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Vermeer's Delft: The House of Pieter de Hooch

in collaboration with Adelheid Rech

Pieter de Hooch in Delft

Pieter de Hooch was born near Rotterdam and was a pupil of Nicoalas Berchem (1620–1683), probably in Haarlem. De Hooch arrived in Delft before 1652, joining Justus' household on Oude Delft number 161 as painter and servant (dienaar). Justus had residences in Leiden, Delft and around The Hague. The term "servant" may imply that De Hooch exchanged paintings for receiving room and board. In an inventory of Justus la Grange paintings of 1655 there were 66 paintings, of which 4 by Lievens and 11 by De Hooch. By that year Justus was close to financial ruin.

Around 1667 De Hooch moved to Amsterdam and the quality of his work—his attempts to depict fashionable society in luxurious surroundings—declined sharply.

De Hooch worked mainly in Delft, where he seems to have influenced Vermeer, although his colors are warmer and softer than Vermeer's silvery tones. It was during this Delft period that he painted his interiors, favoring two or three figures in a domestic setting, and also his courtyard and garden scenes. All these pictures are characterized by a sensitive rendering of space, light and atmosphere, and a precision that gives them a sense of untroubled stillness and order.

Courtyard of a House in Delft, Pieter de Hoogh
Inner Courtyard of a House
on the Oude Delft

Pieter de Hooch
National Gallery London

Although a number of seventeenth-century Delft facades have been handed down to us, we must remember that in Vermeer's time houses had no numbers. Houses were usually distinguished by names inscribed on signs hung outside a house or business or a given activity that went on inside and was common knowledge to Delft's citizens (i.e the Three Hammers at the house at Beestenmarkt where Vermeer's father Reynier grew up).

Houses began to be given civic numbers in 1806 when Napoleon's brother Louis Bonaparte became king of the short-lived Kingdom of Holland. This often makes an exact location of a particular building difficult to ascertain, if not impossible. However, enough historical documentation have survived (the Delft Municipal Archive houses historical maps, books and protocols) which allow us make reasonable comparisons in many cases.Maps were produced by scientific methods only from the Napoleonic era onwards. Furthermore, thanks to Delft's location between Oude Delft canal and the river Schie divided by a number of smaller canals (grachten), Delft's city plan has not very much changed in the course of the centuries. It is still possible to walk through Delft guiding ourselves with a seventeenth-century city map. And a surprising number of the street names have remained the same.

In addition, numerous modern archaeological investigations have uncovered sections of old foundation walls, cellars, graveyards or filled-up canals which make to correctly locate or sometimes a sketch a rough reconstruction of the floor plan of some former convent or public houses. Luckily, small details (a commemorative plaque or stone, a historic inscription, sculpture or sign at a house) have survived providing us with further clues.

161 Oude Delft
fig. 1 Oude Delft 161
plaque in Oude Delft 161fig. 2 An inscribed replica inserted over the entrance to Oude Delft 161

One such instance is an inscribed tablet which is represented in Pieter de Hooch's Courtyard of a House in Delft (fig. 3). De Hooch lived and worked in Delft from c. 1652 to 1660. At first he lived in the household of his patron Justus de la Grange, at the present Oude Delft 161 (fig. 1) and later he lived next to the former Saint Hieronymus convent, once situated between Oude Delft and Westvest (area of the present Oude Delft 147–161) (fig. 4). At the time, De Hooch was employed by La Grange as a painter and a servant (dienaar). The term "servant" may simply mean that Pieter paid his room and board with paintings. In an inventory of la Grange's home (1655) there were 66 paintings, of which 4 by Jan Lievens (1607–1674), Rembrandt's pupil, and 11 by De Hooch.

peiter de Hooch plaque in Delftfig. 3 Courtyard of a House in Delft (detail)
Pieter de Hooch
Oil on canvas, 73.5 x 60 cm.
National Gallery, London
The house of Pieter de Hoochfig. 4 Oude Delft 161

In any case, "the original stone (fig. 3) with the inscription over the passageway in De Hooch's picture closely resembles one commemorating the long-destroyed Augustinian Monastery of Saint Hieronymous in Delft (fire, I536), affixed in De Hooch's day, to a garden wall in the fashionable neighborhood erected over the complex's remains."Wayne Franits, Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting: Its Stylistic and Thematic Evolution (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004), 165. this tablet still exists and is housed in the Delft Gemeente Musea, Museum Het Prinsenhof, and a replica is inserted over the entrance to Oude Delft 161 (fig. 2).

