recall something of Rembrandt." "With Vermeer, light is not one whit artificial: it is exact and ordinary, as in nature. (...) The light seems to come from the painting itself."
These enthused descriptions hold their ground.  To the modern day viewer the View of Delft seems almost like a large slide with back-lighting, its image bursting with its joyous celebration of life, power and pride.


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View of Delft and The Little Street in private hands

During Vermeer's lifetime, a few Vermeer townscapeswere purchased by the wealthy Delft art patron Pieter Claesz van Ruyven and his wife Maria. When Pieter died in 1674, the collection came into his widow’s possession until her death in 1681. The large estate then passed to their daughter Magdalena whose marriage in 1680 to the bookseller and printer Jacob Dissius at Market square 32 had lasted only two years when she herself died in 1682. In 1694 Jacob Dissius became the sole heir to the entire fortune, but he died the following year. All the paintings were auctioned off in Amsterdam on  May 16, 1696. The sale catalogue of that date mentions the series of 21 of the very best Vermeer paintings, amongst which lot numbers 31-33 prove the existence of a third cityscape:
The Town of Delft in perspective, seen from the South Side by J. vander Meer of Delft, sold for 200 guilders;
A View of a House Standing in Delft, sold for 72 guilders and 10 stivers;
A View of Some Houses, sold for 48 guilders.

We do not know which of the latter two is our current Little Street. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were rumors of The Little Street was about to be sold overseas – it was then rescued for 625.000 Dutch guilders by Henry Deterding of the Royal Dutch Shell Oil company, who immediately presented it to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. There it has become an all-time great favorite of both the public at large and art connoisseurs.  Scholars generally agree that these two known Delft townscapes were painted between the years 1658-1662.

The Little Street will be discussed below, just after this survey of the View of Delft.

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A guided tour of The View of Delft

Many generations of art lovers, laymen and art historians alike, assumed that Vermeer painted a ‘photographic’ replica of Delft as it had been during his lifetime - around the year 1660. Let us take a guided tour through the painting to see whether this is true.

We see a glorious cloudy sky during early morning, the sunlight sparkling in the east. It has probably just cleared up after a sudden burst of rainfall and the crisp outline of the town of Delft is visible under an expanse of clouds and some blue sky. A shaft of sunlight strikes the roofs of houses along the Lange Geer canal and the tower of the New Church. The tower has been given a starring role on the middle right-hand side of the painting. It forms part of the church that houses the marble mausoleum of William of Orange. Historically, Delft was considered the third most important town of the Dutch Republic and was pivotal to its defense. One may compare Vermeer’s painting to the area of Delft depicted in the detail of the Figurative map. The entire map can be seen in the Town Hall and another one with a luxury frame is shown in chapter 1.

Far from being the recluse and enigma he was held to be up to the middle of the twentieth century, we gather from archival documents that Johannes Vermeer was very much a part of the economic fabric of town life. From 1673 onwards he was a member of the civic guard as well. Vermeer proudly depicts the outer fortification of his hometown. Towards the right he shows the strong military architecture of the Rotterdam Gate which controlled both road and water traffic. Its massive body consisted of a main building with a barbican, or outer defense boasting twin bartizan towers just in front. A double drawbridge stands before it, connecting it to a road leading directly to the Schie canal shipyards, just visible on the far right and beyond those to the towns of Schiedam and Rotterdam.

In the middle we see the Schiedam gate. The latter once had a fully functioning central porch in front, allowing horse and wagon traffic into town. Due to of changes in the bulwark road system, the routing of the road was altered around 1614, and horsedrawn wagons transporting goods into town had to turn a difficult 90 degrees corner. In order to solve this, another small gate, the Kethel gate was built immediately to the west, immediately adjacent to the of the Schiedam gate, to the left of the Schiedam gate on the Vermeer painting. Between Schiedam end Kethel gate we also see a wooden lean-to shed built in 1611, storing large wooden material for warfare use: palisades, planks, beams, movable water pumps and grain mills on carts, battering rams, and baskets for moving earth.

