Essential Vermeer 3.0
Looking for a painting by Vermeer? Find it with QUICK SEARCH!

Delft in Johannes Vermeer's Time

aternatetext View of Delft in Bird's Eye Perspective
print maker: Coenraet Decker, after drawing by Jan Verkolje (I)
publisher: Pieter Smith (mentioned on object)
publisher: Pieter Mortier (I), Amsterdam
c. 1678–1703
Engraving, 24.1 x 63 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The population of various Dutch cities in 1650 when Vermeer was 18 years of age.

  • DELFT - 15,000
  • AMSTERDAM - 30,000
  • LEIDEN - 12,500
  • THE HAGUE - 6,000
  • HAARLEM - 16,000
  • UTRECH - 27,500

The Background, Delft 1

Oude Delft during the winter
Oude Delft during the icy Dutch winter with the massive tower of the Oude Kerk.

The old Delft, the birthplace of Johannes Vermeer, was undoubtedly one of the most characteristic little towns of seventeenth-century Holland. We say "little town" when thinking of towns such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, which far surpassed her in size and the number of inhabitants, but it would be mistaken to consider her as a more or less out-of-the-way and isolated community, like one of the "quiet towns" of today. Delft, however secluded her situation might appear, was in reality a town full of life and business. When a chronicler such as Dirck van Bleyswijck in 1667 undertook to write the history of the place where he lived, that is proof that the town had become sufficiently important, that is to say, had a lively past and present, both worth recording. The author, Vermeer's contemporary, deals chiefly in the second part of his book with the Delft of his day and gives us a picture of its appearance and the many various events in the town during the artist's lifetime.

Dirck Evertsz van Bleyswijck at the Age of Thirty
Johannes Verkolje
Mezzotint, 174 x 133 mm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
This detail of Dirck Van Bleyswyck's Kaart Figuratief shows the area around the Groote Markt (Market Place).

Click on the Kaart to view four points of interest concerning Vermeer's life and art.

Delft, like that of all other Dutch places, was dominated by its towers: the Oude and the Nieuwe Kerk, together with many smaller spires of the earlier monasteries and chapels, gave the town her prickly silhouette. Girdled by the high, solid and frowning walls, interrupted by massive gates, bastions and watch-towers, the city lay safe, but with a rather forbidding appearance, in the middle of the verdant Dutch meadows.

The town itself was bisected by the Old Delft (Delft = stream, river), to which the city owes its name, and which in those times carried all the traffic of the neighborhood, by means of ships and boats. Within the solid ring of defense-works the life of an industrious and characteristic citizenry went on. Delft was of old a town of beer-brewing. In the beginning of the century one could count more than a hundred breweries, and about 1670 there were still some fifteen working. Various reasons had contributed to the decline. But the owners did not lose courage. They established a new business in their factories, which since 1600 constantly increased in prosperity until about 1670 it had grown into an industry, which today is tile world-famous: the manufacture of china, the so-called "Delft-Blue." Already in the beginning of the century we read of "faience potters or tile painters" or, as van Bleyswijck says, "makers of Delft Porcelain," the number of which he estimated at about twenty- eight, to prove that the article was in general demand, "because Dutch Porcelain is nowhere wrought more subtly or delicately than in this town, in which they seem to copy the Chinese to perfection."

Vermeer's City

Just as it does today, seventeenth-century Delft abounded with water and was dissected everywhere by canals. The city's name is derived from the word delf which means canal (or delven, to dig a canal). All this water literally makes Delft a conglomerate of small islands, reconnected by streets and bridges both wooden and stone. In the seventeenth century, stone bridges were a mark of the city's prosperity as they were difficult and expensive to construct. Delft's streets are wide, straight, and laid out in an orderly pattern. The Oude Delft, a wide canal, is even flanked on both sides by spacious roads. The trees along the canals were appreciated for their beauty, and, in the summer, for the shade they provided for roads and houses. The French traveler Balthasar de Monconys, who visited Delft in 1663, explicitly stated that more trees line the streets of Delft than those of Rotterdam. He also noted that the houses in Delft were more beautiful and pleasant than elsewhere.

