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The Guild of Saint Luke of Delft

in collaboration with Adelheid Rech

The lives of seventeenth-century Dutch painters, and certainly Vermeer's, were deeply effected by the Guild of Saint Luke. This professional trade organization of artists and artisans regulated the commerce and production of potters, engravers, glass makers, tapestry weavers, faiencers, booksellers, sculptors and painters alike. Each city had its own self-governing guild which protected and promoted local production. The following outline briefly describes the essential characteristics of the guild structure as well as Vermeer's association with the Guild of Saint Luke of Delft.

The drawing by Gerrit Lamberts (fig. 1) represents the facade of the newly constructed Guild of Saint Luke in Delft on the Voldersgracht.


"In Delft, as in every other artistic center, artists and artisans came together primarily to limit the import of artworks from outside the city. This was generally accomplished by allowing only members of the local Guild of Saint Luke to sell paintings. Auctions of paintings brought in from elsewhere were forbidden except at the annual fairs (in Delft, the main public room of the town hall was used for this purpose)."1 In exchange, member artists were required to pay an entrance fee of 6 guilders, which Vermeer, at the age of 21, was unable to pay in full due, probably, to his uncertain economic condition at the time.

Vermeer places in DelftA detail of the Kaart Figuratief which shows the Markt in the center of Delft (the entrance to the towering Nieuwe Kerk on the top) where much of Vermeer's personal and professional life took place

A. Flying Fox (Vermeer's presumed birthplace and inn of his father)
B. The Delft Guild of St. Luke (professional organization of artists and artisans)
C. Mechelen (a large tavern on the Market Square rented by his father where Vermeer and his family lived after the Flying Fox
D. Oud Langendijck (studio & living quarters where Vermeer resided with his wife, children and mother-in-law, Maria Thins)


All guild members had to undergo a period of guild was apprenticeship, which normally lasted from four to six years. This period spent in a recognized master-painter's workshop ensured the young artist a thorough familiarization with the complexities of his craft. We must remember that in Vermeer's time much of the artist's materials had to be produced by the painter in his studio, and painting techniques were far more elaborate than those of most modern artists. For example, paint was not sold in pre-prepared tubes as it is now. Each morning, the artist had to hand-mill the colors he intended for use in the day's painting. Hand-grinding paint presents a number of difficulties and requires much practice. This rather laborious task was often left to the apprentice, or in the case of highly productive artists, journeymen.

Training for a painter was expensive. On the average, the family of a young apprentice who lived with his parents paid between 20 and 50 guilders per year. Without board and lodging, up to 100 guilder were needed to study with more famous artists such as Rembrandt and Gerrit Dou. If we consider that school education generally cost two to six guilders a year and that apprenticeship generally lasted between four and six years, the financial burden of educating a young artist was considerable. Moreover, during the apprenticeship, the parents had to do without their son's potential earnings (female painters were trained by their fathers or husbands)since during this period the apprentice could not sign and sell his own paintings instead; all the works he produced became property of that master. Evidently, the allure of significant future earnings must have been significant.

fig. 1 The Hall of the Delft Saint Luke on the Voldersgracht
Gerrit Lambert
Graphite, pen and brown ink, brush and gray ink, 24.9 x 19.3 cm.
Gemeenarchief, Delft

In this drawing of Guild of Saint Luke seen from the Old Men's Alley, the façade on the left represents the inn/house owned by Vermeer's father.
decorative festoons of the Delft Guild of St. LukeDecorative festoon of the Guild of Saint Luke showing the tools of the painter (the originals are on the façade of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).
photograph of the Saint Luke's Guildfig. 2 Photograph of the Guild of Saint Luke before it
was destroyed in 1879

In the master's studio, the apprentice was exposed to artistic theories and visiting artists' opinions which circulated with great fluency from one studio to the other. A number of Dutch painters had traveled to Italy to study the works of the Italian Masters. Their vivid accounts were no doubt the subject of long conversations. Painters' studios were often lively places frequented by artists, patrons and men of culture. Animated artistic debates as well as exchanges of information concerning the art market were the norm.

Guildhall of Saint Luke Guildhall of St. Luke, Delft
18th-century drawing

The young pupil was first instructed in drawing plaster casts of Classical sculpture. Many such casts can be seen in depictions of artists' studios; one, of a face, can be seen on the table in The Art of Painting by Vermeer. He next came to grips with the subtleties of representing a live model, and only afterward did he begin to use brush and paint. He sometimes was allowed to work on the less-important passages of his master's paintings, such as large areas of unmodulated backgrounds or monotonous areas of foliage in the background. The master closely followed his pupil's progress and corrected him when needed. Some extremely talented artists were able to leave the master's studio within a few years. Rembrandt progressed so rapidly that he already had pupils of his own at the age of 21. As the apprentice's skills improved he worked on the more complex areas such as drapery and the secondary objects seen in a painting.

