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Eyewitness Written Accounts of Vermeer's Painting

Constantijn Huygens and his Secretary, Thomas Hendricks. de Keyser
Constantijn Huygens and His Secretary
Thomas Hendricks. de Keyser
1627
Oil on oak, 92.4 x 69.3 cm.
National Gallery, London

Only two written accounts of people who actually met Vermeer during the artist's lifetime have survived, those of the Dutchman Pieter Teding van Berckhout and the Frenchman Balthasar de Monconys.

The portrait to the left represents Constantijn Huygens, one of the most knowledgeable Dutchmen of his time. Huygens maintained close contacts with many painters, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Rembrandt, and knew both of the gentlemen who would visit Vermeer and describe him their personal diaries. Although no documents exist that prove Huygens knew Vermeer personally, it is improbable that he was unaware of Vermeer's presence in nearby Delft and that he was responsible for the visit of Monconys and possibly Van Berckhout to theartist's Delft studio.

It has also been suggested that Huygens brokered the sale of one of Vermeer's musical theme paintings to his friend Diego Duarte, a rich jewelry dealer from Antwerp. If Huygens' supposed ties with Vermeer were proven to be true, this would place the Delft master squarely within the uppermost artistic milieu of the time.

Getting Around in Seventeenth-Century Netherlands; The Trekschuit

When Vermeer was born in Delft in 1632, the city was already more than 350 years old. In those times, Delft was a prosperous, if conservative, Dutch town located in the south of the United Provinces, in the province of Holland. It had survived devastating fires and various bouts with the plague but it boasted a long and distinguished past. It was not only the home of the famous School of Delft of painting, but also a thriving center for the decorative arts: tapestry, silver, and faience, or Delft Blue, (click here for a detailed timeline of Delft).

In 1657, when the twenty-one-year-old painter began to exercise his profession, Delft had about 22,000 inhabitants. It had a near-rectangular shape whose longer side runs roughly from south to north, about 1.3 kilometers long and 0.75 kilometer wide. It was surrounded by medieval walls, eight armed gates to discourage potential invaders, and a navigable moat that branched out to the rest of the Netherlands, one of which led to Rotterdam and, via the Maas River, to the North Sea. Internally, Delft was crisscrossed by a series of canals flanked by tree-lined streets. Foreigners often remarked on the city’s lovely architecture, peaceful atmosphere, salubrious water, and exceptional cleanliness.

Getting around Delft required no particular means. A walk from Vermeer's studio on Oude Langendijk to his father’s inn, Mechelen, where the young painter had grown up, took a bit more than two minutes—another 40 footsteps got him to the front steps of the Guild of Saint Luke, the guild of Delft’s artists and artisans in which Vermeer served two times as dean. To check in on the latest progress of Peter de Hooch, one of the most talented painters living in Delft and probably a friend, required about four minutes. To the house of the renowned scientist and lens-maker Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, about two and a half minutes. One of the longest walks he took was to the Hooikade, where he painted the epic View of Delft from the second-story room of a long-lost inn: twelve minutes by foot.

In the seventeenth century, every ambitious European painter aspired to travel to Italy, and especially to Rome, where Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci had established and practiced the fundamental rules of the art of painting. None of the great masters responsible for the rise of Dutch painting, however, felt the need to go to Italy. Esaias van de Velde, Jacob van Ruisdael, Frans Hals, Vermeer, Jan Steen, and Rembrandt stayed in Holland close to their own culture. Vermeer is documented to have taken various business trips to Gouda, and once to Amsterdam, on behalf of his mother-in-law, Maria Thins. However, it is hard to imagine that the painter, whose work shows an awareness of cutting-edge art movements, would not have traveled more extensively to the thriving art centers of Dutch art—which were relatively near one another—to seek out fellow artists to exchange ideas and inspect their latest works first hand.

trekschuit Inside a trekschuit

By the time Vermeer became active as a painter, the Netherlands had developed a vast and highly efficient transportation system of canals, which connected all the major cities. The horse-drawn trekschuit was so efficient that one could travel from Delft to Rotterdam in an hour and forty-five minutes, with departures every hour. Travel by trekschuit was immensely popular because other than being reliable, comfortable, and cheap, it was also possible to travel safely in any weather. It was so popular that it is portrayed many times in Dutch paintings, including Vermeer’s own View of Delft, which exhibits the artist’s familiarity, if not sympathy, with trekschuit travel. In the left-hand lower corner of the painting, a typical covered trekschuit rests silently moored along the triangular body of water on the south side of Delft, called the Kolk.