Dirck van Bleyswijck, Delft's city biographer, who had been burgomaster sometime during the 1670s, proudly asserted that visitors and writers admired the city because..."the houses of Delft are as beautiful, as elegant, as large and as high as can be found anywhere else in the Netherlands."

"The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer." Arthur K. Wheelock, in The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer, Osaka, 2000. p. 34.

Delft Porcelain

delft shoe
A Shoe
Faience, 8 x 15.5 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The "Delftware" was then already sent to Brabant, Flanders, France, Spain, England, and the East Indies. One must not think only of the Delft blue, red and black were also used as well as other colors.

In this same period we read for the first time the names of the "masters" such as Aelbrecht de Keyzer, who later together with Vermeer was on the board of the guild, Frans van Oosten, Gysbrecht Kruyck, Pieter van Kessel, Jan Gerritsz. van de Houven, Jacob de Kerton, Isaack Soubre or Soubree, Abraham de Kooge, Jacob Floppesteyn, Wouter van Eenhoom, Jacobus Kool, Quiryn Kleynoven, Jacob Pynacker, Dirck Jansz. van Yselsteyn and many other names yet which still today are very well known, just as those of the factories The China Bottle, The Fortune, The Greek A, The Three Bells, The Jug, The Young (and The Old) Moor's Head, The Two Wee Ships, The White Star, The Rose, etc. Generally known are the Delft tiles, which as many paintings show us, were intended for an edging to the walls of the living-rooms, so that when the floors were cleaned which the Dutch housewife loved doing-the clean white-washed walls should not be spoilt. They were also used for cellar and kitchen walls and in chimney pieces. They were mostly painted, sometimes with small figures and with a frame of leaves, sometimes too there was nothing but ornament; put together they form a "tableau." Just as popular were the splendid Delft plates, saucers, jugs and pots, objects originally intended for daily life ("kitchenware"). Soon all kinds of other necessaries and objects were made solely for ornamento.

Delft tileA Delft tile showing children playing with bows and arrows

When considering all this it ought to be born in mind that before 1650 there can hardly be any question of Delftware having acquired general fame at all. Although the factories were founded about 1600, richly decorated pieces only appeared at the end of the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century the industry was able to display all its technical and artistic capacity. In Vermeer's day Delftware had not yet captured the place to which it is freely admitted today. Vermeer certainly never knew the Delft blue in its best period and has perhaps regarded it as a more of less artistic home industry; at any rate there is very little echo of it to be found in his work. This is confirmed to a row of blue tiles as edging at the bottom of the white walls where they were not put only for the aesthetic effect.

Delft Tapestry

Tapestry depicting the history of Jupiter and Callisto Tapestry depicting the history of Jupiter and Callisto (detail)
The histories of Diana (series title)
From a drawing by Karel van Mander
François Spierinx
Wool, 360 x 260 cm.
c. 1593–1600

Another flourishing industry in Vermeer's day was the tapestry weaving. In 1592 a citizen of Antwerp, the Burgomaster's son François Spierinx, had established this business in Delft. Soon great numbers of "embroiderers" and "tapestry-workers" came from the South. Spierinx' factory was set up in the old Saint Agnes Convent, near the East Gate. He had attached a few well-known Dutch artists to his manufactory, Hendrik Cornelisz. Vroom and Karel van Mander (the younger), both from Haarlem, who supplied him with designs for the tapestries. Van Mander quickly got into trouble with Spierinx, broke off his connection, and with the painter Huibrecht Grimani, set up a tapestry factory in the Saint Anne Convent, near the Hague Gate. This combination does not seem to have lasted long. About 1632 a similar business was established in the same convent by Willem Jansz. Coppens and under his descendants the factory remained working until the middle of the eighteenth century. About the same time Spierinx was succeeded by Maximiliaan van der Gucht, whose artistic work was at the height of its glory about 1660.

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.

