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Vermeer's Delft Today: The Oude and Nieuwe Kerk

in collaboration with Adelheid Rech

Churches and Religion in Delft

Cookies in a Delft bakery decorated with the tower of the Oude Kerk

The Nieuwe Kerk and the Oude Kerk of Delft were originally built as Catholic churches. The former was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Saint Ursula, while the latter was dedicated to Saint Bartholomew and Saint Hippolytus. All this was changed by the Reformation, the sixteenth-century reform movement in Christianity. Calvinism, named after the Swiss reformer John Calvin, became the most important Protestant denomination in the Northern Netherlands. Calvin's followers did not accept the teachings of the Catholic church as the guideline for their lives, but lived by the words of the Bible. The resulting religious strife was a major factor in the Eighty Years War.

At the conclusion of this war the Reformed Church became the national church of the Dutch Republic. All churches, including the SS. Bartholomew & Hippolytus(Oude Kerk) and the SS. Mary & Ursula (Nieuwe Kerk), became the property of the Reformed Church. Catholics did enjoy religious liberties, but were not allowed to express their faith in public, which is why they built clandestine churches.

Whole families were split by the Reformation. Part of the prominent patrician Van der Dussen family, far example, remained true to the teachings of the Catholic Church, while the majority, those who aimed far public office, converted to the Reformed Church.

Oude Kerk

The Oude Kerk (Old Church), the oldest parish church and oldest building in Delft, was officially founded in 1246 (the same year in which Delft received city rights by count William II) even though it is generally assumed that there had been a wooden church on this site as early as 1050.

Vroom, View of Delft from the Southeast, 1615 View of Delft from the Southeast (detail of the Oude Kerk)
Hendrick Vroom
Oil on canvas, 71 x 160 cm.
Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft
Oude Kerk, Delft Exterior of the Oude Kerk in Delft (St. Hypolituskerk)
Coenrad Decker
Engraving, 330 x 267 mm.
Private collection
 Oude Kerk in Delft from above A view of the Oude Kerk from above
Scheve Jan
This image captures the startling inclination of the Oude Kerk

This church was originally known as Saint Hippolytus-church. In the middle of the thirteenth century, the earlier building had been rebuilt and extended by Bartholomew van der Marde. The church bore the name of the patron saint, then called 'Saint Bartholomew-church'. The gothic tower, with its brick spire and four angle towers, was added between 1325 and 1350. The precious interior including the elaborately crafted stained-glass windows had been completely destroyed by the iconoclasts of 1566 and 1572. Only the beautifully carved pulpit from 1548 has survived. Throughout the ages, the leaning tower, probably built on an early filled-up canal, has been the cause of considerable alarm to many inhabitants. In 1843, the City Council of Delft, fearing the collapse of the tower, decided that it had to be pulled down to the level of the church roof. Local contractors were able to prevent this decision from actually being carried out. Nowadays, the leaning tower of Oude Kerk is a prominent emblem of Delft, fondly called by the citizens the "Scheve Jan" ("Leaning Jan").

On 15th December 1675 Johannes Vermeer was buried in Oude Kerk, in a family crypt in the northern transept, bought by his mother-in-law Maria Thins in 1661. But when he died there was no money for a tombstone. Today his burial place has two grave markers: a rather austere one from 1975 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of his death, located at about the same place as the former family grave, and a new larger, discreetly decorated one near the western side entrance placed 26th January 2007. However, while we no longer know the exact location of Vermeer's tomb in the Oude Kerk, the great Delft artist is in the company of some of the city's most excellent citizens.

Approximately 400 people are entombed in the Oude Kerk, including: Elizabeth Morgan, daughter of nobleman Marnix van St. Aldegonde (1608; noblewoman and benefactrix Clara van Spaerwoude (1615); naval hero Piet Hein (1629); writer Jan Stalpaert van der Wiele (1630); naval hero Maarten Tromp (1653) physician/anatomist Regnier de Graaf (1673); painter Hendrick Cornelisz van Vliet, who had painted the church interior (1675); statesman Anthonie Heinsius (1720); scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1723) and poet Hubert Poot (1733).

