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Vermeer's Delft: The Flying Fox on Voldersgracht

in collaboration with Adelheid Rech

By February 1629, Reynier Jansz. Vos (Vermeer's father), his wife Digna, and his daughter Gertruy were living in an inn on Voldersgracht (Fuller's Canal) called De Vliegende Vos (The Flying Fox). Reynier's move away from the inn called Three Hammers located on Beestenmarkt (Small Cattle-Market) was a move to a higher social status and a gamble to make a better life for his family. We know of a second rental contract on Voldersgracht dates from 1637 (the first contract is lost). Reynier's landlord was a leather dealer and shoemaker, Pieter Corstiaens Hoppers, economically successful but almost illiterate.Kees Kaldenbach, Vermeer and Delft, accessed October 29, 2023. In 1641, when Vermeer was nine years old, the lease of the Flying Fox ran out but Reynier was able to move to Mechelen, a much larger tavern on the Market Square, indicating that the Flying Fox had brought some fortune to the hard-working father. The Voldersgracht still runs parallel to the north of the Market Square, the heart of Delft.

Where did the name of Reynier's inn come from? In the documents, Vermeer’s father mostly called himself Van der Minne, after his stepfather, or Vos (fox), as the animal also depicted on the signboard of his inn—possibly a nod to the medieval animal tale "Vanden vos Reynaerde""Vanden vos Reynaerde," also known as "Van den vos Reynaerde," is a significant work in Middle Dutch literature, likely written in the late 12th or early 13th century. It's an epic poem that tells the story of Reynard the Fox, a cunning trickster who uses his wit to deceive other anthropomorphized animals in a satirical depiction of human society. Through its characters—such as the noble lion king, the gullible bear, and the conniving wolf—the poem critiques social and political structures, particularly the church and feudal system. The Reynard stories were widespread in Europe, adapted into various languages and formats, and have left a lasting impact on European folklore, literature, and even the Dutch language with phrases and expressions derived from the tales. Reynard remains a symbol of craftiness and cleverness in popular culture. or Reynard the Fox, because of his own first name. He only used the surname Van der Meer or VermeerThe use of the prefix "ver" in Vermeer’s name as a contraction of "van der" originally occurred mainly in the Southern Netherlands —which his son would later make famou—in documents from September 1640. Both spellings fit into a long Dutch tradition of names that indicate where the name bearer comes from (the so-called origin names) or where they live (locative names). Apparently, the family preferred to associate themselves with the topographic word "meer," which traditionally could mean either a still inland water or the sea.Pieter Roelofs, "<Johannes Vermeer ," in VERMEER, ed. Pieter Roelofs & Gregor Weber, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2023, 28.

Voldersgracht street sign

The Voldersgracht canal was named after a profession carried on here in the Middle Ages. "Volders" ("fullers" in English) were textile workers, who prepared wool and other materials with their feet to make it into cloth. The process involved using urine and Fuller’s earth, after which the "fulled cloth" was rinsed in the canal. A dirty job—not good for the brewers, who had to use the same water. When Delft expanded in the fourteenth century, the fullers had to leave. By Vermeer’s time, Leiden had overtaken Delft as the textile capital of Holland. Textile working didn’t disappear from the city overnight, but it was certainly no longer the driving force behind the city’s economy. By the seventeenth century, many fullers were probably looking for other occupations.David de Haan, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Babs van Eijk, and Ingrid van der Vlis, Vermeer's Delft (Zwolle: Waanders Uitgevers, Museum Prinsenhof Delft, 2023), 119.

Vermeer places in Delft A 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 Saint 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)
Voldersgracht, Delft
Voldersgracht today
The street sign at the beginning of Voldersgracht bathed in Delft light

The area around Voldersgracht was more respectable than the Beestenmarkt, where mostly working-class folk lived. Among the neighbors on Voldersgracht was Cornelis Daemen Rietwijck, a Catholic portraitist who operated a drawing school a few houses away from the Flying Fox. At this school, youngsters were taught the first principles of painting, which included drawing from prints, drawings, and plaster models. Additionally, they received a basic education in mathematics and other subjects. Rietwijck's library comprised devotional literature, travel books, and historical accounts, as well as a copy of Karel van Mander's 1604 "Het Schilderboeck" (The Book of Painters), which in those days was considered the bible for painters.Pieter Roelofs, "Venturing into Town ," in VERMEER, ed. Pieter Roelofs & Gregor Weber, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2023, 28.

A few doors down from The Flying Fox, Pastor Jacobus Taurinus lived with his wife Margaret van der Meer (no relation to the artist's family). There were richer people in Delft than the pastor and his wife, but those two stood on the highest rung of the town's society. Reynier's immediate neighbor was Cornelis van Schagen, a well-to-do merchant who sold cloth from the shop in the lower part of his house. Reynier may have not been well-off as some of his neighbors; keeping an inn, moreover, was scarcely a prestigious occupation. But it was much better than weaving caffa (caffa is a damasked fabric containing silk and either wool or cotton) by the side of the Small-Cattle Market."John Michael Montias, Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 65.