The products of Spierinx, Coppens, and Van der Gucht are real masterpieces. In the first instance they served to decorate the walls of halls and rooms, which for special reasons required hangings: council chambers, governors' and guardians' halls, apartments belonging to civil authorities, and so on. Furthermore they were much liked for use on special occasions, receptions of princes and ambassadors, at official ceremonies, banquets and the like.

François Spiering / Spierinx (c.1576?-1630?)

Portrait of François Spiering

After the Fall of Antwerp (1584, 1585), painters, jewelers, diamond workers and textile manufacturers began to migrate to the north, principally to Amsterdam. Carpet dealer and weaver François Spiering was one of them. Spiering (also called Spierincx) was the son of a mayor of Antwerp. In the sack of Antwerp in 1576 by ​​Spanish troops ("Spanish Fury") the Spiering factory was also looted but he managed to leave unharmed. The city of Delft offered him free of the vacant Saint Agnes Convent to establish his carpet weaving industry anew. He arrived in Delft 1591, became member of the Guild in 1613, This monastery was located near the east gate and was popularly called as soon Spiering Monastery. In 1598, the diarist Aernout van Buchell extolled the quality of Spiering's tapestries and wrote that the drawing and color was nearly as good as that could be obtained with oil paint.

Spiering owned an art collection which boasted fine prints and drawings including works from Italy and a superb collection of Lucas van Leyden. This collection was transfered by his sons to The Hague in 1638.* In Delft Spiering married the daughter of a brewer.

Because Spiering's carpets were known for their unprecedented quality, the States General, the States of Zeeland and Vroedschap Delft placed his orders directly to him. Later, the King of Sweden also ordered tapestries from Spiering.

For the designs of his tapestries François was assisted by the painters David Vinckboons and Henry Cornelisz Vroom. Spiering had around forty people walking on staff, including the son of painter/biographer Karel van Mander. However, salaries and labor relations were so bad that in 1615 Van Mander the Younger was considering to leave saying that he earned so little that he was dependent on charity to support his family. Some time later, Van Mander the Younger founded his own workshop and produced 24 tapestries intercepting an order which had originally be made to Spiering.

Francois Spiering's workshop was continued by his sons Aert Spiering (1593–1650) and Pieter Spiering.

From the late 1630s into the 1640s, Gerard Dou had received 500 guilders a year from Pieter Spiering, the son of François, for the right of first refusal on the painter's new works. Dou committed to offer to sell Spiering one painting a year, of whatever theme, and his patron would then have the options of paying an additional sum for the work or releasing the painter to sell it to others. François was a Dutch representative for the Swedish queen in The Hague, and was related through marriage to the Van Ruijven family. The example of his distant cousin may have prompted Van Ruijven, Vermeer's patron, to reach a similar agreement with Vermeer.

*Francois Spiering / Spierincx (c.1576?-1630?), Kees Kaldenbach http://kalden.home.xs4all.nl/dart/d-p-spieri-f.htm

In 1640 large tapestries were ordered far the Burgomaster's room in the Town-hall, built in 1618 by Hendrik de Keyzer. The well-known seascape-painter Hendrik Vroom had supplied the designs for it. In 1661 the town council again ordered tapestries after the pattern of those in the council chamber of the States of Holland. Unfortunately there is nothing left of these orders but six of the forty-one chairs which Maximiliaan van der Gucht made for the council chamber in 1661 However, important works of his are still preserved outside Delft, amongst others those in the governors' room of the Saint Bartholomew's Institution at Utrecht.

a canal in Delft
The Nieuwe Kerk seen from one of the numerous waterways of Delft in the summertime

Much care was bestowed on the weaving of tapestries. They were often great pieces whose measurements can only be expressed in yards. We have already noted that the greatest Dutch artists of that time lent their aid. They not only depicted landscapes, sometimes maps of the plans of towns, but also, and mostly, subjects from local history. In Middelburg there is a gobelin, representing the naval battle off Bergen-op-Zoom by Maximiliaan van der Gucht; in the Musée du Cinquantenaire at Brussels, a large tapestry with the Battle of Newport. But also biblical and mythological representations were liked.