Commemorative Vermeer tombstones in the Oude Kerk: 1975 (left); January 2, 2007 (right).

An austere plaque in the northern transept opposite the pulpit marks the grave of Johannes Vermeer. Recently, the city of Delft has a new, more "elaborate" tombstone has been added.

Piet Hein Portrait of Piet Pieterszoon Heyn
After Jan Daemen Cool by an unknown painter
c. 1589–1660

Piet Hein
Piet Heyn, Heyn also spelled Hein, original name Pieter Pieterszoon, (born Nov. 15, 1577, Delfshaven, Neth.–died June 18, 1629, near Dunkirk, France), admiral and director of the Dutch West India Company who captured a Spanish treasure fleet (1628) with 4,000,000 ducats of gold and silver (12,000,000 gulden, or florins). That great naval and economic victory provided the Dutch Republic with money to continue its struggle against Spain for control of the southern, or Spanish, Netherlands (now Belgium and Luxembourg).Hein's elegant mausoleum in the Oude Kerk features a marble statue of the naval hero lying on his back. The plinth and statue were sculpted from a single block of marble. This sculpture rests on a pedestal of black marble.

Captured at sea in 1597, Heyn spent four years as a Spanish galley rower. After being released in an exchange of Dutch and Spanish prisoners (1602), he became a merchant skipper and amassed a sizable fortune. He became a director (1621) of the Dutch West India Company, formed to promote and protect the Dutch contraband trade with Spanish and Portuguese colonies.

Three years after his appointment (1624) as a vice admiral of the fleet, Heyn captured 22 Portuguese ships at San Salvador, Brazil. In September 1628, at Matanzas Bay, Cuba, he captured part of a fleet that was carrying an annual shipment of precious metals mined in Mexico and Peru to Spain. He had planned to retire with his share of the booty but was recalled to active duty with the rank of lieutenant admiral of Holland in 1629. He was then given command of the republic’s entire fleet and ordered to clear the North Sea of the Dunkirk pirates, who were in the pay of King Philip IV of Spain. Although his fleet destroyed the pirates (June 1629), Heyn was killed in the battle.

Maarten Tromp Portrait of Maarten Tromp
Michiel van Mierevelt
Oil on panel, 62.5 × 55.5 cm. Private collection

Maarten Tromp
An elaborate and elegant mausoleum was erected at the northern side of the church in remembrance of Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp, the highly decorated Dutch admiral who heroically died in battle. In 1639, during the Dutch struggle for independence from Spain, Tromp defeated a large Spanish fleet bound for Flanders at the Battle of the Downs, marking the end of Spanish naval power. In a preliminary battle, the Action of 18 September, 1639. Tromp was the first fleet commander known to deliberately use line of battle tactics. His flagship in this period was the Aemilia. The death of Tromp was not only a severe blow to the Dutch navy, but also to the Orangists who sought the defeat of the Commonwealth of England and restoration of the Stuart monarchy.

tomb of Piet Hein in the Oude Kerk
The tomb of Piet Hein
the tomb of maarten Tromp, Delft
The tomb of Maarten Tromp
Anthony van Leeuwenhoek Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek
Jan Verkolje (I)
Oil on canvas, 56 x 47.5 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Anthony van Leeuwenhoek
Van Leeuwenhoek was a Dutch businessman and scientist in the Golden Age of Dutch science and technology. A largely self-taught man in science, he is commonly known as "the Father of Microbiology," and one of the first microscopists and microbiologists. Van Leeuwenhoek is best known for his pioneering work in microscopy and for his contributions toward the establishment of microbiology as a scientific discipline. Van Leeuwenhoek was a contemporary of another famous Delft citizen, Vermeer, who was baptized just four days earlier. It has been suggested that he is the man portrayed in two Vermeer paintings of the late 1660s, The Astronomer and The Geographer, but others argue that there appears to be little physical similarity. Because they were both relatively important men in a city with only 24,000 inhabitants, it is likely that they were at least acquaintances; van Leeuwenhoek acted as the executor of Vermeer's will after the painter died in 1675.