When comparing the actual seventeenth century topography of Delft to the painting we realize that Vermeer carefully manipulated reality. For painterly purposes and increased clarity of composition, he has stretched and evened out the outline of the buildings against the sky. He also flattened the perspective in the painting by rotating the barbican sideways towards the right hand side. In doing so he created a simplified outline of the buildings against the sky, striving for a calmer frieze-like effect. This horizontal quality is subtly stressed by painting an almost imperceptible halo of light where the roofs meet the sky. The shape of the bridge has also been simplified by rendering it rather flattened and elongated.

His lighting plan is both simple and highly successful. In the middle of the painting in the shadow of a great cloud, Vermeer has positioned the sturdy shape of Schiedam Gate of which only the main building (thus not the barbican, formerly a twin to the Rotterdam barbican) existed during Vermeer's lifetime. Like the Rotterdam Gate to the right, this edifice was built of red brick alternating with layers of sandstone. X-ray images of the painting show that initially the Rotterdam gate was painted in full sunlight, but upon reconsideration Vermeer placed both gate buildings in the shadow of dramatic rain clouds. Patches of sunlit roof tiles highlight houses along the canal towards the back and introduce a dramatic contrast, creating a sense of depth and sudden drama. They also seem to foreshadow the effects of cinematic and photographic techniques.

Vermeer proudly shows Delft as a strongly defended military town, by his selection of the main harbor and the southern quarter behind it, peppered with military warehouses. Towards the left, behind the main Schiedam Gate building we notice the jutting orange stepped gable rooftops of the main armory (still named Armamentarium), a storage building under the control of the States of the Province of Holland. This building still exists today, housing the Army Museum but its handsome stepped gables have disappeared. The Schiedam gate building itself had two tower clocks, one facing the city side, the other facing the outside. These clocks probably only had one hand, the hour hand and no minute hand. Tow barges departed according to a set schedule at the full hour tolling of this Schiedam gate bell tower.

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Contemporary views


Vermeer was not the only painter to have chosen this southern view with its bustle of ships and tow barges. In 1667 the Dutch lawyer and artist Jan de Bisschop depicted the view from a vantage point somewhat further towards the left. That which remains fuzzy and undefined in Vermeer's painting is clearly delineated in De Bisschop's washed pen drawing (Fig. xxx): the Kethel Gate (B1), Schiedam Gate (B2) and, across the water, the barbican with the bartizan towers of the Rotterdam Gate (B3). Quite a number of people stand about, waiting on the quay and the dam, which extend in front of the Schiedam Gate. The wall towards the left, which was backed and strengthened on the inside by a dam of earth, is fortified with small semicircular towers. At cardinal points in the wall there were large circular towers.

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Views from within the town


For text + illustrations please google Kaldenbach + De Grave

In 1695 another Dutch artist, Josua de Grave made two drawings (Fig.) of the view from within the southern part of Oude Delft canal towards the Rotterdam Gate (G1), Schiedam Gate (G2) and Kethel Gate (G3). These drawings are so rich in detail that we are practically able to walk about the scene. They also aid us today in understanding what Vermeer actually painted. Twin octagonal bartizan towers stand towards the end of the Rotterdam Gate barbican on the left. They project out from the walls at the far end and flank a drawbridge (G2). High above between those towers was a guardroom with holes in the floor. The narrow road leading from the drawbridge towards the main building is slightly angled to prevent enemy projectiles from reaching the city streets. This narrow road was flanked by two covered hallways, built on arches. The main gate passage within the main building could be closed off for defense purposes. Guards posted there questioned anyone unfamiliar to them entering the town. Bonafide travelers were allowed in, but vagrants and other undesirable elements were refused entry. (One of Rembrandt’s etchings gives an idea of what vagrants looked like.)
Today, visitors in Delft may go to the East Gate (Oostpoort) to get a taste of things in Vermeer’s time.