Not only the tapestries which came from the Delft workshops were sent elsewhere, but also small rugs, curtains, chair-coverings, cushions, and suchlike, which were intended for the living-rooms of the citizens, as Vermeer's interiors will witness. Besides the potteries and the tapestry weaving workshops the Saint Luke's Painters Guild flourished in these years, in which all the crafts were included, also the china-makers, the tapestry-weavers, the booksellers, and the glasspainters.

Like every other Dutch town Delft also possessed a Chamber of Rhetoric, where the humanities were practiced by all the craftsmen above mentioned, and in which they could forget the daily drudgery and far a short while give themselves up to the revelations of beauty and genius.

Civic Guard

It goes without saying that there also was a Civic Guard to whom was confided the defense of the city, and whose officers had their portraits painted on great canvases which now adorn the Town Hall by their fellow citizens Michiel Mierevelt and Jacob Delft.

An iron armor with a helmet; a pike ('Een yser harnis met de stormhoet; een pieck') found in the great Hall ("groote zael") during the posthumous inventory of the artist's possessions together with a "Vermeer" on a Civic Guard document strongly indicate that Vermeer was a member of the Delft Civic Guard or 'schutterij' (shooter).1

Monuments and Civic Institutions

We have already remarked that the Delft of that time, besides many new buildings had also a great number which had been preserved from the Middle Ages. Most of these had, in Vermeer's time, been furnished far social and community duties, such as the Orphanage (with the Foundlings Home and the Madhouse), the Hospital and Pest-house, the Charity House (Poor-House and Leper-House), the Old Women's and Old Men's House on the Voldersgracht, the Girls' House and the Workhouse where neglected youth was educated. Other institutions such as the Saint Agnes and Saint Anne Convents were taken into use by the tapestry-weavers, as described above.

a canal in Delft
A canal right behind the Nieuwe Kerk

The canals were, so to say, the arteries of the town along which all the means of transport and all imports and exports were carried. They were flanked by the dwellings of the merchants and trades people, by goods- sheds and warehouses, public buildings and religious and learned institutions. The market, or the market-place, was always the center where the life of the citizens was concentrated. There rose, stately and solemn, the mighty tower of the Nieuwe Kerk opposite the town-hall, burnt down in 1618, but risen again on an even grander scale under the direction of Hendrik de Keyzer, the famous architect. On the north of the Marktveld, between the Nieuwe Kerk and the town-hall, stood the house "Mechelen," where Vermeer lived. From this dwelling he would have been able to follow the life of the Delft community from year to year. In 1647, on May 10th, he may have witnessed the funeral of Frederick Henry in the Nieuwe Kerk. In 1650 there were riots in Delft on the occasion when Prince William Il came to "displace" the town council, i.e. replaced the old council by a new one. In 1653 the famous admiral Maarten Harpersz. Tromp was buried with great solemnity in the Oude Kerk. In 1660, on May 25th, Vermeer will have been present at the entry of King Charles Il into Delft. In 1661 he will have listened to the first playing of the new carillon which had been made by François Hemony for the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk. In 1662 there was a great to-do when the three murderers of Charles of England were caught in Delft. These are the occurrences which for a few moments brightened or disturbed the daily life of the citizen.

"Delft Thunderclap"

View of Delft after the Explosion of 1654, egbert van der PoelView of Delft after the Explosion of 1654
Egbert van der Poel
Oil on wood, 36.2 x 49.5 cm.
National Gallery, London