Hondelink, Merit. "Aan Tafel in Het Oude Mannenhuis Te Delft." Paleo-Aktueel, December 2018. DOI:10.21827/PA.29.103-114.

In 1411, an Oude Mannenhuis (Old Men's House) was established on Voldersgracht for the care of the elderly who could no longer or did not want to live independently. At Voldersgracht, there was a gate that gave access to the Old Men's House located behind it, which was on the land between Voldersgracht and Vlouw. Here were houses that served for the care of the elderly, similar to the courtyards that were built in many cities during the course of the 17th century. During the city fire of 1536, a large area around the Markt and Voldersgracht was destroyed. Only the stone walls of the chapel of the Old Men's House remained standing. It is not known to what extent the small houses behind it had to be rebuilt. Although many buildings burned down, the property relationships and thereby the size of the houses and the street plan largely remained intact. As a result, many buildings were rebuilt at the same location. It is assumed that the number of changes on the site of the Old Men's House therefore remained limited. he old men continued to live there until 1792. In that year, the Old Men's House was merged with the Old Women's House, and the men started living with the women.

During the rise of organized shelter for the elderly, there were various options for taking care of oneself in old age. Wealthy people bought live-in help or moved in with well-off family members to be taken care of. Poor people went to hospices or homes run by the church. The Old Men's House was a city institution, intended to provide comfort and help to old men. However, it was not funded by local taxpayers. There were strict rules associated with living in the House. The men had to pay to enter, after which they spent their last days, weeks, months, or even years there. Candidates had to be 50 years or older and have lived in the city of Delft as a citizen for at least five years. In addition, residents had to be healthy in body and limb upon entry: not bedridden or frail. The elderly who lived in the House were neither poor nor rich. Besides the price for entry, residents also had to bring or acquire their own set of belongings. This included clothing, bedding, and dishware. With these, the old men could furnish their own quarters. If the future resident owned a house, he could keep the rental income from it. After death, all belongings (money, land, and real estate) reverted to the Old Men's House. Through these revenues, as well as donations, the Old Men's House was maintained.

How the residents structured their day is not known. Based on the preserved household regulations set by the administration, it is known that the residents ate together, along with the 'mother' and any maids. "When the men are seated at the table and the benediction (blessing of the food) has been read, the men shall maintain silence and not use words across the table about anything other than to request what they need.

What the men ate can be deduced from the accounting of the steward. This accounting is the most important surviving historical source regarding daily life in the House. The food supplies recorded by the steward (table 1) consisted of grains (wheat, but other types are not excluded, as will be shown by the archaeobotanical research), grey peas, beer, fish, and meat. The Figurative Mapand a map by Blaeushow that the Old Men's House had no garden for growing vegetables, fruits, and herbs. It is not excluded that some herbs and vegetables grew in the courtyard, but that would not have been sufficient for the daily meal. The Old Men's House owned land outside the city, mainly grassland where livestock were grazed. The tenants who managed the grassland occasionally brought in a small barrel of butter or a cheese, in addition to the rent they had to pay. With these ingredients, the 'mother' cooked for the residents. Additionally, she had a small budget for additional groceries. Since these were small and sporadic purchases, they were not recorded.

Based on the surviving historical sources of the Old Men's House, the diet of the residents seems to have been quite monotonous. This is remarkable, as we know from other (art) historical sources that more was available during this period. Where are the vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices that so often appear in paintings, cookbooks, and herbals? I therefore assume that the residents received more to eat than just 'warmoes' (a generic term for vegetables) or peas and 'speck' or meat when available. The archaeobotanical research shows the variety of plant species that the residents of the Old Men's House were offered.

It has been recently discovered was that Maria de Knuijt, the wife of Vermeer's patron Pieter van Ruijven, grew up a few houses away from the Mechelen inn whose backside looks on to Voldersgracht, were her father owned two houses. Although she was nine years older than Johannes and already seventeen when he moved to the Markt at the age of eight, she was only three years older than his elder sister, Gertruy. Maria would have been familiar with the Vermeer family from their early years on the nearby Voldersgracht. She likely saw Johannes playing in the neighborhood as a young boy and, along with Gertruy and Johannes, would have been among the local residents who witnessed grand events on the market square, such as the funeral of Prince Frederik Hendrik in 1647.Pieter Roelofs , "Venturing into Town ," in VERMEER, ed. Pieter Roelofs & Gregor Weber, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2023, 33.


