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Vermeer's Delft Today: Oude Langendijk

in collaboration with Adelheid Rech

We know that by 1660, Johannes Vermeer and his family had been living together in his mother-in-law's (Maria Thins) house at Oude Langendijk, in the heart of Delft's Catholic community, the "Papenhoek," or Papists' Corner adjacent to the Nieuwe Kerk. The first document which unequivocally proves that the Vermeer and his wife Catharina had changed living quarters is dated 27 December, 1660 although it is possible he made his move somewhat earlier. We do not know where they lived prior to this move but the house and inn owned by his father, Mechelen on the Groote Markt (Market Place) is the most likely candidate. From a topograpaphical point of view, the move from Mechelen to Oude Langendijk was a short one, perhaps no more than 120 paces across the Market Place. But from social point of view, it was worlds apart. The Papist Corner was not a ghetto because many of the families who chose to live there of their own free will and many were prosperous. In Delft about a quarter of the population was Catholic.

street sign of Oude Landgendijck

No one knows why Vermeer made this move. Was it a part of the Vermeer/Thins marriage arrangement by which the painter agreed to covert to the Catholic faith or was it simply a question of finances? Perhaps one or both parties believed Mechelen was not suited to bring up children. In any case, Vermeer and Catharina moved into Maria Thins' home when he was approximately 28 years old. By then he had painted his masterpiece View of Delft and begun to experiment with the interior subject such as The Milkmaid and the Officer and Laughing Girl. Once he had become accustomed to his new residence, he set out to paint a series of sublime masterpieces which are so perfect, that one critic called them the "pearl paintings."1

No one knows why Vermeer made this move. Was it a part of the Vermeer/Thins marriage arrangement by which the painter agreed to covert to the Catholic faith or was it simply a question of finances? Perhaps one or both parties believed Mechelen was not suited to bring up children. In any case, Vermeer and Catharina moved into Maria Thins' home when he was approximately 28 years old. By then he had painted his masterpiece View of Delft and begun to experiment with the interior subject such as The Milkmaid and the Officer and Laughing Girl. Once he had become accustomed to his new residence, he set out to paint a series of sublime masterpieces which are so perfect, that one critic called them the "pearl paintings."1

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)
commemorative plaque of Vermeer's housefig. 1 The commemorative plaque which signals the former location of Vermeer's house

In all probability, the Vermeer/Thins dwelling stood on the corner of two streets, the Oude Langendijk and the narrow ally Molenpoort (present day Jozefstraat). At the end of the Molenpoort there was a wooden gate which served to stop cattle which had escaped from the Beestenmarkt. The site of Vermeer's house is now occupied by the 19th-century Maria van Jesse church building. A commemorative plaque (fig. 1), an initiative of the Dutch art historian and Vermeer expert Kees Kaldenbach, signals the place for today's curious.2

Judging by Dirk van Bleyswijck's Plan of Delft of 1675–1678, there were no houses directly opposite Maria Thins's house which are present today, thus, he had a clear view across the Market Square all the way to his former home Mechelen.

Before moving from Gouda to Delft, Maria Thins had a particularly unhappy marriage, filled with anguish and domestic violence. When Maria divorced from her husband, Reynier Bolnes, a prosperous but irascible brickmaker, she was able to claim a sizable share of money through the legal proceeding which followed. She moved into the house in Delft which had been purchased one year earlier by her brother Jan Willemszoon Thins. The price of 2,400 guilders indicates a house of notable size and quality, for a modest house could be bought in Delft at that time for 600 to 800 guilders. After Jan Thins' death the Thins dwelling was inherited by his two younger sisters Maria and Cornelia Thins.2

Jesuit Church on the Oude Langendijk, Abraham Rademakerfig. 2 Jesuit Church on the Oude Langendijk
Abraham Rademaker
c. 1670
Brush and gray ink, 13.2 x 20.2 cm.
Gemeentearchief, Delft

Historians generally maintain that the Thins house is pictured on a 18th-century. drawing (fig. 2) of a Jesuit church on Oude Langendijk by Abraham Rademaker. John Michael Montias believes that it is the furthest house to the right but it may also be one or two houses to the right, just outside the drawing.

Two months after Vermeer's death in December, 1675, an inventory was made of the moveable goods in his estate. Many of the objects seem correspond to those represented in the artist's interiors. While it is not possible to affirm beyond a doubt that they are one and the same, it seems quite probable that he did, for Vermeer's studio was in the house in which he lived and the home was very much the center of Dutch life in the seventeenth century. As one seventeenth-century Dutch merchant declared, "My home is my ornament, my house is my best costume, Therefore my treasury and my coffer are open/And what my house needs I hasten to buy."

