Vermeer's Delft Today: Mechelen

In 1641, on April 23, Vermeer's father, Reynier Jansz. Vos, bought the large and heavily mortgaged Mechelen inn on 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.

Mechelen, Vermeer's house in Delft
The arrow points to Mechelen from the Kaart Figuratief (1675–1678). The open area to the right is the Market Square.

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. Unfortunately, Mechelen was demolished in 1885 to make the way clear for fire-prevention equipment and no building stands in its place.

The Mechelen Inn was located directly at the bustling heart of the town. Its location, 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, one of Delft's most distinguished artist at the moment.

Commemorative plaque of Mechelen, Vermeer's house in Delft

In 1955 a memorial tablet 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 important 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

the site of Mechelen, \the house of Johannes Vermeer in Delft
Mechelen, now an empty space, once was attached directly on the left
side of the third building from the left-hand side of the image above.
In the background stands the recently reconstructed Guild of Saint Luke based
on period images and a 19th-century photograph. The Guild of Saint Luke
was the corporative guild of Delft's artists and artisans. The reconstruction
now houses the Vermeer Center

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.

  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

.in collaboration with Adelheid Rech.

Mechelen, the house of Johannes Vermeer
View of the Delft Market Place with Staidhuis, Oude and Nieuwe Kerk (detail showing Mechelen)
Leonard Schenk after a drawing by Abraham Rademaker
c. 1730
Engraving, 57 x 98 cm.
Gemeenarchief, Delft
Old Men's Alley, Delft
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

This drawing shows the alley which ran along the side of Mechelen as it appeared in 1820. The building in the background is the Delft Guild of Saint Luke which no long exists, it was torn down in 1879.