The memorial and grave of Van Leeuwenhoek is located in the tower wall, on the side of the northern aisle.

Nieuwe Kerk

click to hear
  • Oude Kerk
  • Nieuwe Kerk
  • Donderslag

According to Dirk van Bleiswijk's Beschrijvinge der Stadt Delft ('Description of the town of Delft', 1667) the Nieuwe Kerk had its origins in 1351 with the repeated visions of a somewhat eccentric beggar. He told his visions—a golden church in bright light on a certain place of the market square—to a fellow who sometimes brought him some food.

After the death of the beggar this fellow had for thirty years the same vision at exactly the same day. Two devout Beguines—one of them with the stigmata of Jesus Christ, as Van Bleyswijck tells, certainly Geertruit van Oosten—supported the request of the fellow that a church had to be built at that place. The building of a basilica finally started in 1396. It was built around a wooden church which remained until 1420. Exactly 100 years later, in 1496, the tower was finally ready. The church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary (the patron from the former wooden church) and to Saint Ursula.

Niewe Kerk, Vroom, 1615 View of Delft from the Southeast (detail of the Nieuwe Kerk)
Hendrick Vroom
Oil on canvas, 71 x 160 cm.
Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft
Nieuwe Kerk, DelftExterior of the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft
Coenrad Decker
Engraving, 330 x 267 mm.
Private collection

The tower was struck on 3rd May 1536 by a heavy lighting which, fanned by a strong wind, led to the subsequent fire which devastated a great part of Delft. The iconoclasts of 1566 left their horrible marks as well. In 1572 the building was taken over by the Reformed Church. The Delft powder magazine explosion on 12th October 1654 destroyed the roof and the new made stained-glass windows, but the church could already be used again by spring 1655. In 1872 another heavy lighting destroyed the tower once more. It was rebuilt in 1875 (designed by Petrus J. H. Cuypers who in 1885 also designed the present building of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam) to its present height of nearly 109 meters, only surpassed in the Netherlands by the Dom tower in Utrecht.

Since the burial of Prince William I. of Orange ('the Silent'), father and first stadtholder of the young Dutch Republic, after his assassination in 1584 (Breda, where the grave of the Nassau-family was situated, had been in the hands of the Spaniards in that time so that William I. had to be buried in Delft) the Nieuwe Kerk remains the place of the final rest of nearly all members of the house of Orange-Nassau including all Dutch monarchs, and the magnificent monument for William I., created by Hendrick de Keyser and his son Pieter 1614–1623, is still the object of honor and admiration of thousands of visitors each year, whether Dutch citizens or foreigners, as it has been from the very first moment on, eminent from the numerous paintings with the monument as the principal subject of admiration.

tomb of William the Silent, Delft
The tomb of William the Silent
by Hendrick de Keyser

It is hard to overstate the importance of Hendrick de Keyser for the Amsterdam architecture of the early decades of the seventeenth century. He single-handedly created what is known today as the Amsterdam Renaissance style through his revolutionary approach to the local Renaissance styles which had developed throughout the Netherlands. The classical vocabulary with which he articulates his architectural designs is carried with even greater emphasis into his sculptural works. He designed the tomb of William the Silent for the Nieuwe Kerk at Delft but did not live to see it finished, his son Pieter completed the project.

Nieuwe Kerk, Delft Nieuwe Kerk, Delft

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.