View of Delft, Johannes Vermeer View of Delft (detail)
Johannes Vermeer
c. 1660–1663
Oil on canvas, 98.5 x 117.5 cm.
Mauritshuis, The Hague

Vermeer portrays the front of the boat with a reddish canopy formed by a tarpaulin stretched over hoops that protected second-class passengers from intermittent drizzle and rain. Out of sight, on the back of the ship, was a wooden deckhouse for first-class travelers. Six figures, including an infant, are stationed on the sand quay waiting peacefully for the arrival of the schipper, the horse, and the jagertje who will carry them to The Hague or Leiden. Vermeer must have taken a trekschuit from this very spot many times.In front of the trekschuit, two men speak to an elderly woman, all soberly dressed. Each of the men wears a black, wide-brimmed hat made of felted beaver fur, which at the time arrived in Europe via French traders operating in North America. Such hats were fashionable across much of Europe during the period 1550–1850. In Vermeer’s paintings, they appear in the Officer and Laughing Girl and the Glass of Wine. The soft yet resilient hairs of the beaver could be easily combed to make a variety of hat shapes. A good beaver hat could retain its shape when wet. A detail from the lower left of Vermeer's View of Delft shows that he was intimately familiar with towboat travel. To the left, a nurse holds a newborn infant in her arms. Her deferential body language suggests she is their social inferior. Two elderly women stand face to face to the right and converse as they wait. Both wear similar headgear and blue aprons, which appear countless times in Dutch paintings of daily life. The woman to the left carries a basket. Originally, a man stood to the right of the two figures but it was painted out by Vermeer. Such details remind us that Vermeer was indeed a great painter but one who nonetheless experienced the pleasures and pains of ordinary life like anyone else.

Design and Structure

Trekschuiten were flat-bottomed boats, designed to maximize stability and cargo capacity while minimizing draft in the shallow Dutch canals. The boats typically featured a long, narrow design to navigate the narrow waterways efficiently. The passenger area was often separated from the cargo space, with amenities varying from simple benches to more luxurious cabins with seating, depending on the route and fare.

Operation and Routes

The propulsion system relied on a horse (or sometimes a team of horses) walking along a towpath parallel to the canal. The horse was attached to the boat by a rope, and a boatman on board steered the vessel. These boats had a regular timetable, much like modern public transit, with fixed stops where passengers could embark and disembark. They operated on a "beurtvaart" system, meaning they had turns or shifts designated for specific routes.

The skippers of trekschuiten in Dutch were commonly referred to as "schippers". This term is used broadly in Dutch to mean "skipper" or "captain", and it specifically applied to those who commanded any type of boat, including the trekschuiten. In the context of the trekschuiten, these skippers were responsible for the navigation and overall operation of the canal boats, ensuring safe and timely travel along the designated routes. The sons of the skippers (or boatmen) of the trekschuiten often followed in their fathers' footsteps, learning the trade and taking over the family business as they grew older. This kind of generational knowledge and skill transfer was common in many trades during the period, including maritime and canal transport.

In 1633, a quarter of a million people were transported by trekschuits. The number increased significantly as time passed. The speed was only about 7 kilometers per hour, which was faster than walking, but far more comfortable than by horseback or by stagecoach—the stagecoach was almost twice as fast, but four to five times more expensive. Roads were, being no more than dirt paths, impossible to use in bad weather. If the trip took too long, the skipper promptly refunded his passengers. But fines were also levied for departing too late; running latecomers were left behind. A typical trekschuit could carry about 20 to 30 passengers. Those who wanted a specific seat or seat cushion had to pay a little extra (one penny). In addition to passengers, trekschuit also carried small cargo, letters, and money.

