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Vermeer's Delft Today: Mechelen

in collaboration with Adelheid Rech

In 1641, on April 23, Vermeer's father, Reynier Jansz. Vos, bought the large and heavily mortgaged Mechelen inn on Markt, or Market Square. He paid 200 guilders in cash and assumed two mortgages for the total value of 2,500 guilders. Mechelen had six fireplaces which tells us of its size, the largest construction of the Markt at the corner with the Oude Manhuissteeg (Old Men's Alley). The fact that Mechelen was also a tavern, where people could stay overnight, explains why was larger than the normal inns.

Like all the neighboring houses, the front side faced the Market Square and the backside plunged straight down into the Voldersgracht canal. The narrow Old Man's Alley ran alongside to a bridge over the canal behind (fig. 1). Unfortunately, Mechelen was demolished in 1885 to make the way clear for fire-prevention equipmen, and no building stands in its place.

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)
The drawing reveals a glimpse of the upper part of the Delft Guildhall's central arched doorway above the arched bridge as seen through through the Oude Manhuissteeg (Old Men's Alley). The facade on the left represents the inn/house owned by Vermeer's father.fig. 2 Oude Manhuissteeg
Gerrit Lamberts
c. 1820
Graphite, pen and brown ink, brush and gray ink, 24.9 x 19.3 cm.
Gemeenarchief, Delft

The drawing reveals a glimpse of the upper part of the Delft Guildhall's central arched doorway above the arched bridge as seen through the Oude Manhuissteeg (Old Men's Alley). The facade on the left represents the inn/house owned by Vermeer's father.

Click here for maximum resolution image drawn from the Delft Archives website.

The Mechelen Inn was located directly at the bustling heart of the town. Its strategic position, with the town hall on one side and the Nieuwe Kerk on the other side made it an ideal meeting place for Delft's citizens. Archives reveal that many Delft artists also used to meet for shop-talk and likely business. Drinking must have been an every-day affair. Among the painters who are known to have frequented Mechelen are Evert van Aelst, Egbert van der Poel and Leonaert Bramer, Delft's most distinguished artist and friend of the Vermeer family at the moment.

Mechelen uncovered

In June 2019, routine sewage work in the center of Delft uncovered a small section of the basement wall of the inn, called Mechelen, which had been run by Vermeer's father, Reynier. The front faced the Market and the side the narrow Oude Manhuissteeg. Vermeer lived in Mechlen from age of nine. Reynier combined inn keeping and art dealing, a very common practice at the time. After his marriage, the painter moved to the Oude Langendijk with his lovely wife and supportive mother-in-law. He inherited the inn in 1670 when his parents died. However, Mechelen was demolished in 1851 in order to widen the narrow alley so as to allow fire-safety equipment could pass, so there is really very little concrete that has survived n Delft connected to Vermeer's life.

The small segement of the Mechelen foundation wall went briefly on display while some argued the site should be preserved. City archaeologist Steven Jongsma, however, said: "I am obviously in favor of making archaeology visible. But initiators must bear in mind that this takes a lot of effort. You are talking about a substantial investment, including in impregnating the walls. And a lot of money is also needed for maintenance."

aternatetext Delft, Oude Manhuissteeg, June 2019
photo: Fred Leeflang
aternatetext Delft, Oude Manhuissteeg, June 2019
photo: Fred Leeflang
Commemorative plaque of Mechelen, Vermeer's house in Delftfig. 2

In 1955 a memorial tablet (fig. 2) was placed on the wall of the adjoining house at number 52 Market Place, to mark the spot where Mechelen House once stood. The Delft sculptor Joh. Bijsterveld made the memorial tablet, which bears the following inscription: "Here stood Mechelen House where the artist Jan Vermeer was born in 1632." This plaque contains not one but two mistakes. First, Vermeer was not born in Mechelen, as his parents moved there when he was already nine years old. Vermeer specialists believe the artist was most likely born in an inn called The Flying Fox on the Voldersgracht number 25, a stone's-throw away. And second, Vermeer never used the name Jan himself, He was baptized Joannis and always signed deeds with Joannes, Joannis or Johannis. Criticism was heard on all sides in 1955, but the foundation Delft binnen de veste (Delft within the ramparts) which devised the inscription, decided that the Christian name Jan had become more familiar.1

MUSEUM HET PRINSENHOF
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

VERMEER CENTRUM DELFT
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.

address:
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.

OUDE & NIEUWE KERK
For information on opening time and tickets, click here.

GENERAL & FLOWER MARKETS
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.

There exit two commemorative prints which represent the area of the Markt in Delft where Mechelen was located; the first (fig. 3 & 3a) printed by Gillis van Scheyndel (I) in 1625 and the second (fig. 4 & 4a) printed in c. 1730 by Leonard Schenk. The location of Mechelen in both prints can be identified by the empty space of the Old Men's Alley which leads across a small canal to Voldersgracht.

The engraving by Van Scheyndel is the top left sheet of the funeral procession of Prince Maurits in Delft on the Markt held on September 16, 1625. The print consisted in sheets to be mounted, a title and accompanying text sheets (numbered 1–12). The sheet illustrated below is the top left sheet, with buildings on the MArkt, in the sky the coat of arms of Holland and the mausoleum of William of Orange.

