Vermeer's Delft Today: Schutterij and the Doelen

Civic Guards

The principal source is the article by B. Th. G. Singeling, "De Delftse Schutterij" in:
De Stad Delft. Cultuur en maatschaapij van 1572 tot 1667.

In the Netherlands, the 12th and 13th century ushered in progressive urbanization of the growing population. Civic guards or militia, as they are also called, became necessary to protect the towns because traditional private guards of the aristocratic rulers proved insufficient. Protection was required not only from foreign enemies, but from fire or the flooding as well. Popular revolts had to be occasionally put down. Hence the Dutch name for their guards was Schutter (in German: 'Schütze', from: 'beschützen') which in the original meaning of the word is "guardian" (to guard, to protect) and not "shooter."

crossbow
A crossbow of c. 16th century
exhibited in the
Legermuseum Delft

Members of the Schutterij were selected from the town’s wealthy burghers since the lower classes could not afford the appropriate equipment and uniform even though some local authorities had occasionally paid for the equipment. Officers and captains were appointed by the city magistrates, and aside their social origin, they had to be members of the Reformed Church. In the words of a Delft edict of 1655, Schutterij were "the most suitable, most peacefull and best qualified burgers or children of burgers." Their pay, compared to their duties, was negligible consisting in a small subsidiary or a (partial) release from certain taxes. Nevertheless, the membership in a Civic Guard was a matter of civic pride, an honor which lead to the development of a kind of "civic nobility" (burgeredeldom).

Civic guards obeyed strict rules, embedded in the general civil law. In time of war, importance was given to assigning colors and symbols for each town so that fellow citizens could be easily identified avoiding confusion in the tangle of a battle.

flintlock gun, 1670
A flintlock gun in the Dutch style of the 1670s
probably made in the East Indies
Legermuseum Delft

In the Middle Ages the principal weapons of the Dutch civic guards were the voet- or kruisboog (crossbow), the handboog (bow, with arrows) or the pike (long pike or halberd).

The municipality provided civic guards with shooting ranges frequently with a building hall for meetings and traditional feasts, such as the popular "Papegaai-Schieten," the "Parrot-Shooting" or the banquets made famous by Frans Hals. The patron saints of the traditional Dutch civic guards were either Saint Joris or Saint Sebastiaan.

flintlock belt pistols
A flintlock belt pistol
17th century
Legermuseum Delft

During the 16th century, gunpowder (buskruit) came into use for the new hand cannons (e.g. muskets) and pistols which lead to the foundation of special groups of civic gurads: the "Kloveniers" (a kind of musketeers) and larger shooting ranges.

The history of the Delftse Schutterij

The existence of a Schuttersgilde in Delft is first evident from an ordinance by the Delft magistrate from the year 1397, regulating the organization’s, duties and the rights. This ordinance is the oldest known from any Dutch city. It included exact guidelines as to the age and economic condition of the appointed members. Economic solidity was necessary to buy their complete equipment (weapons, uniform). Any show of conflict or envy among the members was strictly forbidden and punished by a fine. In some cases, (perhaps that of Vermeer himself) requirements could be stretched to include other such as a shoemaker and tailor in 1631. Evidently, as again in the case of Vermeer, belonging to the Catholic faith was not always considered an impediment. About one in twenty able-bodied-men of the right age qualified and the total number hovered around 800 members. Although the oath of the Civic Guard members was not taken lightly, some incidents occurred in Delft that demonstrate that they did not always come up to the mark, at least in the eyes of the public. However, they did constitute part of the backbone of the city of Delft.

A Walking Musketeer Seen from Behind, Anthonie Palamdesz
A Walking Musketeer Seen
from Behind

Anthonie Palamdesz
1640s
Black chalk, brush and brown ink
205 x 152 mm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

After the onset of the war with France in 1672, the presence of Catholics in the civic guard was a matter of some consequence, since the Dutch Republic was fighting against the Catholic Louis XIV, and there may have been some apprehension about using Catholics of doubtful loyalty in the country's defense. While the grounds of Delft were not directly involved in the ensuing conflict and following French occupation, it had been flooded with refugees, especially from Tiel, overrun by the French.

The principal colors of the Delft Civic Guard were black-and-white, the traditional colors of the city coat of arms. The patron saint was Saint Joris, mentioned already in the Chronycke van Ste. Ursulaas-kerk binnen der Stad Delft with the note that in 1411 the members of the Voetboogschutters ("crossbow shooters") had donated an altar dedicated to Saint Joris.