To reach Amsterdam, Vermeer would have taken an early morning walk to the North side of the Kolk, the harbor on the South-east corner side of Delft where towboats departed for Leiden, Haarlem, and Amsterdam every day following strict schedules. The twelve-hour trip was the longest in the Netherlands, but it was possible to disembark at crossing points and continue with the next shift two hours later, perhaps refreshing oneself with a drink at one of the various inns established along the route. Trips to nearby art centers such as Leiden, The Hague, and Rotterdam, were much shorter, making same-day round trips not only possible but easy. Although fashion may have changed from Vermeer’s time, a glimpse of the life on a towboat can be grasped from two drawings made a few decades after Vermeer died.

In 1636, the first regular trekschuiten connection from Delft to Leiden is established over the Vliet river, which flows into Delft from the North. Two years later, The Hague is also connected to this route with a fork in the Vliet at the current Drievliet. The connection between The Hague and Delft becomes the busiest route in the Netherlands. Between 6:30 in the morning and 7:00 in the evening, a tow boat departs from Delft to The Hague and vice versa every half hour.

It is impossible to know how Vermeer mixed with his fellow travelers, but the ride was smooth enough to sketch a few interesting faces inside the covered cabin, or the slowly moving landscape from a wooden bench on the deck, perhaps while smoking a Gouda clay pipe with the boat’s vigilant skipper. Foreign diarists often remarked on the beauties of the countryside. The French diplomat Balthasar de Monconys, who once visited Vermeer’s studio, thought that with its well-tended waterways lined by trees, beautiful groves, and the picturesque windmills, "the land resembles a pleasure garden rather than plain farmland." He also noticed a large number of swans and wondered why they were ignored by the Dutch.

What kinds of conversations would Vermeer have had? There is less than unanimous consent as to the passengers' behavior and the level of their talk. Samuel Pepys (1633–1703), the English traveler-diarist, approved the conduct of his travel companions and was surprised to note that nearly everyone spoke French. Another Englishman described how traveling Dutch women, however, delighted with lascivious and obscene talk. Another related how he had engaged in a delightful conversation with an attractive young Dutch woman who became uncomfortably forthcoming upon their arrival, giving rise to the suspicion that he had been lured into a sex-for-money scheme. And yet, the fact that so many foreigners and Dutchmen of different classes and different geographical origins who intermingled intimately on the towboats must have had an educational effect on the populace and cemented Dutch national identity, already noted for its high level of public education and tolerance. One unexpected consequence of towboat travel was the birth of a literary sub-genre called schuitpraatjes, or "boat talks or boat prattle," which were so popular that they were sometimes even read aloud during the ride. The word "schuit" means a type of boat, and "praatjes" translates to small talks or chats. These boat chats were a common part of daily life, particularly in places with extensive canal systems and waterways like Amsterdam, where boats were a frequent mode of transportation. This setting provided a unique opportunity for social interaction among passengers.

The introduction of steam-powered boats in the early 19th century and the subsequent development of the railway network led to the gradual decline of the trekschuit system. Despite their obsolescence, the cultural and historical impact of trekschuiten remains significant in the Netherlands. The routes and towpaths used by the boats in many cases have been repurposed into roads and bike paths, and some of the old canals still serve recreational purposes.


Balthasar de Monconys

Balthasar de Monconys (1611–1665) was a French traveler, diplomat, physicist, and magistrate. His diary was published by his son as Journal des voyages de Monsieur de Monconys, Conseiller du Roy en ses Conseils d'Estat & Privé, & Lieutenant Criminel au Siège Presidial de Lyon, 2 vols., Lyon, 1665–1666.

Monconys, brought up in Lyon by the Jesuits as a devout Catholic, had an interest in the Jesuit missions in infidel territory. He traveled to Portugal, England, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the Near East (visiting Baalbek in 1647). In the same year, Monconys also visited Johannes Sibertus Kuffler in the same year.

Monconys visited Delft during the summer of 1663. He came initially as a tourist, evidently unaware of Vermeer's presence. A few weeks later, "he went to pay his respects in The Hague to Constantijn Huygens (1596–1687), an important diplomat, art connoisseur, and theorist of Dutch culture. Monconys admired his art collection and described it in detail in his personal diary.Ben Broos, "Un celebre Peijntre nommè Verme(e)r," in Johannes Vermeer, eds. Ben Broos and Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. (Zwolle: Waanders, 1995). However, one can only imagine how amazed Huygens must have been to hear that the Frenchman had been in Delft, without visiting Vermeer. Given Huygens' familiarity with leading artists of the time, it seems reasonable to assume that he urged Monconys to meet with the Delft painter, given the Frenchman's predilection for fine art. Not long afterward, Monconys did indeed visit with Vermeer at his house, and wrote the following account in his diary, published in 1665, the year of his death:

In Delft I saw the painter Verme(e)r who did not have any of his works: but we did see one at a baker's, for which six hundred livres had been paid, although it contained but a single figure, for which six pistoles would have been too high a price. ( […] À Delphes [i.e. Delft] je vis le Peintre Vermer [sic] qui n’avoit point de ses ouvrages : mais nous en vismes un chez un Boulanger qu’on avoit payé six cens livres, quoyqu’il eust qu’une figure, que j’aurois cru trop payer de six pistoles)

Click here to access Moncony's second volume and the passage in question.

aternatetext
fig. XX Journal des voyages de Monsieur de Monconys, Conseiller
du Roy en ses Conseils d'Estat & Privé,
& Lieutenant Criminel au Siège Presidial de Lyon

Balthasar de Monconys
2 vols., Lyon, 1665–1666. page 148–149

Simply put, Monconys thought the painting he saw was worth less than a tenth of the price mentioned. It is generally assumed that the baker was Hendrick Ariaensz. van Buyten, a master baker, headman of the Bakers' Guild in 1668 and prominent Delft citizen who owned a house on the south side of Choorstraat, possibly also one on Oude Delft. Van Buyten had probably owned at one time or another four paintings by Vermeer.John Michael Montias, Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).

Unfortunately, Monconys made no mention of the style or quality of Vermeer's painting—it appears he judged them exclusively on the basis of the number of hours required to do the work.

The aridity of Monconys’ comment seems difficult to explain in the light of the beauty of Vermeer’s work. However, the same terseness is to be observed whenever Monconys visits a painter. On 12 August 1663, in The Hague, he saw paintings by Gerrit Dou (1613–1675), but his comments reveal neither their subject matter, nor what he thought of them. The next day, in Leiden, Monconys saw what must have been a version of The Doctor’s Visit by Frans van Mieris: his account amounts to a description of the painting, stressing its virtuoso illusionism.Monconys was in for more of a shock when Van Mieris wanted no fewer than twelve hundred livres for the painting. r. Monconys then went on to Dou’s studio where he saw a Woman at a Window and Dou was there in person to show him the work. The general paucity in literary description of material details is perhaps symptomatic of a contemporary tendency—even the most observant writers of the day were little drawn to adjectives relating to color or texture.Blaise Ducon, "The Tour of Holland," in Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, edited by Adriaan Waiboer and Eddy Schavemaker (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 107.

"The brief and lapidary nature of Monconys’s diary entry on Vermeer was not influenced by religious differences. Both men were Roman Catholics. Vermeer, who was initially from a Protestant family, converted to Catholicism before his marriage to Catherina Bolnes in 1653. Monconys was baptized in Sainte-Croix and educated by Jesuits in Lyon. Their meeting occurred in Delft's Catholic quarter, the Paepenhoek, and Monconys’s interactions with other Dutch artists in various cities suggest that religion did not hinder his artistic explorations. Instead, his motivations were driven by curiosity, a desire to acquire curios, and an interest in people.

"It's speculated that social hierarchy might have influenced Monconys' brief and somewhat disappointing assessment of Vermeer and his work. Monconys came from an old Burgundian aristocratic family dating back to the thirteenth century, while Vermeer was an art dealer and painter who gained social standing through marriage to the daughter of a wealthy woman, placing him in a different social stratum. Despite what biographers might suggest, Monconys appeared to take pleasure in associating with high society, which could have colored his view of Vermeer."Blaise Ducon, "The Tour of Holland," in Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, edited by Adriaan Waiboer and Eddy Schavemaker (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 109.

Although Monconys only briefly touched upon his perception of Vermeer's work, and deprecated its worth, it is clear from his account that there existed connoisseurs in prominent circles who were aware of Vermeer's artistic skills. At that time, a Vermeer painting evidently had the same market value as an authentic work by Dou, whom Charles II of England had invited to become his court painter in 1660.

