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Vermeer's Delft Today: VOC

in collaboration with Adelheid Rech

Most of the text on this pages is derived from:
"The Dutch connection: Asian export art in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries," The Magazine Antiques, 3/1/1998, Jorg, Christian J. A.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of taking a walk in Delft and is familiar with the places related to the life and art of Vermeer is amazed by their close proximity. Flying Fox, where Vermeer was born, is barely 50 steps from Mechelen, the inn which his father would later purchase when the future artist was just nine years old. From Mechelen it was only a few scant yards to the front door of the Guild of Saint Luke, the fulcrum of Vermeer's professional interests. The artist's later living-quarters (proffered by his generous his mother-in-law Maria Thins) and studio (where he painted many of his masterworks) is just across the Delft Markt (Market Place) on Oude Langendijk, little more than 100 paces away.

The longest distance by far, a brisk 10 minutes walk, is from the center of Delft to the Kolk, where Vermeer composed and painted the famous View of Delft. The near minuscule dimensions center of Delft should not deceive us. The city had considerable political, moral and economic importance in the Netherlands and was physically connected to the outer world through its canals and through its affiliation with the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC), the Dutch East India Company. If Vermeer did not, as it seems, venture more than occasionally outside his beloved home town, the farthest fetches of the world came directly to his feet.

East-India Company, Delft
Engraving of the house of the East-India Company, one chamber founded in Delft in 1602. The port of Delft (now Delfshaven, belonging to the port of Rotterdam) was an important center for the trade with overseas. In 1631 two houses were bought on Oude Delft, renovated and turned into the 'Oost-Indisch Huis', the East India House.

As the world's first multi-national company, the VOC had commercial interests all over the globe. Delft was one of six towns in Holland that had a chamber of the VOC. Delft accessed the world's oceans through Delfshaven, the harbor town that in the seventeenth century was part of the municipality, on the right bank of river Nieuwe Maas, in South Holland. Since Delft was not located on a major river, in 1389 a harbor was created about 10 km (6 mi) due south of the city, to be able to receive seafaring vessels and avoid tolls being levied by the neighboring and competing city of Rotterdam. This settlement was named Delfshaven ("Port of Delft").

The VOC was founded in 1602 as a shareholders' company. It was an amalgamation of small independent trading companies to which the States-General of the Dutch Republic gave far-reaching privileges. The most important of these was a monopoly on all trade east of the Cape of Good Hope. The company's main goal was to acquire a share of the profitable trade wade in spices, textiles and precious metals produced in this vast region, which included Persia and India, the Malaysian Peninsula, the Indonesian archipelago, China and Japan.

The VOC consisted of six Chambers (Kamers) in port cities: AmsterdamDelftRotterdamEnkhuizenMiddelburg and Hoorn. Delegates of these chambers convened as the Heeren XVII (the Lords Seventeen). They were selected from the bewindhebber-class of shareholders.

Delfshaven: Delft's Tether to
the World

Delfshaven came to existence when the city of Delft wanted its own harbor.
Traffic by water happened then, as it does now, on the river Schie. In 1389 Duke Aelbrecht of Bavaria gave his permission to the city of Delft to dig a waterway from the village of Overschie to the river Maas. This way Delft had the use of a harbor of its own to accommodate (tall) sea-going ships.

At the mouth of this new Delfshavense Schie grew a small settlement and in 1398 it was called Delfshaven. The population made a living from fishing, shipbuilding and the distillery of jenever, the Dutch equivalent of gin. On behalf of the last, several malt-mills were built.

Shipyard "De Delft" http://www.dedelft.com/en

Bond of the VOC
A bond issued by the Dutch East India Company, dating from November 7, 1623, for the amount of 2,400 florins.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the VOC's trade with the East was its influence on decorative arts produced in the West. Ceramics, lacquer, textiles and souvenirs from China, Japan and India were much sought after in the Netherlands, where they were used to ornament interiors and as sources for imitation and inspiration for new designs. One of the most unique consequences of the involvement with the VOC was the direct importation of Chinese porcelain. Mainly blue-and-white, this porcelain was an enormous hit with the people of Holland. Complete shiploads were readily purchased by wealthy Dutchmen s However, due to internal troubles in China around 1645, the import of Chinese porcelain stagnated. Via its trading post on Deshima, the artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki, Japan, the VOC was able to get only a limited supply of Chinese porcelain.

Timothy Brook, Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World
Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World by Timothy Brook provides a remarkable view of the VOC in Delft, Dutch trade and the rapidly expanding world.

The Chinese potters developed kraak porcelain in the second half of the sixteenth century and sold it throughout Southeast Asia. When the Dutch came to trade, they bought and shipped back thousands of pieces of this porcelain for resale at an excellent profit. For the burgher class this porcelain demonstrated their new status and wealth. It was exotic, rare, sturdy, finely decorated, and easy to clean.

The situation triggered a fascinating development in the Netherlands. Since the 1620s earthenware producers in Delft, Haarlem and probably Rotterdam had been trying to make high quality imitations of Chinese porcelain. However, it was only after a prolonged period of experimentation that they succeeded in making thin, light, white-glazed earthenware decorated in blue in the Chinese style. Delft became the center of the industry since its former beer breweries could accommodate the large and sprawling potteries. Another immensely popular product of the Delft pottery industry were the small floor tiles which can be seen in a number of Vermeer paintings. These tiles protected the walls from the daily assault of brooms and mops. They covered the walls of particularly humid environments such as cellars as well as the interiors of the Dutch kitchens' hearths. The number of factories in Delft grew from four in 1647 to more than twenty in 1661 and offset the steep decline in the local beer industry.

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.

Delft tiles
A row of common Delft tiles which illustrate children at play.
Delft, Holland
View of historic Delft with

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