In the seventeenth-century Netherlands, inns were central to the social, economic, and cultural life. They provided not only lodging, food, and drink but also venues for business transactions, social gatherings, and the exchange of news. As some of the few public spaces where people from different social strata could mingle, inns played a unique role in society. Often, they held auctions—including those for artworks—which contributed to the thriving Dutch Golden Age art market. Inns were also popular sites for entertainment, hosting plays and musical performances..

Some inns were respectable and some were little more than brothels. Visitors from abroad weren't always able to tell the difference at first glance. Obviously, beer was drunk in both types of inn. Certainly, beer would have been one of the principal calling cards of Reynier's new venture. Delft was a beer town renowned for its high-quality production, which, however, had waned by the time of Vermeer. Beer production requires clean water and Delft was known for its excellent supply of water and for its proverbial cleanliness. In the Netherlands, beer was drunk at all hours although it was generally much weaker than today's beer. It is said the average beer-drinker in Delft put away 250 liters a year. Beer was drunk at all times of the day from breakfast on.

Reynier's talents were many: he ran The Flying Fox, dealt in paintings, and was also known as a caffawerker. Caffa was a damasked fabric containing silk and wool or cotton used especially in upholstery production. Perhaps the daily presence of this luxurious fabric stimulated in the young lad Johannes a fascination for the delicate sheen and joyful play of light, one of the hallmarks of his compositions.

Voldersgracht, Delftfig. 1 Voldersgracht 25–26

Johannes was presumably born in the Flying Fox and it is only logical that the constant ebb and flow of visitors of all walks of life, including accomplished painters, as well as the pictures hung on the walls of his father's inn, must have kindled the first flicker of his future artistic calling. He heard the banter of artists' shop talk every day and was introduced into the mystery of the painter's craft. The powerful Guild of St Luke, which regulated the lives of all Delft artisans and artists, was only a few paces to the right of the Flying Fox.

There must have been no lack of music in and around the Flying Fox. Every day, Johannes heard the hourly chimes and weekly concerts of the carillons of the Nieuwe Kerk whose imposing tower cast its long shadow over the inn on sunny days. Vermeer's grandfather was a musician and had owned more than one musical instrument.

It is not certain exactly where the former location of the Flying Fox was located. John Michael Montias, Vermeer's chief biographer, believed that it was "two houses east of the Old Mens Home," making it number 23. From 1620–1640 changes had been made just in the row of houses at 23–27 (fig. 1 & 2). No doubt, buildings had been joined and then split into still other lots.

However, recent considerations by the team of investigators Ingrid van der Vlis, Steven Jongma, Wim Weve, and Bas van der Wulp have narrowed the range of civic number to two. The difficulties arise because during the seventeenth century, there were no house numbers; homes were identified by their name or by their position in relation to a well-known landmark. Vermeer's birthplace was described as the "fourth house to the east of the Oude Mannenhuis" (an alms-house for elderly men). Historical data in the land registry map pinpoint that Vermeer's birth house corresponds to the current plot of numbers 25 and 26. According to the team, number 25 still retains the structure of the seventeenth-century building, including original wooden beams with paintwork from Vermeer's time. The house had an extension where number 26 now stands, but it's unclear exactly where within these premises Vermeer's crib was situated.Ingrid van der Vlis, Steven Jongma, Wim Weve, and Bas van der Wulp, "In the Footsteps of Vermeer," in Vermeer's Delft, edited by David de Haan, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Babs van Eijk, and Ingrid van der Vlis (Zwolle: Waanders Uitgevers, Museum Prinsenhof Delft, 2023), 117.

Voldersgrachtfig. 2 It is believed that Vermeer was born in his father's inn, called The Flying Fox, in Voldersgracht at what now correspomnd to civic number 25 or 26 (the second and third furthest buildings from the right of this photograph (taken from the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk). Number 25 is currently occupied by the hotel and restaurant De Vliegende Vos.

While the precise spot where the Flying Fox once stood may elude us indefinitely, a stroll along the Voldersgracht has the power to whisk even the most world-weary traveler straight into the essence of Vermeer's Delft. On a day when the streets whisper quietude, it's difficult to resist the pull of its bygone charm. The accompanying photograph (fig. 2), captured from the lofty perch of the Nieuwe Kerk's tower in the embrace of summer, casts the church's shadow momentarily across the faithfully restored Guild of Saint Luke. Dominating the view to the right, the edifices labeled as civic numbers 25 and 26 on Voldersgracht emerge, evoking the rich historical tapestry of the area.