No one knows precisely why Monconys saw no paintings at Vermeer's house. Most scholars believe, Vermeer, having produced relatively few works, simply had none at the time to show him because they had been bought by his clients and patrona (Pieter van Ruijven and his wife Maria de Knuijt) as soon as they were finished.

How many works did Vermeer paint? John Michael Montias argues that Vermeer made no more than two or three elaborate paintings a year.John Michael Montias, "An Estimate of the Total Number of Paintings Vermeer Painted Between 1656 and 1675," in Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 265-267. Further, he believes most were acquired by Pieter van Ruijven, a well-to-do Delft citizen and Vermeer's principal patron. According to Montias, "Vermeer resembled Gerrit Dou, Frans van Mieris and other 'fine painters' of his day who also worked mainly on commission." On the other hand, art historian Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. questions why the Frenchman would have visited the baker's home instead of Van Ruijven's, if the latter had been Vermeer's principal collector? Unfortunately Monconys' diary sheds no light on these issues.

Les voyages de Balthasar de MonconysTitle page of Balthasar de Monconys’s Journal des voyages de Monsieur de Monconys . . ., vol. 2, Lyon 1665–60, Bibliothèque national de France, Paris.

Pieter Teding van Berkhout

Apart from the account of the Frenchman Monconys, the only written eyewitness account of Vermeer's paintings was penned by Pieter Teding van Berckhout (1643–1713), a young scion of a landed gentry family and son of a governor in The Hague.Van Berkhout owned an art collection, some of which was bequeathed to him by an aunt. His collection was diverse, encompassing not only artwork but also scientific tools such as two cameras obscura and microscopes. In 1674, he moved to Delft and settled in a notable building on Oude Delft, subsequently joining the city's administrative upper echelon. Van Berkhout had gathered and inherited a major fine art collection as well which included 68 paintings: 7 history subjects, 17 landscapes, 10 architectural views, 4 marinescapes, 12 genre paintings, and 4 Still lifes and 14 portraits. In his diary entry of May 14, 1669, he wrote:

"Having arrived in Delft, I saw an excellent painter named Vermeer," stating also that he had seen several "curiosities"

Van Berckhout, then just 26, traveled from The Hague to Delft, a journey of an hour-and-a-half to two hours by trekschuit (towbarge) The trekschuit was a relatively swift, comfortable, and reliable mode of transportation which had significant social and political consequences. The trekschuit system greatly enhanced mobility within the Dutch Republic, facilitating easier and more frequent travel for both people and goods. This improved connectivity played a crucial role in the economic development of the region, as it allowed for the quicker and more efficient movement of goods, contributing to the flourishing of trade and commerce. Socially, the trekschuit made it possible for people from different towns and regions to interact more regularly, leading to a greater exchange of ideas and cultural practices. accompanied by Monsr. de Zuylichem (Constantijn Huygens) and his friends—a member of parliament Ewout van der Horst and ambassador Willem Nieupoort. Huygens was an artistic authority in his own day, maintaining contacts with the famous Flemish painters Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. He recorded in his diary some remarkably insightful comments about the art of, among others, Rembrandt van Rijn.In December 1669, he visited Caspar Netscher's studio in the court city and "the famous Dou" in Leiden. Earlier in April of the same year, the diarist had visited the Dordrecht studio of Cornelis Bisschop, praised for his excellent perspective in painting. However, Huygens did not visit the artist's studio. Nonetheless, "The connection between Van Berkhout and Huygens in this instance bolsters the observation already made concerning networks of like-minded elites during the seventeenth century. Both men were enormously affluent art lovers and collectors. Both had voracious intellects, owned large personal libraries, had travelled abroad and were fluent in French, the language of high society in the Dutch Republic at this time. They not only shared similar cultural pursuits but also many relatives, friends, and acquaintances." On several occasions,Van Berkhout, his wife, and his sister Jacomina (1645–1711) visited Huygens’ country estate, Hofwijck, outside The Hague, as courtesy calls of this sort served important social functions for the well-to-do. In time, relations between these two prominent families were cemented with the marriage in 1674 of Huygens’ son Lodewijk (1631–1699) to Jacomina."Wayne Franits, Vermeer (Art & Ideas) (London: Phaidon Press, 2015), 205

People of Van Berckhout's social standing had a deep appreciation for the visual arts as a fundamental part of a gentleman's education. To cater to these enthusiasts, guides such aa Pierre Le Brun's Essays on the Wonders of Painting (1635),Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Lebrun, Essai sur les moyens d'encourager la peinture, la sculpture, l'architecture et la gravure, Paris, 1794-1795 were published, informing the reader that in order "to discourse on this noble profession, you must have frequented the studio and disputed with the masters, have seen the magic effects of the pencil [brush], and the unerring judgement with which the details are worked out."