New Directions in Architectural Landscape

About 1650 the most interesting developments in architectural painting took place in Delft, where a new phase began with the church interiors by Gerard Houckgeest, Emanuel de Witte, and Hendrick Cornelisz van Vliet. In Saenredam's earlier church interiors the line of vision is always at an angle of about 90° to the center of the nave or to the wall of the building he depicts. Houckgeest had the new idea of shifting his position to the side to give an angle of about 45° to the principal axis of the church. The new position creates intriguingly intricate diagonal views across the church. Emanuel de Witte experimented with similar perspectival schemes about 1650.

Emmanuel de Witte, The Old Church, Delft Interior of Oude Kerk at Delft during a Sermon
Emmanuel de Witte
Wallace Collection, London

This is considered De Witte's earliest dated church interior employing a new point of view. It does not focus on a tomb of a hero, but on the parson preaching to a large congregation from a pulpit, which is still in place (dating from 1548 and the only surviving object from the awful iconoclasts in 1566 and 1572). In de Witte's painting the Word, not patriotism, is stressed.

Interior of Oude Kerk, Delft

A similar view today in Oude Kerk. Many details may have changed during the various restorations but the elaborately carved pulpit is still the same as in De Witte's painting.

The Old Church at Delft with the Tomb of Admiral Tromp, Hendrick van Vlieth The Old Church at Delft with the Tomb of Admiral Tromp
Hendrick van Vliet
Toledo Museum of Art,
Toledo, Ohio

Van Vliet's interior of the Old Church at Delft offers a report on a significant new addition to the venerable church. It includes a full-view of the elaborate monument (made by the master builder Jacob van Campen) dedicated to Admiral Maarten Tromp which was unveiled in 1658. Tromp defeated the Spaniards with a Dutch fleet at the Battle of the Downs in 1639, but was killed in the furious Battle of Scheveningen 1653. The tomb that can be glimpsed deep in the church's choir belongs to Admiral Piet Hein whose capture of the Spanish silver fleet in 1628 made him a national hero.

Inerior of Ouded Kerk, Delft

Van Vliet's ingenious perspective and the liveliness of his painting is almost impossible to achieve in a simple photograph. Some of the former splendor of Admiral Maarten Tromp's mausoleum may have been left through the centuries, but it is still very impressive in its demonstration of the glory and strength of the hero and with him the glory and power of the entire Dutch Navy in those times.

Nieuwe kerk, Delft, Gerard Houckgeest Nieuwe Kerk in Delft with the Tomb of Willem the Silent
Gerard Houckgeest
Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg

This is the first known depiction of an actual church interior by the Delft artist Houckgeet. His new defined position to an angle of about 45º to the principal axis of the church creates intriguingly intricate diagonal views across the building. Although the best-known monument in the Netherlands is subordinated to the huge pier and is partially obscured by another one, the allegorical sculptures figure of Freedom on Willem's tomb gains emphasis by the new scheme.

Interior of Ouded kerk, Delft

Only a very modest attempt of tracing a masterpiece of a church interior with the means of a standard camera. The overall atmosphere of Nieuwe Kerk appears much darker today than it seems to have been in earlier times, not the least due to the rather dark colors of the new stained-glass windows.

Hendrick van Vliet The Interior of The Nieuwe Kerk In Delft with the Tomb of William the Silent
Hendrick van Vliet
Private collection.

This is a characteristic example of Van Vliet's depictions of the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft in the 1660s, with the funerary monument of William I. of Orange, which soon after its erection by Hendrick de Keyser and his son Pieter (1622/23) became a national shrine, regarded both as a national monument to the New Republic and a symbol of liberty and independence.

Ouded Kerk, Delft

It remains very difficult to find the approximate point of view.
The painting shows none of the figures of the monument which could serve as a first clue. The large wooden gates disappeared or were reduced in their shape and height to common ones. The light pillars and the walls are no longer graced by colorful flags and banners but several of the large impressive epitaphs are still at their place.

Delft, Holland
View of historic Delft with

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