Vermeer's Delft Today: Oostpoort (The East-Gate) & Paardenmarkt

The Oostpoort (East Gate) Delft, attributed to Jan van Velde
The Oostpoort (East Gate) Delft
attributed to Jan van Velde
the Younger
c. 1625–1630
Musee de Ecole Nationale
Supereieure des Beauz-Arts,

The Oostpoort was built in 1400. This corner of Delft, perhaps one of the most enchanting, has through the ages attracted the attention of numerous artists. Some of the seventeenth-century painters that portrayed its charm include Jan van der Velde the Younger (see left), Jan van Goyen, Gerbrand van der Eeckhout and Jan de Bisschop (see below)' Near the Oostpoort once stood the Oostmolen (East Mill), one of the nine mills located along the walls of Delft during the sixteenth century. Due to the drastic decline in the local beer industry all but four were torn down by the end of the sixteenth century. The Oospoort was once known as Saint Catherines' Gate and is the oldest medieval entranceways to Delft. Since it was the gate farthest from the Great Fire of 1536 it still remains largely in tact.

The Oostpoort (East Gate) Delft, Jan de Bisschop
The Oostpoort (East Gate) Delft
Jan de Bisschop
c. 1655–1660
Amsterdam Historisch
Museum, Amsterdam

The water-gate is connected to a piece of the old city wall. From the high-ceilinged ground floor it was possible to fire shots through loopholes. In 1514, the towers were raised with a hexagonal floor and given a steep spire. Today the upper area serves as a studio-house while the former battlement parapet is open for art exhibitions. A good many well-intentioned visitors mistake the Oostpoort for the turrets on the far right-hand side of Vermeer's View of Delft. The Oostpoort is the last remaining one from the nine former city gates of Delft. Most of them were demolished in the 19th century (between 1834 and 1847). In the photograph above one can make out some of the characteristic landmarks represented in Van der Velde's drawing: the Oostpoort, its water-gate an in the distance, the majestic spire of the Nieuwe Kerk on the Market Place.

The Oostpoort, Delft
The Oostpoort seen from the
same point of view as the two
drawings above

Today the towers are echoed by the tall twin towers of Maria Jesse church in the background, and a villa stands on the place of the former windmill forming all together an elegant silhouette and a perfect place to rest.

One should note that the two drawings to the upper left were made from very near the same vantage point. There made be good reason for this. As Michiel C. Plomp has pointed out, the Oostpoort must not have been the only picturesque Delft gate, and yet none was represented so frequently. "The explanation is probably that the area right in front of the gate was not only an attractive location, but also home of a prominent inn, 'De Prins.' (The Prince). The inn stood opposite the Strasgracht (city mote) at the corner of the Pynaeckerse Vaert. It is not difficult ito imagine artists.

he Oostpoort seen the Kaart Figuratief (1675–1678)
The Oostpoort seen the
Kaart Figuratief

staying or pausing at this spot along the main road from The Hague to Rotterdam would be inspired to sketch the Oospoort from this spot. Curiously, De Bisschop's drawing shows the Rondeel romantically overgrown with vegetation, whereas Johannes De Ram's map of 1675–1678 depicts it in a tidy state. Perhaps both artists, with very different intentions, exaggerated the truth."1 Furthermore, De Bisschop seems to have taken another poetic licence: he eliminate the mill that at that dated had not been destroyed.

 The Oostpoort, Kaart Figuratief
The Oostpoort (high detail)
seen the Kaart Figuratief


Paardenmarkt, Delft
Engraving from Dirck van Bleyswick's Beschrijvinge der Stadt Delft, 1667. Gemeentelijke Archiefdienst Delft. The Paardenmarkt (Horse Market) with the Artillery depot in the background (the long building in the center).

After the infamous explosion of the gunpowder magazine in 1654 that completely devastated the north-east Delft, the whole area was restructured. Some new streets were laid down while some old ones changed their directions only slightly. In the painting of the explosion Van der Poel shows this place as a mere desert of stone and wooden beams.

Since the provincial government of Holland and West-Friesland was still in need of military warehouses (apart from the Armamentarium at the south of the city) a large, single-storey, two-nave building, the Artillery depot, was erected 1671 at the east side of the Paardenmarkt, exactly on the place of the exploded magazine. This depot served mainly as a shed for large gun carriages. Today one cannon on a carriage has survived and is exhibited in the courtyard of the Artillery depot.

The Paardenmarkt today
The Paardenmarkt today

Today's Paardenmarkt displays nearly the same topographical layout as it did in the late seventeenth century. It serves as a parking lot and is still flanked by the Artillery depot (in the background of the photograph to the left) as well as a large building and houses on the other two sides. The peaceful atmosphere today is hardly compatible with the havoc and despair Van der Poel's paintings.

Paardenmarkt from the Kaart Figuratief, Delft
The Paardenmarkt from the Kaart Figuratief (1675).
After the gunpowder explosion from 1654 the entire area was reconstructed. The building of the Artillery depot with the magazine behind is visible at the upper part, behind the former Lakengracht (filled up
in 1914). The general structure of the Paardenmarkt-area has been preserved until today.
  1. Walter Liedtke ed., exh. cat. Vermeer and the Delft School, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001, 448–449.

.in collaboration with Adelheid Rech.

Oostpoort, Delft
The statue of a guard in medieval suit of armor placed at the archway of East Gate, when coming from the bridge. It symbolizes a "gate-watch" who had to watch the gate as an entrance to the city. Many historical bridges have such statues ('bridge-guards') at their bridgeheads, either saints or knights or animals (lions).
Oostmolen, Delft
The "Oostmolen" (East Mill) by the Oostpoort. Drawing from 1757.
This windmill was built of stone (instead of wood, as custom with earlier mills)
and was in use both for malt (for the breweries) and for grain (for the bakers).
Gemeentelijke Archiefdienst Delft.