Moreover, the specific language Van Berckhout employed to describe Vermeer’s paintings contained essential vocabulary for connoisseurs in the know who excelled at the all- important skill of conducting conversations about art. The diary and Teding van Berckhout’s very visits point to the rarefied world of patronage and connoisseurial networks in which Vermeer trafficked.Franits, Wayne. Review of VERMEER, by Pieter Roelofs and Gregor J. M. Weber, eds. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, February 10–June 4, 2023. In Renaissance Studies 37, no. 4 (2023). Rijksmuseum/Hannibal Books, 2023.

Van Berckhout was also a close acquaintance of Dirck van Bleyswijck whose Beschryving der Stadt Delft (Description of the City of Delft) had first appeared in 1667. This work contains a now-famous poem by Arnold Bon. In it Bon laments the untimely death of Carel Fabritius, Rembrandt's most talented pupil, in the explosion of the Delft powder magazine (1654). Despite the loss of Fabritius Bon praised rising star Vermeer, who "luckily arose" from the fire.

Van Berckhout became member of Delft Council of Forty from 1675 onwards. In 1674 he lived at Dry Cooningen (Three Magi), Oude Delft number 123. During his lifetime, his wealth in real estate and bonds holdings grew from 90,000 to 475,000 guilders making him exceptionally wealthy. The family also owned an estate just outside Delft. The first six years of his major diary (1669–1713) which is now kept in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek describe his social excursions.Kees Kaldenbach, "Teding van Berkhout," A Rich Tapestry of Multimedia Sources, an Encyclopedic 2000+ Page Web Site on Johannes Vermeer & 17th Century Life in Delft," accessed November 18, 2023.

In 1669, Van Berkhout, who would later become a burgomaster of Delft, was active in the art scene while living in The Hague. Like other discriminating connoisseurs of his era, he made a practice of visiting eminent artists in their studios, including those of several notable artists like Caspar Netscher (1639–1684) in The Hague, Gerrit Dou in Leiden, and Vermeer in Delft. Additionally, Van Berkhout explored the collections of art enthusiasts like his cousin Cornelis Boogaert and others. His diary entries not only reference specific artworks he saw in these studios and collections, but also describe his visits to "cabinets" or private collections in The Hague. Furthermore, during a trip to Dordrecht, Van Berkhout concluded his business by visiting Johannes van der Hulck, admiring his collection of "tres Belles peintures." It’s speculated that during this visit, Van Berkhout saw works by Gerrit Ter Borch (1617–1681) and Gabriel Metsu  (1629–1667), which were later sold in 1720 at the sale of Van der Hulck’s heirs.Piet Bakker, "Painters of and for the Elite," in Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, edited by Adriaan Waiboer and Eddy Schavemaker (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 97.

portrait of Pieter teding van Berckhout
Portrait of Pieter Teding van Berckhout
Casper Netscher
Oil on copper, 13.3 x 11.1 cm.
Teding van Berckhout Foundation, Amersfoort

Van Berckhout must have been deeply impressed by the work he saw on the first visit because he returned for another visit less than a month later. On June 11, he noted:

"I went to see a celebrated painter named Vermeer" who "showed me some examples of his art, the most extraordinary and most curious aspect of which consists in the perspective."

House of Teding van Berckhout on the Oude Delft, Delft
The present location of Van Berckhout's residence in Delft at the Dry Cooningen (Three Magi), Oude Delft number 123. Teding became a member of the Delft Council of Forty from 1675 onwards. Kees Kaldenbach, "A multimedia, encyclopedic web site on Johannes Vermeer," accessed November 17, 2023, http://www.xs4all.nl/~kalden.

This time Van Berckhout used the term "celebrated" rather than "excellent" in describing Vermeer, a fact which may testify that Vermeer had achieved a considerable reputation. What is most interesting about this visit is that Vermeer's studio (like that of Gerrit Dou and Frans van Mieris) was evidently a major cultural destination.John Michael Montias, "A Postscript on Vermeer and His Milieu," Mercury 12 (1991).

