Vermeer's Delft Today: Oude Langendijk

street sign of Oude Landgendijck

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.

A bird-eye view of the area around the Thins/Vermeer house from the Kaart Figuratief (1675-78)
A bird-eye view of the area
around the Thins/Vermeer
house from the Kaart Figuratief
(1675-78). The most probable
site is outlined in red. For
a larger image, click on the
image above.

No one knows why Vermeer made this move. Was it a part of the Vermeer/Thins marraige 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 marraige 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

commemorative plaque of Vermeer's house
The commemorative plaque which signals the former location of Vermeer's house

In all probablity, 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, an initiative of the Dutch art historian and Vermeer expert Kees Kaldenbach, signals the placefor today's curious.2

Judging by Dirk van Bleyswijck's Plan of Delft of 1675-8, 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 withanguish and domestic violence. When Maria divorced from her husband, Reynier Bolnes, a prosperous but irrascible 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 Rademaker
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 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 17th-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."

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 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.

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 compostions 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

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.

Please visit the website of art historian Kees Kaldenbach for detailed information regarding every imaginable facet of the house of Vermeer.

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

Oude Langendijck, Delft

Oude Langendijck, Delft

Oude Langendijck, Delft

  1. The Woman Holding 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 century Delft, <http://www.xs4all.nl/~kalden/auth/Genesis.html>

.in collaboration with Adelheid Rech.

house of Johannes Vermeer at Oude Langendijk
A view of the location of Vermeer's
house on Oude Langendijk