Vermeer's Delft Today: The Oude and Nieuwe Kerk

Click on the thumbnails below for more hi-res images of the Nieuwe Kerk and Oude Kerk of the "View of Delft"(1615) by Hendrick Cornelisz. Vroom.

Nieuwe Kerk, Delft

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.

Scheve Jan
This image captures the startling angle 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.

Vermeer's tomb marker, Oude Kerk, Delft

Among the many famous personalities buried in Oude Kerk, are the physicist Anthoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), perhaps a friend of Vermeer, as well as the naval heroes Piet Hein (1577–1629) and Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp (1598–1653), both with splendid marble monuments (see below the church-interior of Hendrik van Vliet.)

According to Dirk van Bleyswijck's Beschrijvinge der Stadt Delft ('Description of the town of Delft', 1667) the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) 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.

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  • Oude Kerk
  • Nieuwe Kerk
  • Donderslag
mp3 courtesy marco schuffelen

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.

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 m, 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.

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.

Click on the thumbnails below and right for a hi-res image

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.

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.

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

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.

.in collaboration with Adelheid Rech.

Niewe Kerk Delft
The tower of the Nieuwe Kerk viewed from a train passing near Delft