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When traveling towards Delft from quite a distance, the tower of the Old Church appears as massive and imposing as that of the New Church. Yet in Vermeer's painting the tower of the Old Church is hardly noticeable; in contrast to that of the latter which has been rendered prominently at perhaps twice its actual width. The viewpoint Vermeer chose was located on an upper floor of a building at the harbor, which may be seen on the seventeenth century Kaart Figuratief, the finest birds-eye view map of Delft or of any Dutch town ever produced. This is not to say that the painting was actually executed there, at that viewpoint, but it is likely that some sketches were prepared there.

This painting works well on various levels; realism and description on the one hand, and a transcendent level on the other. It is likely that Vermeer showed civic pride in presenting the defense structures of his own historically important and economically successful town. This pride is also visible in the painting’s exquisitely refined composition and technique, which is peerless in its representation of detail within the framework of the whole. The View of Delft thus becomes a fascinating combination of grandeur and a sense of precision.


Precision in depiction

A documentary sense of precision is equally evident in the attire of the people Vermeer depicts in the foreground by the tow barge to enliven the scene. Two peasant women stand towards the upright of wooden poles, which served to guide towropes between horse and barge as they rounded this corner. One woman is carrying a basket on her arm with a cloth draped over her forearms. Another woman is dressed like a farmer is carrying a child and stands to the far left. Three well-dressed burghers are near the tow barge, whose back end and rudder are visible.


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Demolished Gates


As indicated, the city wall and Schiedam and Rotterdam Gates were completely demolished in 1834-1836. A large number of surviving maps and views dating from the seventeenth to nineteenth century provide us a lively visual image and both attest to the broad fidelity of Vermeer’s View of Delft as well as showing us where he deviated from reality. Only the Armamentarium and some buildings along the canals, and two remaining old houses along Kethel Street remind us of Delft as the view was during Vermeer’s lifetime.




A precise dating for The View of Delft


The ships and barges in the painting tell a story of their own. The towbarge in the foreground and four other towboats to the right hand side of the bridge reflect the growth of an excellent public transport system. Red and white wooden hull structures on top of these barges protected passengers from wind and rain. Horse-drawn, lacking sails, they formed an advanced and highly reliable waterbus system. The connection to Delfshaven and Rotterdam was relatively new as it only came into use in 1655. The tow barges were an important feature in the social and even political life as a mixed company of people from all social classes and all walks of life were confined within the hold for one or more hours sparking discussions on many current issues.

The presence of two large ships moored at the shipyard towards the far right also yields valuable information. Vermeer depicts two 'herring busses', ships specifically designed and crafted for the extremely profitable herring fishery. We can deduce that these two busses are empty because they float quite high on the water. They are also missing a few masts so both are clearly under repair. However in that case it was unusual for these herring ships to be in Delft at all. Herring busses within Delft jurisdiction were normally moored and serviced in Delfshaven, a small harbor town on the Maas river, from which a mighty herring fleet once sailed forth to roam the North Sea.
It took a major effort to tow these two large and heavy herring busses to the Delft shipyard. Their surprising presence actually aids us in dating the painting even more precisely than hitherto possible. The annual herring season was restricted by law to the period from May 15 or June 1st up to January 31st. Logically, maintenance on these valuable ships took place during the first half of each year well before the end of May, for the ships should be under sail by June 1. The fact that Vermeer shows these ships under repair indicates that he shows a scene in early spring.

It must also be early in the morning for the sun is still low in the east. We also notice that the foliage on the trees is lush and green. Realizing that the climate of the seventeenth century Republic was somewhat colder than it is now, the intended scene and actual conception/beginning of this painting must be an early morning during the first half of May.
May of which year? Once again detective work pays off as there are indications within the painting itself. Church bells and carillons in Dutch towns were an important and costly ornament. They were not only intended for the ear but for the eye as well, as they hung fully exposed in their bell towers. However, the New Church bell tower shown in The View of Delft is clearly empty, a fact, which has gone largely unnoticed. Documents prove that major repairs to the bells and carillons of both the New Church and Town Hall began in 1660. These bells were hoisted down to a shed at the foot of the New Church early in 1660 and work on the bells continued until late in the summer of 1661.