"Foliage partially obscures the tablet in the painting but several scholars have made the following translation based on the original inscription:

This is Saint Jeronme's vale, if you wish to repair to patience and meekness. For we must first descend if we wished to be raise.

The reader is thus advised to be humble in life if he or she wants to rise in spirits and standing."Wayne Franits, Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting: Its Stylistic and Thematic Evolution (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004), 165.

The Museum Het Prinsenhof in Delft, established in 1911, offers a unique journey through the history of the Netherlands, the city of Delft, and the renowned Delftware. This museum is ensconced in a structure of monumental historical significance, a backdrop to some of the most pivotal events in Dutch history. Formerly the court of William of Orange, known as the Father of the Dutch Nation, the building's walls bear witness to the nation's storied past. Visitors can explore the significant role that Delft's citizens played in Dutch history and the evolution of Delftware into the globally recognized brand it is today. Originally erected as a monastery in the Middle Ages, the edifice later became the residence of William the Silent. His assassination at the Prinsenhof in 1584 is etched into history, with bullet holes from the tragic event still visible on the main staircase.

address: Sint Agathaplein 1, 2611 HR Delft

opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

during school holidays:
Monday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
closed on Christmas Day (27 April), Christmas Day and New Year's Day

The Vermeer Centrum Delft, a volunteer-run organization, offers insights into the life and work of Johannes Vermeer, showcasing his painting techniques and displaying reproductions of his masterpieces. In addition to educational exhibits, the center features a shop with an array of Vermeer-inspired merchandise. More than eighty passionate volunteers operate the center, which stands on the historic site of the former Guild of Saint Luke, once presided over by Vermeer himself as the head painter.

Voldersgracht 21, Delft

openings times:
opened daily from 10 a.m. to 5 pm.
open on 24 and 31 December from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
open on 26 December and 1 January from 12 a.m. to 5 p.m.
closed on 25 December

Free guided tours on Friday and Sunday
Friday at 11:30 a.m. (Dutch)
Sunday at 10:30 a.m. (English)
Sunday 12 a.m. (Dutch)

The shop and Café Mechelen have the same opening times.

For information on opening time and tickets, click here.

Delft's main market, known locally as "de Markt," attracts visitors from afar as well as from neighboring cities such as The Hague and Rotterdam. Situated between City Hall and the magnificent Nieuwe Kerk, the market opens every Thursday. Here, a bustling array of over 150 stalls offer a variety of items including cheese, fish, vegetables, bread, nuts, and other foodstuffs, alongside clothing, bicycle accessories, and electronic gadgets. Encircling the market, a selection of pubs and open-air terraces provide idyllic spots to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee.

A short five-minute stroll from the general market is the Brabantse Turfmarkt, home to the flower market. This vibrant segment of Delft is adorned with numerous flower merchants presenting an array of thousands of flowers. On Saturdays, this venue also hosts a smaller iteration of the general market, featuring around 50 stalls.

Equally captivating is the weekly art and antiques market, a haven for tourists seeking to absorb the city's charm and scour for unique finds. This market is available on Thursdays and Saturdays from April to October. On Thursdays, you can find it alongside the canal in Hippolytusbuurt street. Come Saturday, the market expands to include a book market and extends along the Voldersgracht as well as the canals within Hippolytusbuurt and Wijnhaven, creating a delightful maze of vintage and antique treasures.

Delft, Holland
View of historic Delft with


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