A detail of Guild of Saint Luke register with Vermeer's name at number 78 and Pieter de Hooch's name at 80 and Carel Fabritius at 75. fig. 3 A detail of Guild of Saint Luke register with Vermeer's name at number 78 and Pieter de Hooch's name at 80 and Carel Fabritius at 75.

Once the apprentice had gained sufficient mastery, he was allowed to conceive and execute his own paintings, but could neither sign nor sell them. This could be done only after he had undergone the entrance exam of the guild. Another advantage of being a guild member was permission to sell paintings of other artists as well in order to augment his earnings. At the time of his death Vermeer had many paintings in his house which, according to a statement by his widow, he had bought and was unable to sell, thus incurring in grave financial losses. Unfortunately, not even the possibility of selling others' works was enough to offset a sharp decline in the art market in the last ten years of the artist's life.

Although Vermeer must have undergone an apprenticeship like every other painter in Delft, there is no evidence of whom he had studied with. For some time it was thought that Leonard Bramer, a native painter of Delft, might have been his master. This conjecture was based on more than one document, which suggests a certain familiarity between Vermeer and the elderly Bramer. But Vermeer's artistry seem to have little in common with that of Bramer's strongly Italianate style.

Recently, scholars have come to believe Vermeer studied outside of Delft, perhaps in Utrecht where his mother-in-law Maria Thins had relations with a well-established painter, Abraham Bloemaert, and other inhabitants of Utrecht. His mother-in-law Maria Thins, also possessed a number of paintings by Utrecht painters in her private collection. In any case, no documents have come to light that testify to Vermeer's presence either in Utrecht or Delft.

Guild Book of Delft Master Painters, Engravers, Sculptors, Potters
Click here to access a fully searchable text of the 1877 Obreen publication of the complete Guild Book of Delft Master Painters, Engravers, Sculptors, Potters, etc. in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century.

We do know, however, that Vermeer was admitted to the Guild on the December 29th of 1653 even though was not able to pay the entrance fee in full. His name can be seen on the register of the guild at number 77 (fig. 3). The names of Pieter de Hooch (80) and Carel Fabritius (75) also appear on the same document. On Saint Luke's Day, October 18th, 1662, the artists of Delft chose Vermeer to be the vice-dean of their guild, which would seem to be proof that at that time he must have been a respected artist and citizen. However, by the time Vermeer had been elected headmaster, many of the artists resident in Delft had left for the more prosperous Amsterdam, and so his election may have had less significance than usually thought.3

The guild of Saint Luke was dissolved in 1833. It gradually fell into disrepair and pulled down in 1879 (fig. 2). In its place was constructed the Jan Vermeer elementary school which was recently cleared to make way for a scale reconstruction of the original guild. This building now houses the Vermeer Center. (website: http://www.vermeerdelft.nl)

The Museum het Prinsenhof of Delft, established in 1911, offers a unique opportunity to explore the history of the Netherlands, Delft and delftware. The museum is housed in a building of great historical importance, the site of some of the most dramatic and consequential events of Dutch history. It was once the court of William of Orange, the Father of the Dutch Nation. In the museum you will also discover the role the citizens of Delft played in the history of the Netherlands and how delftware became the global brand it is today. The building is an urban palace built in the Middle Ages as a monastery. Later it served as a residence for William the Silent. William was murdered in the Prinsenhof in 1584; the holes in the wall made by the bullets at the main stairs are still visible.

address: Sint Agathaplein 1, 2611 HR Delft

opening hours:
September 1, 2018–28 February 2019:
Tuesday–Sunday from 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

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

The Vermeer Centrum Delft is volunteer-run organization that provides information about Vermeer, demonstrates his painting techniques and exhibits reproductions of his works. It also has a shop that sells Vermeer-related objects. The Vermeer Centrum Delft is an organization that is completely run by more than eighty enthusiastic volunteers. The Centrum is located on the historical spot of the former St. Lucas Guild, where Vermeer was head of the painters.

Voldersgracht 21, Delft

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

The main market in Delft, in Dutch, de Markt, draw visitors from both afar and from the neighboring cities like The Hague and Rotterdam. It is located between City Hall and the spectacular Nieuwe Kerk and is open on Thursday. Jumbled together some 150 stalls are sell cheese, fish, vegetables, bread, nuts and other food, can be purchased as well as clothing, bicycle accessories and electronic gadgets. Around the market, pubs and open-air terraces afford excellent places to rest and have a cup of coffee.

The flower market takes place on the Brabantse Turfmarkt, a five-minute walk from the general market. This piece of Delft boasts dozens of flower merchants and thousands of flowers. On Saturdays the location hosts a smaller version of the general market with some 50 stalls.

Also interesting is the weekly art and antiques market frequented by tourists who want to enjoy the beautiful city and hunt for good deals. The antiques and vintage market is open on Thursdays and Saturdays from April through October. On Thursdays it is located along the canal in the street known as Hippolytusbuurt. On Saturdays the market is bigger and includes a book market. It sprawls along the Voldersgracht and the canals in the Hippolytusbuurt and Wijnhaven.

Delft, Holland
View of historic Delft with

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