This analysis suggests that Vermeer depicts an early morning scene in early May of 1660 or 1661. This leads us to propose that Vermeer actually began to observe, sketch and subsequently to paint around that time. The artist must have made preliminary drawings and studies on the spot, possibly with the aid of a camera obscura. He would then have begun the painting in his studio, working intermittently, putting it away for extended periods of time to allow the paint to dry. This is evident as some of the later layers of paint fill old cracks in earlier layers. The actual painting, that was started in the spring of 1660 or 1661 may have been completed some time between 1662 and 1665, when the finished work was delivered to its first proud and happy owner, Vermeer's patron Van Ruyven.


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Legermuseum / Army museum


Close by is the Armory, the ‘Armamentarium’, now housing the Army museum.
Adress Korte Geer 1, 2611 CA Delft. Tel: 015 2150500. See www.legermuseum.nl for further details.

Opposite on Oude Delft is the VOC East India House Delft headquarters, renovated in 1989, and now used as student housing. One may walk into the small courtyard.


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More hidden corners in Delft


The Little Street

The Little Street, the second Vermeer townscape we know of, first appears to be a friendly and appealing but unassuming and simple painting. Yet the longer one looks the more interesting it becomes, both in the sense of a documentary representation of late medieval architecture, and as a work of art in its own right, as a composition of paint on canvas. The painting also attracts attention by its many inconsistencies in symmetry.
Precious little has been written about this painting compared to View of Delft as The Little Street seems to defy meaningful description, "...this wonderful and modest painting which succeeds in evoking such a wide range of emotions...". The painting’s tranquility triggers emotions and the repairs in crumbling masonry may also reflect the transience of life.

There has been a great deal of discussion for more than a century as to the actual historic location of this Little Street. Characteristics and anomalies in the seemingly mid sixteenth century architecture of the facade shown in The Little Street makes it clear that Vermeer painted actual architecture or based the painting on an existing house. Scores of alternative theoretical locations in Delft have been offered over the years.
An extensive analysis on the Internet site www.johannesvermeer.info pinpoints the address on Nieuwe Langendijk 24-26, Delft, just behind the back of the New Church. If this analysis is correct, Delft has lost an important monument, a prime piece of historic Vermeer architecture, as the original building was torn down as recently as 1982 to be replaced by a florist and an old age home.


East Gate


Next on our list of places to visit is the Oostpoort or East gate located at the south-eastern corner of Delft on Oosteinde canal, the only remaining gate in Delft, whose architecture still conveys something of the fortress-like defense perimeters of Vermeer’s time. One can see how civic guards and soldiers were able to walk on the upper level, checking the inside as well as the horizon for enemy action from this pathway. An invasion never took place until the French invasion of 1795 and the German parachute troop invasion of 1940.

The tapestry workshop run by Francois Spiering (c.1576?-1630?) was once located near the East gate. Spiering arrived in Delft in 1591, and joined the Guild of St Luke in or before 1613. He produced sets of figurative (pictorial) tapestries in his successful tapestry workshop. The pictorial quality and color achieved was considered nearly as good as that of oil paints. Obviously the workshop required spacious rooms. From 1592 onwards Spiering's workshop was located in the former Agnietenklooster (St Agnes convent) or Spierinxklooster on the last block of houses on Oosteinde, south side, near the East gate.



Oude Delft canal monuments:

Oude Kerk / ‘Old Church’


We next walk downtown and explore the Old Church on Oude Delft with its formidable tower leaning precariously. It is a beautifully restored monument, situated right in the middle of the most historic group of downtown buildings.
One can visit the interior, which boasts various monumental grave monuments. In the center of the church is a memorial stone, indicating the exact spot where Vermeer was once interred. The area around the Old Church is car-restricted, and its streets and squares often have a quiet Sunday morning character. There is an important church bell, whose sonorous sounds are rung each full hour.
The Oude Kerk, is located on Heilige Geestkerkhof 25, 2611 HP Delft, tel. 015-212 30 15
www.oudekerk-delft.nl. Tickets provide same-day entrance to both the Old and the New Churches.