The Museum Het Prinsenhof in Delft, established in 1911, offers a unique journey through the history of the Netherlands, the city of Delft, and the renowned Delftware. This museum is ensconced in a structure of monumental historical significance, a backdrop to some of the most pivotal events in Dutch history. Formerly the court of William of Orange, known as the Father of the Dutch Nation, the building's walls bear witness to the nation's storied past. Visitors can explore the significant role that Delft's citizens played in Dutch history and the evolution of Delftware into the globally recognized brand it is today. Originally erected as a monastery in the Middle Ages, the edifice later became the residence of William the Silent. His assassination at the Prinsenhof in 1584 is etched into history, with bullet holes from the tragic event still visible on the main staircase.

address: Sint Agathaplein 1, 2611 HR Delft

opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

during school holidays:
Monday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
closed on Christmas Day (27 April), Christmas Day and New Year's Day

The Vermeer Centrum Delft, a volunteer-run organization, offers insights into the life and work of Johannes Vermeer, showcasing his painting techniques and displaying reproductions of his masterpieces. In addition to educational exhibits, the center features a shop with an array of Vermeer-inspired merchandise. More than eighty passionate volunteers operate the center, which stands on the historic site of the former Guild of Saint Luke, once presided over by Vermeer himself as the head painter.

Voldersgracht 21, Delft

openings times:
opened daily from 10 a.m. to 5 pm.
open on 24 and 31 December from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
open on 26 December and 1 January from 12 a.m. to 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.

Delft's main market, known locally as "de Markt," attracts visitors from afar as well as from neighboring cities such as The Hague and Rotterdam. Situated between City Hall and the magnificent Nieuwe Kerk, the market opens every Thursday. Here, a bustling array of over 150 stalls offer a variety of items including cheese, fish, vegetables, bread, nuts, and other foodstuffs, alongside clothing, bicycle accessories, and electronic gadgets. Encircling the market, a selection of pubs and open-air terraces provide idyllic spots to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee.

A short five-minute stroll from the general market is the Brabantse Turfmarkt, home to the flower market. This vibrant segment of Delft is adorned with numerous flower merchants presenting an array of thousands of flowers. On Saturdays, this venue also hosts a smaller iteration of the general market, featuring around 50 stalls.

Equally captivating is the weekly art and antiques market, a haven for tourists seeking to absorb the city's charm and scour for unique finds. This market is available on Thursdays and Saturdays from April to October. On Thursdays, you can find it alongside the canal in Hippolytusbuurt street. Come Saturday, the market expands to include a book market and extends along the Voldersgracht as well as the canals within Hippolytusbuurt and Wijnhaven, creating a delightful maze of vintage and antique treasures.

Was the scene of Vermeer's Little Street located at Voldersgracht?

Vlamingstraat, Delft
fig. 3

Although many locations have been proposed in the past, the most consistent candidate for the location of the scene of Vermeer's The Little Street has been the Voldersgracht, a narrow street that runs next to a canal in the center of Delft, where Vermeer was born. However, some art historians believe that despite the scene's realistic appearance, it could be a distillation of typical architectural elements gathered and adroitly woven together within the privacy of the artist's studio.

The century-old question was recently addressed by Dr. Frans Grijzenhout, professor of Art History at the University of Amsterdam. Grijzenhout argues that the setting of the painting is on Vlamingstraat (fig. 3) in Delft, where houses 40–42 now stand. Grijzenhout's conclusion is based on measurements he has found in the Legger van het diepen der wateren binnen de stadt Delft (Ledger of the dredging of canals in the town of Delft), a document compiled from 1666 onward recording the widths of house frontages for tax purposes.

However, Philip Steadman, the London architect and author of Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces, examined point for point Grijzenhout's hypothesis and found a number of inconsistencies. Steadman holds that Grijzenhout's proposal is unfounded and provided detailed information in support of the Voldersgracht solution (fig. 4).

Click here to read Steadman's arguments supported with contemporary maps, drawings and a 19th-century photograph.

Grijzenhout mused that the house on Vlamingstraat would have had particular resonance for Vermeer, since the house was occupied at this date by Ariaentgen Claes van der Minne, one of Vermeer's aunts. But Steadman suggests that Voldersgracht would have held greater meaning for the painter in that it was a view from his family home, across to a building, which, when he painted The Little Street, was just about to be converted for use by his profession's center, the Guild of Saint Luke.

Click here to read Grijzenhout's arguments or see: Frans Grijzenhout and Lynne Richards, "Vermeer's 'Little Street': A View of the Penspoort in Delft," Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam 2015.

The Littel Street locationfig. 4 Elevation of the Guildhall of Saint Luke superimposed over Vermeer's The Little Street. See how the windows and door on the ground floor at the left coincide closely with the windows and door in The Little Street. These survive from the former Old Men's House building.
Delft, Holland
View of historic Delft with


  1. Kees Kaldenbach. http://kalden.home.xs4all.nl/dart/d-a-vermeer2.htm
  2. John Michael Montias, Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989, 65.

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