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.

Inside Vermeer's House

According to the inventory, Vermeer's house had 11 rooms including kitchens, a cellar, a courtyard and an attic. The considerable size of the house places it among the larger dwellings in Delft. Each room had a different function which was not always the case in Dutch houses. Living and working space in houses of the common folk were not clearly defined as yet.

On the ground floor we find a large room, grote zaal or "opkamer" in Dutch, which gave onto a small room, a mezzanine, four kitchens (one for cooking and one for doing wash) and a cellar which was evidently on the basement level. A group of family portraits, religious objects and Vermeer's civic guard pike and helmet indicate the representational function of the grote zaal. There were also two rooms on the first floor and an attic above.

Delft, Holland
View of historic Delft with
MICROSOFT'S Search Maps

The contents of these rooms was not what would be termed luxurious. Some of the objects were worn and of little value. Instead, the wardrobe of the Vermeer family was more than adequate although seriously lacking if compared to the wardrobes of the rich Delft burgers. Several jackets or coats belonged to Vermeer and a few fur-lined jackets (the type which we see in the compost ions of Vermeer) were owned by his wife Catharina. Clothes were extremely expensive and that the poor had scarcely one of each basic type of garment at best.

"Most houses in Dutch towns are built closely together. They are aligned in such a way that light only enters the house from either the street side or from the garden side. That is why the painter's studio would be located at either end of the house. In any street which runs from east to west, northern light can be found on either the garden side of the northern block of houses—or at the street side of the southern block of houses. This is obvious on such streets as the Choorstraat in Delft on which a remarkable number of artists lived."4

Daily Life in Vermeer's Home

Life at Vermeer's house must have been very different, if not the opposite of what the artist so often chose to represent in his perfectly balanced interiors where just a few elegant figures "dialogue in silence." Catharina Bolnes, Vermeer's wife, gave birth to 15 children, an exceptionally high number in the Netherlands where two or three were considered normal. One can only dare imagine all the work that Catharina had to do to maintain a minimum of decore: child-care, cooking, mending and cleaning. Some critics have imagined that Vermeer's household was in reality far more similar to one of the famous interiors of Jan Steen rather than his own.

Vermeer's studio was located on the upper floor. He could look out directly on the Market Square and observe the bustling civic life of Delft The windows of Vermeer's studio faced north. This was the direction that painters always preferred because the light from the north is cooler and, above all, more consistent throughout the day. It is probable that Vermeer also employed two smaller rooms on the same floor for his profession. The attic was used for storing painting equipment such as a large slab of stone used for grinding paint. The inventory of the top floor also lists two painter's easels, three palettes, six panels, ten canvases, three bundles with all sorts of prints, a high reading desk and here and there rummage not worthy of being itemized separately.

In all, about 25 books of all kinds were found, a sign of social distinction. Books were owned by about 2 or 5 percent of the Dutch population.

The list of cooking and eating utensils was substantial. No knifes and forks are listed but the use of these particular utensils was not widespread at the time. The furnishing of house of Vermeer was more than adequate but not luxurious.

Click here to visit the website of Kees Kaldenbach for detailed information about the house of Vermeer.

Click here to access a Detailed house-by-house study of Vermeer's neighborhood
(with ample database), which gives an alternative location for Vermeer living quarters by Hans G. Slager.

click on the thumbnails below for more hi-res images of the Oude Langendijk.


Oude Langendijck, Delft
Oude Langendijck, Delft
Oude Langendijck, Delft
Oude Langendijck, Delft
Oude Langendijck, Delft
Oude Langendijck, Delft

† FOOTNOTES †

  1. Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, Woman Holding a Balance, Woman with a Pearl Necklace and the Woman with a Lute.
  2. On June 20, 2003 the official Dutch Traffic Board ANWB placed at the Delft canal location Oude Langendijk a large panel containing various images of the house which once stood right there.
  3. The information of this paragraph was drawn from the excellent site dedicated entirely to Vermeer house and its original furnishings: Kees Kaldenbach, Vermeer's house and studio.http://www.xs4all.nl/~kalden/
  4. Kees Kaldenbach, The Genesis of Johannes Vermeer and the Delft School a Wall Chart on the Cultural Heritage of Seventeenth-Century Delft. http://www.xs4all.nl/~kalden/auth/Genesis.html

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