Shortly after the "Unie van Utrecht" in 1579, a new Ordonnantie Der Schutterijen ende wachten binnen der Stadt Delft was published on 12th May 1580. It contained a new division of the civic guard into four vendels (companies). Each vendel had 120 shooters with one captain and lieutenants as well as the vandeldrager (standard-bearer) and his lieutenants. The shooters were again divided in six rotten (squadrons), each with 20 shooters including their captains and lieutenants. The salary for a shooter was only 20 stuivers per year. Later the Kloveniers were awarded an extra pound of gunpowder for their firearms.

Every facet of the town's "night watch" and the opening and closing of the city gates was strictly regulated. Some corrections followed, among others a new division of the "vendels" in four quarters of the city, each marked with different colors. According to Dirck van Bleyswijk's Beschrijvinge der Stadt Delft (1667) these were: the "groene" (green) vendel for the first quarter, the "oranje" (orange) vendel for the second quarter, the "witte" (white) vendel for the third quarter and the "blauwe" vendel for the fourth quarter. In the Schuttersboek from 1674

Vermeer and the Delft Civic Guard

In the Schuttersboek from 1674 Johannes Vermeer is listed as member of the first squadron of the oranje vendel commanded by Abraham Coeckebacker. We know that the acclaimed Delft painter (a family friend of the Vermeers) Leonaert Bramer, had been a sergeant in the same company and a member of a select group known as the Brotherhood of Knights (broederschrappe). Two other important figures in the life of Vermeer had played a role in the Delft Civic Guard. The first was Captain Teding van Berckhout, who headed the second banner of the third quarter. Van Berckhout had once registered in his personal diary a visit to the Vermeer's studio. Although Van Berckhout's entry was very brief, it proves that the Delft artist enjoyed a certain fame since he was referred to as the "celebrated painter named Vermeer." In any case, his membership probably brought him into contact with rich collectors and potential clients.

The second person was Anthony van de Wiel, sergeant of the first squadron in the second banner of the third quarter. Van de Wiel had been Vermeer's brother-in-law while his sister Gertruy was alive. Van de Wiel served under Van Berckhout.

We do not know when exactly Vermeer joined the Civic Guard. It appears that the captains of the Delft Civic Guard remained unaware of the painter's difficult financial situation or perhaps by necessity or deference, they chose to ignore it. Perhaps the rules set down to guide the functioning of the Civic Guard were practiced less rigidly. Nevertheless Vermeer certainly enjoyed a good reputation of an honorable citizen. He had been elected two times as the chairman of the local Guild of Saint Luke, one of the most powerful organizations in Delft.

The civic guard activity no doubt allowed the painter to meet and interact with many outstanding burghers with whom he might not otherwise have had any relations. The captains, lieutenants, and ensigns were recruited among Delft's wealthiest and most powerful families (the Van Bleiswijcks, Van der Dussens, Graswinckels, Van Lodensteyns, Van Meermans, Van Ruijvens, Van Schilperoorts and Van der Voochts). The sergeants were generally of less distinguished origin, but this group included well-known artists and other professional men. The painters Leonaert Bramer and Jacob Willemsz. Delff and the notary Willem de Langue were sergeants in the 1640s. Even the ordinary members… were of middle-class status and generally literate."2 The painter Herman van Steenwijck who was involved in a shooting accident in 1636.

Delft Civic Guard on parade
Members of the Schuttersgilde 'Saint Jan' from Keyenborg, showing the traditional weapons of the historic Civic Guard: left: the handboog (also called flitsboog), middle: the voet- or kruisboog (crossbow), right: the piek (pike).

The inventory of 1676 of movable goods from Vermeer's estate (Vermeer died in 1675) lists an iron armor with a helmet and a pike in the "great hall" (groote zael). Pikes were used by the pikeniers from the infantry both for attacking foot soldiers or to defend their unit's musketeers from enemy cavalry. Pikeniers were near the bottom of the Guard's standings.

Vermeer may have been involved in watching tasks, as pikes are typical weapons for watching at gates or doors within a castle. Two pikeniers are able to quickly block a gate or door for the first by crossing the long pikes, without shooting (and perhaps wounding the wrong person).

It is unlikely that Vermeer was involved in battles outside of Delft, perhaps he helped defend he city during the French invasion. 300 Delft Civic Guards were sent to Geertruidenberg, Heusden, Den Briel and Gorkum in 1672.

.in collaboration with Adelheid Rech.

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