But the greatest disaster and no other struck a deeper wound or caused more destruction and damage was the explosion of the gunpowder magazine on October 12th, 1654, in the morning at half-past ten. That powder-house in which the ammunition for the defense of the town was kept, lay between the Geerweg and the Doelstraat, hidden amongst the trees behind the Doelen. Dirck van Bleyswijck in his description of the happenings in Delft, published in the year 1667, gives an extensive account of this accident. There must have been, according to him, "eighty or ninety thousand pounds of gunpowder stored up at the time of the explosion, and this quantity, unfortunately, exploded, with such a horrible rush and force, that the arch of heaven seemed to crack and to burst, the whole earth to split, and hell to open its jaws: in consequence of which not only the town and the whole land of Delft with all her lovely villages shock and trembled, but the whole of Holland rocked from the ghastly rumble. The houses in towns, boroughs, villages, and hamlets lying some miles away from us, heard the horrible rumble. The sound was heard even as far as Den Helder, yes, on the island of Texel, on the North Sea and in some provinces outside Holland. That (powder) house, which had provided stocks from the days of our Fathers, must now, alas, destroy their children. The misery and disaster which resulted from it are impossible to describe properly and in proportion to the facts; because so great was the noise, to the surprise of all who heard it far from or near this town, from which, after the clap, they saw such a frightful mixture of smoke and vapor rise, just as if the pools of hell had opened their throats to spew out their poisonous breath over the whole world to cover it and darken it. This cloud included a great deal of rubble, chalk, stones, beams, and all sorts of flying bits, mixed with pieces of people, which later were found strewn around, outside, as well as inside the walls, making a sight which the spectators could not face without shrinking emotion and melting hearts. How the accident really was caused has remained a mystery until now. The powder-house had been completely blown away with its foundations, without leaving a scrap or stick or brick or beam or pole behind, nothing but a pool of water measuring in depth fifteen to sixteen feet."

The results of the explosion must have been terrible, the number of victims was very large. It does not require much imagination to form a clear picture of the extent of the damage which we shall endeavor to present through Van Bleyswijck's description: "Not only both the neighboring Arquebusiers houses but for many hundred feet round everything was razed to the ground and demolished. The great and small Arquebusiers streets, also all the newly built houses on the Lakengracht where the old vegetable-frames used to stand, as well as the whole neighborhood of the Geerweg with the Verwersdijk were knocked down on both sides of the road and reduced to heaps of rubble The huge and strong trees in the Doelen (shooting range) were mostly chopped off level with the ground, the gardens there ploughed up, so that hardly a tree or the semblance of a tree was to be found. The numbers of houses which were completely toppled over, was estimated at far over two hundred. Besides these over three hundred houses were bereft of roofs and window panes, furthermore it was said that there was not one house to be found within the whole city, which had not suffered some damage; many were damaged inside, the furniture spoilt, all the china broken with other things too which fell out of their positions from the horrible shaking. Both parish churches, those great imposing buildings, had not escaped but had suffered such a hard shock that they could not be used for some time, without glass, the iron stanchions (which were very thick and heavy) bent and torn out, the roofs shattered, the walls split in many places At the Townhall too all the window-panes had fallen out. Above all in the north- west of the town (where the force of the explosion had been most felt) it was pitiful to see, the more as one remembered all the people who lay shattered and smothered under the fallen and overturned houses. Various accidents and disasters have from old passed over this city, but not one of them, how heavy one might rate it, is to be compared with this great unspeakable blow, because this extraordinary and never-before heard-of thunder-clap swept whole families away, even streets with people, old, young, sick, well, rich, poor." The "Delft Thunderclap," as this disaster has become known to history, has, as is well-known, also cost the life of Carel Fabritius and his family.

From the above we notice that both the Nieuwe Kerk and the Town Hall on the Market-place were badly damaged. The House "Mechelen" must have been damaged too. This is nowhere specifically stated, but it is unbelievable that a house in the immediate neighborhood of the Nieuwe Kerk and the Town-hall got off scatheless. What did Vermeer lose by this disaster? What consequences did it have for him? These are questions which must for the time being remain unanswered.

The Delft chronicler, thirteen years after this disaster, could yet depict his town as one of the most prosperous and flourishing of Holland. He tells with enthusiasm of all the many handsome buildings, which ornamented her streets and canals and squares, of the Prinsenhof, once the palace of Prince William of Orange, of the Gemeenlandthuis of Delfland, of the Town-hall and the churches, of the East and West-Indian houses, of the halls, of the grammar school, of the anatomy or dissecting-room, of the storehouses, of the guildhouses, of the gates and towers, of the Beguinages and so forth.