Gemeenlandshuis Water Board


At Oude Delft 167, the early sixteenth century facade in the Brabant Gothic style is probably the most festive and exalted monument in Delft. Originally built as a private mansion, it was later used by the Delft area Water Engineering Board, and is known as Gemeenlandshuis. The interior cannot officially be visited, but it has a good maproom, open by appointment. The facade shows the coats of arms of various proud board members who belonged to good families in Delft. Water engineering using a good set of windmill driven water pumps was crucial to keep the whole Delfland area dry.


Next door is the Municipal Archives whose reading room offering books, archival documents, prints, drawings, maps and audiovisuals is open to all visitors.
Gemeentearchief Delft, Oude Delft 169, 2611 HB Delft, tel. 015 260 23 41, email archief@delft.nl. Generally open Tuesdays to Fridays, from 9:00 to 17:00.


Prinsenhof Museum


Near the Old Church, after passing through an small alley you will find the garden and courtyard of the Municipal Prinsenhof Museum, officially known as the Stedelijk Museum ‘Het Prinsenhof’. It is the home of various historic collections, including paintings and artifacts and is housed in the former St Agatha convent. One may also visit the upstairs convent hall, which is now part of the regular museum route. Address: Sint Agathaplein 1, 2611 HR Delft. Tel. 015 260 23 58, www.prinsenhof-delft.nl

In the garden is a statue commemorating William of Orange (1533-1584), considered the father of the fatherland.

Some twelve houses down, on the north east side of Oude Delft, we find the entrance to the remnants of the Bagijnhof or Beguin court, home of Catholic social workers, one of whom was Johannes Vermeer’s daughter Aleydis. The Beguins who lived here were unmarried, committed to providing practical, social and medical assistance all over town irrespective of the client’s faith. Their assistance was given for free. Although similar to monastic life, they were not nuns.


Close by is the Museum ‘Huis Lambert Van Meerten’ located on Oude Delft 199. It displays collections of Delft blue vases and plates as well as scenes made up of dozens of tiles that form a single large image. Upstairs, there is a rebuilt ‘Vermeer room’.



Private addresses of De Hooch, Hein, Van Bleyswijck


At number 93 is De dubbelde Sleutels (The Double Keys), the former home of seventeenth century Delft historian, Dirck Evertsz. van Bleyswijck 'junior' (1639-1681). Born to a prominent family, he traveled extensively in the seventeen northern and southern provinces of the Netherlands. In Delft he was appointed as sheriff, orphan master, mayor, and was the author of a key two-volume history book of Delft. He was also the proud owner of the large painted map of Delft, now in the Prinsenhof, which shows the extent of the damage of the 1536 fire.

Painter Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684), a competitor of Vermeer, lived behind the southern Hieronymus gate, located between Oude Delft 145-147.

Sea Admiral Piet Hein (1577-1629) of the navy of the Republic also lived close by on Oude Delft 171. Captor of the Spanish silver fleet worth millions of guilders, he became a national hero. His grave monument is located in the Oude Kerk.


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Digital Design Companies

On Oude Delft, just north of the Old Church, are a number of high tech digital and audiovisual design firms. You may gauge their quality from their worldwide list of clients: the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum has chosen one of these companies to build and upgrade their massive web site.

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Market Square


A short walk brings us to ‘Markt’ or Market Square. The town hall has been discussed earlier. Try and see whether the front door is open and then walk around in the quiet marble front hall to see several old wall maps. They remind us of the seventeenth century book and map traders who set up shop in this hall during each market day.
A full tour of the historic building is available on www.johannesvermeer.info, Delft section. There was once a cage that held two eagles, located at the back end of the building, by the fortification tower, to the right hand side of the main door. These were city eagles for the greater glory of Delft and for centuries there was even a special caretaker appointed to feed them. When one eagle died another was purchased at a cost of more that 40 guilders to the city. This tradition was discontinued in 1755 in order to save money.