Since the architectural features of Mechelen and the adjacent buildings of the two prints do not match, it is impossible to know the if either portrayal of Mechelen is in anyway accurate.

fig. 3 "Funeral of Prince Maurits in 1625" (top left of four sheets)
from Atlas van Stolk
print maker: Gillis van Scheyndel (I)
publisher: Claes Jansz. Visscher (II), Amsterdam
1625
Engraving on paper, 21.1 x 50.5 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
fig. 3a Funeneral of Prince Maurits in 1625 (detail)
from Atlas van Stolk 1623
print maker: Gillis van Scheyndel (I
publisher: Claes Jansz. Visscher (II), Amsterdam
1625
21.1 x 50.5 cm.
Engraving on paper
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
fig. 4 A View of the Delft Market Square
print maker: Leonard Schenk
intermediary draughtsman: Abraham Rademaker
publisher: Leonard Schenk
c. 1730
Etcheing on paper, 57 x 98 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
fig. 4a A detail of Leonard Schenk's engraving showing Mechelen (center facade ), one of building's only two surviving portrayals.

The demise of Mechelen

drawn entirely from the highly informative web article:
"Markt 54-56 (demolished)," Achter de gevels van Delft
<https://www.achterdegevelsvandelft.nl/huizen/Markt%2054-56.html>

When the heirs of Vermeer sold the building in 1704, it was the last time it bore the name Mechelen. From about 1732 until his death in 1768, the house, known as Het Witte Hart or Hert, was inhabited by Jan Ratmeijer (also known as Rotmeijer), who was the locality's chief brewer, although he is also reported to have sold cough powder and balm, which may indicate he ran something similar to a drugstore.

In 1749, however, Ratmeijer's wife, Willempje Willebrand, ran a yarn and ribbon shop there, but beer and spirits were still being served. When the house was sold in 1768, it was advertised as a "double house...”

Being right next to the exceeding narrow Oude Manhuissteeg, when Maria Berkhout put Het Witte Hert up for auction in 1851, local residences had already petitioned the municipality to buy the building and have it demolished in order to widen the alley and allow greater access to Markt, the heart of Delft.

The name of the first signatory on the petition was Adam de Lint, who owned and occupied the premises of the Guild of Saint Luke—dissolved in 1833—where he traded in lime, stone and tile. The old Guild directly faces the small bridge that spans the Voldersgracht and leads to Oude Manhuissteeg and then opens on Markt, so it is not surprising that De Lint would have desired widen the alley in order to facilitated passage to and from the Markt to his business premise. In any case, perhaps due to the excessive traffic, De Lint relocated his firm to the Westvest , where it continued to flourish.

However in in 1875, De Lint's son Adriaan, sold the old Guild building to the municipality, and it would eventually be demolished to make way for a public school, which, ironically, bore the name of Vermeer.

Meanwhile, Het Witte Hert was purchased at an auction in 1851 by Arij Waar, who operated it as a liquor store and pub until his death in 1879. Five years later, the Delft municipality bought the house “to possibly serve to widen the Oudemanhuissteeg.” In May 1885, city architect C. J. de Bruijn Kops made a plan to widen and lower bridge over the Voldersgracht. He initially tried to acquire the house opposite Het Witte Hert, east of the Oude Manhuissteeg, but concluded it was not so dilapidated after all and that three owners would have to have been bought out before it could be pulled down. Thus, Mechelen's fate was sealed, and was demolished in the same year.

aternatetext Mechelen and immediate environs on the oldest cadastral map from around 1825
a.Mechelen
b.Oude Manhuissteeg
c.bridge from Oude Manhuissteeg across Voldersgracht
d.Voldersgracht
e. facade of the Guild of St. Luke
aternatetext Detail of a photo from around 1880 of the Market, on which the Mechelen house (Het Witte Hart inn) can still be seen, next to the then still narrow Oude Manhuissteeg.
from: "Markt 54-56 (demolished)," Achter de gevels van Delft
<https://www.achterdegevelsvandelft.nl/huizen/Markt%2054-56.html>
Mechelen seen from the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft
This bird's-eye view from the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft shows a virtual reconstruction of Mechelen (in monochrome gray) where it was originally located. The area behind was under construction the rebuilding of the former Guild of Saint Luke when this photograph was made.
Delft, Holland
View of historic Delft with
MICROSOFT'S Search Maps

† FOOTNOTES †

  1. The information of the plaque was drawn from: Michael van Maarseveen, Vermeer of Delft: His Life and Times, Amersfoort: Bekking & Blitz uitg, 2006. For an extended discussion see M. P. van Maarseveen (1996) Vermeer of Delft: His Life and Times, Stedelijk Museum het Prinsenhof, Delft and Bekking Publishers, Amersfoort, Chapter 6, 'Where was Vermeer's Little Street?' In 1922 the town's municipal archivist L.G.N. Bouricius suggested No 25 Oude Langendijk, on the corner of the Molenpoort, the house believed by Swillens to have belonged to Maria Thins. Montias has since argued that Swillens was incorrect (see Vermeer's Camera, The Truth behind the Masterpeices, Chapter 5). In 1948 J.H. Oosterloo proposed No 1 Spieringstraat, a house which is not however of sufficiently early date. Other writers have identified No 22 Vlamingstraat, and Nos 22–16 Nieuwe Langendijk, but with no very strong justification. (note from page five of Philip Stea

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