Delft Citizens

tomb of Piet Hein in the Oude Kerk
The tomb of Piet Hein in the
Oude Kerk, Delft

As though of their own volition the thoughts of the writer wander off to the many great men and women who first saw the light in Delft, or who lived there during their best years and gave their strength for the well-being of its citizens. He mentions the names of Geertruit van Oosten, Dirck van Delft, the famous theologian, Martinus Dorpius, later professor at Louvain, Cornelis Musius, the noble prior of the Saint Agatha convent, Jacob Jacobsz. van der Meer on the Marktveld, who printed the first Bible in Dutch in 1477, Sasbout Vosmeer, later vicarapostolic of Utrecht, Cornelis Pynacker the jurist. Then he comes to the great men of his century and names in the very first piece Hugo Grotius, the world-famous jurist, Prince Frederick Henry, born at Delft on January 29th, 1584, the great military commander and subduer of towns, the admiral Piet Hein, the conqueror of the Silver Fleet. Then follow in procession all the many artists who worked within the walls, who have already been mentioned elsewhere.

In the churches where these great Dutchmen have found their last resting place, their contemporaries have erected worthy monuments, which through the good care of the greatest masters of that time became works of art which are the pride of the inhabitants of Delft. In the first place we mention the monument of the Oranges in the Nieuwe Kerk, designed and executed by Hendrik de Keyzer in 1621; that of Piet Hein in the Oude Kerk, 1629; that of admiral Maarten Harpersz. Tromp, designed by Jacob van Campen and executed by Rombout Verhulst and Pieter Hendriksz. de Keyzer.

Delft and the Legacy of William the Silent

Of all these mythologies, the most powerful one for the citizens of Delft surrounded the life and death of William the Silent, who had moved to Delft in 1572 to conduct the Dutch revolt against Spain. This revered leader chose Delft over The Hague because its darkly weathered city walls and fortresslike gates offered the illusion of safety in that troubled time, an illusion that was tragically shattered in 1584 when he was felled by an assassin's bullet in his residence, the Prinsenhof. Because he died before he was able to deliver The Netherlands from Spanish control, contemporary writers and theorists likened William the Silent to Moses, who likewise died before entering the promised land. Imagery connecting these two leaders, as in an allegorical portrait engraving that includes scenes from the life of Moses at the four corners, only further enhanced William the Silent's fame and legacy.

Some years later, at the bequest of William the Silent's widow, Louise de Coligny, the States General commissioned the foremost Dutch sculptor of the day, Hendrick de Keyser (1565–1621), to erect an enormous monument to the Prince of Orange in the choir of the Nieuwe Kerk. So magnificent was the marble and bronze tomb that visitors from all over Europe, not just Delft, came to marvel at its imposing size and powerful symbolic imagery, which not only reminded them of the Prince's fame and glory, but also of four fundamental virtues associated with his life - Justice, Religion, Fortitude, and Liberty. Hendrick van Vliet focused on one of these personifications in his illusionistic image of the Nieuwe Kerk the allegorical figure of Justice at the front left corner of the tomb.

By the mid-seventeenth century, the Nieuwe Kerk, with its tomb of William the Silent, had become a mecca not only for all Dutch who honored the memory of this great leader, but also for those who honored the memory of other members of the House of Orange. In the crypt below the tomb were buried the Prince of Orange's descendants, including Prince Maurits and Prince Frederik Hendrik, the Stadholders who had brought the Dutch revolt to a successful conclusion. As Dirck van Bleyswijck wrote in his history of Delft, Beschryvinge der stad Delft (1667), many also came to reflect upon death and the vanities of life, far here, in the presence of his great tomb, came the realization that death spares no one, not even great leaders.

"The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer." Arthur K. Wheelock, in The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer, Osaka, 2000. 14–15.


  1. P.T.A. Swillens, Johannes Vermeer: Painter of Delft 1632–1675, Utrecht: Spectrum,1950, 41–48.
  2. Kees Kaldenbach, "The Vermeer House." http://www.johannesvermeer.info/verm/house/hz-harnas-helm-eng.htm

EV 3.0 Newsletter ✉

Latest Article