When speaking of "perspectives," Van Berckhout "may have referred to Vermeer's interior scenes, which were very carefully constructed."

The study of perspective, held in high esteem throughout Europe, was a key focus for seventeenth-century Dutch painters.. Scholars have suggested that Van Berckhout probably saw Vermeer's Art of Painting, in which the perspective is very powerful and must have startled contemporary eyes.

"The allusions to Vermeer are not the only ones made to an artist-painter in the diary. On 6 April, 1669, Van Berckhout went to see, in Dordrecht, 'Mons [Cornelis] Bischop, excellent peijntre pour la perspective.' On 20 December he visited [Caspar] Netscher in The Hague with his wife and sister and saw 'quelques peijnctures' there. In Leiden, on 30 December, 'nous fusmes voijr le fameux Dauw qui me fit voir 3 ou 4 belles pieces de son art et de sa main'" (We visited the famous Dou, who showed me three or four beautiful pieces of his art and by his hand). Only Dou appears to have impressed him a shade more than Vermeer."Balthasar de Monconys, Journal des voyages de Monsieur de Monconys, Conseiller du Roy en ses Conseils d'Estat & Privé, & Lieutenant Criminel au Siège Presidial de Lyon, 2 vols. (Lyon, 1665–1666).

Art historians posit that Vermeer was certainly not as "famous" as Gerard Dou, but he must however have enjoyed a rather strong reputation outside Delft in order to justify Van Berkhout's praise.

"Van Berkhout had all the trappings of a true aristocrat. He lived in a stately mansion overlooking one of Delft's canals (Dry Cooningen [ Three Magi], Oude Delft number 123 and spent his summers on the family's summer estate. He employed many domestic servants, possessed carriages and had assets that amounted to 475,000 guilders, which was an enormous sum even by patrician standards. In a similarly sized city such as Gouda, the average patrician left an estate of about 70,000 guilders. Clearly, Van Berckhout belonged to the cream of Holland's elite. Although many patricians kept diaries few did so for so long. He maintained an almost daily account of his life in a 31-part manuscript spanning from 1660 to 1671, a duration much longer than most diaries of that time. Van Berkhout wrote about his daily life, shunning in great part his public and economic activities, although he often wrote his entries some days after."Jeroen Blaak, "Aristocratic Literature: Pieter Teding van Berkhout and his 'Journal' (1669–1671)," in Literacy in Everyday Life: Reading and Writing in Early Modern Dutch Diaries (Leiden, 2009). The first six years of his diary is now kept in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek of The Hague.


14 May, 1669 - Van Berckhout visited Vermeer again. He wrote in his diary:

Je fus levé assez matin, parloijs [a] mon cousin Brasser de la Brile, et m'en fus me pourmener a Delft avec un jacht ou estoit Mons de Zuijlechem van der Horst et Nieuwport. Estant arrivé ie vis un excellent peijntre nommé Vermeer, qui me monstra quelques curiositez de sa maijn.

(I rose rather early in the morning, talked with my cousin Brasser from Den Briel, and then took a ride to Delft on a yacht, where there was also Mr Van Zuijlechem van der Horst and Nieuwpoort. Upon my arrival I saw an excellent painter named Vermeer, who showed me a few curiosities made with his own hand.)

21 June, 1669

J'escrivis a mon cousin Berckhout, qui demeure a la Brile et aussij a Breda, ie sortis ensuite et fus voijr un celebre peijntre nommé Vermer, qui me monstra quelques eschantillons de son art dont la partie la plus extraordinaijre et la plus curieuse consiste dans la perspective. Je me promenoijs au sortir delà au marché, parloijs a quelques amijs et entroijs ensuite chez mon cousin C. Bogart pour voijr ses peijnctures.

(I wrote to my cousin Berckhout who lives in Den Briel as well as in Breda. I then went out and visited a famous painter named Vermeer who showed me some examples of his art, the most extraordinary and most curious aspect of which consists in the perspective. After leaving there I walked to the marketplace, spoke with a few friends and then called on my cousin C. Bogart to see his paintings.)

† FOOTNOTES †

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