Essential Vermeer 3.0
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Impressions of Delft

In the second half of the seventeenth century (about the time Vermeer's career was beginning), the ports Amsterdam and Rotterdam had taken over more and more of the nation's trade. Consequentially Delft slowed down. The number of breweries in the city shrank from more than 100 to 15. Its famous pottery industry continued to flourish, but other businesses languished. It became the home of retired people and a stronghold of conservative Calvinism. Gradually the once-vigorous city went into a decline that left it virtually dormant until the 19th century.

-Stem of Delft

The one lucky result of this misfortune is that the heart of Delft today looks very much as it did in Vermeer's day, since, by the time the town came to light again, men had learned to value and preserve the architectural heritage of the past. Thus Delft still has a few acres of houses, churches, canals and squares which lead us straight into Vermeer's world. In fact, a plan of Delft, published in 1648 by the map maker Willem Blaeu, so detailed that it shows Vermeer's house, is accurate enough to be used for a walk today.

The Waterways and Light of Delft

The center of old Delft is the market, which is shown as a white oblong in the middle of Blaeu's plan. The market square is not particularly large, but it is dramatic because it is the only wide-open, ornamental mental space within a medieval huddle of houses. Old Delft, which had about 23,000 inhabitants in 1630, actually boasts only three or four real streets; the rest are alleys and canals. The canals were the arteries of Delft, carrying its trade and also its visitors; fact, Holland's waterways were its safest and smoothest channels of transportation until well into the 19th Century. Marcel Proust described one such waterway after visiting Delft: "An ingenious little canal. ..dazzled by the pale sunlight; it ran between a double row of trees stripped of their leaves by summer's end and stroking with their branches the mirroring windows of the gabled houses on either bank."

Now these narrow canals lie quiet under their humpbacked bridges, but they are still used to carry supplies to the flower market, the butter- and-cheese market and the fish market, all located along the waterside. They are almost straight, but their slight bends provide surprising changes in the fall of the light, which is confined by the houses, reflected in windows and water and sifted through the canopy of the trees.

The light of Delft! Thousands of words have been written about it and its real or imagined secrets. The French playwright and poet Paul Claudel wrote that it was "the most beautiful light in existence." Considered coldly, there is no reason why the light of Delft should be different from the light of The Hague or Rotterdam. But the old town is so still, even today the heavy foliage, the dark water and the old brick walls envelop it so beautifully that its light, many times reflected and filtered, does seem different once it has reached the level of the eye; it seems to have an especially soft, fluid quality.

Perhaps it is not only Delft, not just the trees or canals, which make this light so special, but also Vermeer. As Stratford-on-Avon or Walden Pond may move the visitor in a manner which has nothing to do with their physical appearances, so the light of Vermeer's town has been given a magical connotation by his work. Here he was born in the autumn of the year 1632.

The World of Vermeer: 1632–1672
by Hans Koningsberger, New York, 1967, 29–39.

Delfshaven: Delft's
Tether to the World

Delfshaven came to existence when the city of Delft wanted its own harbor.
Traffic by water happened then, as it does now, on the river Schie. In 1389 Duke Aelbrecht of Bavaria gave his permission to the city of Delft to dig a waterway from the village of Overschie to the river Maas. This way Delft had the use of a harbor of its own to accommodate (tall) sea-going ships.

At the mouth of this new Delfshavense Schie grew a small settlement and in 1398 it was called Delfshaven. The population made a living from fishing, shipbuilding and the distillery of jenever, the Dutch equivalent of gin. On behalf of the last, several malt-mills were built.

Shipyard "De Delft" <https://www.cityguiderotterdam.com/things-to-do/historical-shipyard-de-delft/>

Historic image of the Dutch ship, De Delft‘ in 1784
Frames from the reconstruction of the historic ship‚ De Delft‘ at the Rotterdam haven

A reconstruction of this ship is to be viewed at the Rotterdam shipyard; see following link:

The Museum 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 a 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.

For further information to the various markets held (more or less) regularly in Delft, see:

The following images are intended to give some idea of the beauty of Vermeer's hometown. Many were taken by the author of this site but many are contributions from friends both in Delft and the rest of the world. ("AR" - Adelheid Rech, "PH" - Pieter Haringsma)

Click on the thumbnails to access large-scale images.

Art + Travel Europe: Step into the Lives of Five Famous Painters

Art + Travel Europe: Step into the Lives of Five Famous Painters
Museyon Guides, 2010

Van Gogh. Munch. VERMEER. Caravaggio. Goya. Five iconic artists whose inspirational works have been obsessed over by art lovers and travelers for years.

Curated by industry experts, Art + Travel Europe is the first guidebook to feature detailed walking tours of the five cities where these artists lived, loved and labored. Readers will discover the sights and stories behind such iconic works as Starry Night and The Scream, go on the run to retrace the steps of Caravaggio in exile, plus much, much more. You know their art; now step into their lives.

Walking tours of five cities as seen through the eyes of five iconic artists: Van Gogh's Arles, Munch's Oslo, Vermeer's Delft, Caravaggio's Rome, Goya's Madrid.

Click here to purchase at Amazon.com

Contributors: Kristin Hohenadel (The Los Angeles Times), Lea Feinstein (SF Weekly), Sandra Smallenburg (Arts Editor NRC Handelsblad), George Stolz (ARTnews), Barbie Latza Nadeau (CNN Traveler)

Meticulously researched articles curated by local experts.

Chapters loaded with useful sidebars, travel tips, and suggested itineraries with easy-to-read maps.

Comprehensive index of artworks and museum locations around the globe.

Listings of books, films and music inspired by or about each artis.

Over 100 color photographs.

Appeal for both the armchair traveler as well as the get-up-and-go traveler.

Original cover illustrations by Tiny Inventions.

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