Immediately at the back of the town hall it is the old Weighing Hall, now grand café De Waag. The municipal weighing scale was used to guarantee buyers and sellers that the weight of heavy merchandise was correct.

Situated all around the Market Square are private residences of people who played roles in the Vermeer’s life.


As a boy Vermeer lived in Mechelen Inn. Although this inn has been demolished its lot has remained empty ever since. It is located at the wide opening in the block of houses near the statue of Hugo de Groot, leading to the VermeerDelft Multimedia center.

Willem Reyersz de Langue (1599-1656) was a notary, art collector, friend of the Vermeer family and an important art connoisseur. He lived on north side of Markt probably at number 38 or 40, almost next door to Mechelen Inn.

Jacob Dissius (d. 1695), printer and bookseller, lived on Markt 32. He inherited the Van Ruijven estate of Vermeer paintings. After Jacob Dissius' death in 1695, a sale of 21 Vermeer paintings took place in Amsterdam on  May 16, 1696. They fetched a grand total of 1404 guilders. His home, 'Het vergulde ABC' (Gilded ABC) is now a popular pancake restaurant exhibiting many Vermeer reproductions on the wall. Notables including Bill Clinton ate pancakes here, a traditional Dutch delicacy, a thicker cousin of the French crepe.


In front of the New Church is the statue of Hugo Grotius, the latinized form of Hugo de Groot (1583-1645). Hugo lived on Oude Langendijk near the corner of Oosteinde. A Delft jurist, he was the author of “Mare Liberum”, The Freedom of the Seas, his influential book advocating free sea access and free trade. He also advocated peaceful trade relationship between states and nations.
In 1619 when his liberally minded Remonstrant party had just been defeated, its members were seen as politically dangerous. Castle Loevestein near Gorinchem was therefore selected as his maximum-security prison. One year later Hugo de Groot was to make his famous escape, secretly being carried out of his castle prison in his large book coffer.


Not lightly to be overlooked is Nieuwe Kerk or New Church, whose tower stars in the Vermeer painting View of Delft. Its interior and tower are well worth a visit. See the discussion in Chapter xxx, page xxx. William of Orange’s grave monument is located here and is the most opulent and largest one in The Netherlands.
One may also climb the narrow winding stairs all the way up to the top of the tower. Mind your head!
It is located on Markt 80, and for further information see www.nieuwekerk-delft.nl. Tel. 015-212 30 25. Tickets give same-day entrance to both the Old and the New Churches.


Just off the south end of the Market Square is the massive Roman Catholic church on the site of the former Vermeer house. A historic sitemarker plaque as been attached at the wall.



Beestenmarkt Paint store


An ancient paint shop owned by the Verbeek firm is located on Beestenmarkt or Small Cattle Market Square 9.
Inside, anyone is welcome, and even if you have no direct plans to buy a can of paint, you are more than welcome to inspect the pigment powders. Wooden vats, barrels and jars of pigments, the perfume of linseed oils, battered wooden counters, all yield a wonderful nineteenth century atmosphere. You can even see the actual Vermeer quality ultramarine pigment powder made from ground lapis lazuli.

Beestenmarkt is where Vermeer’s grandparents settled. Presently it is a popular center for indoor and outdoor café and restaurant life.


Delft Thunderclap


In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, there was a secret large underground stash of gunpowder in the northeastern corner of Delft. One very unfortunate day, October 12, 1654, late in the morning someone in charge of the gunpowder depot went in with a lamp to do some maintenance work. “The thunderclap of Delft” was an enormous explosion that flattened a quarter of the city. It also killed the painter Carel Fabritius and scores of others inhabitants, all terribly maimed and buried among the debris and ruins. The sound of the thunderclap was reported as far away as the island of Texel in the northern end of North Holland.
Present-day evidence of the explosion can still be seen by looking at the map. In that section of town that was affected, the finely detailed division of streets and houses has been replaced by large-scale buildings.





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Published online, July 15, 2011. Update 10 July, 2016.