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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, DelftP. T. A. Swillens, Johannes Vermeer: Painter of Delft 1632–1675 (Utrecht: Spectrum, 1950), 41–48.

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 (1639–1681) 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.Dirck van Bleyswijck, a notable figure in the history of Delft, is best known for his comprehensive work Beschryvinge der Stadt Delft (Description of the City of Delft), published in 1667. This work is a significant historical source for understanding the city of Delft during the Dutch Golden Age. The book is a detailed description of the city of Delft. It covers a wide range of topics, including the city’s history, architecture, important figures, social and economic life, and the art and culture of the period. It also details the physical layout of Delft, including its buildings, canals, and streets. This information is invaluable for understanding the urban development of Dutch cities in the Golden Age. Other than providing contemporary accounts and descriptions that are crucial for art historians and researchers studying the period, the book alsso mentions various prominent figures from Delft, including Vermeer. 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.

  • The city of Delft is born beside a canal, the Delf, a term which derives from the Dutch word "delven," meaning to "delve " or "dig." Or it may come from "Court of Delft:' the name of the body that administered the farmlands near the canal. Delft's establishment as one of the Netherlands' oldest cities is uniquely due to its geography. Unlike many Dutch cities that developed around waterways, Delft was situated in a reclaimed land area, characterized by an irregular pattern of water channels leading to the Maas River. Over time, the land where Delft was founded accumulated sand and clay, creating a stable foundation for stone construction. While initially at a lower elevation, the city's ground level rose above the surrounding farmlands due to the soil's compaction as the land was drained by canals.
  • In the 12th and 13th centuries, Delft is situated near three significant powers: the count of Holland, the count of Flanders, and the prince-bishop of Utrecht. The count of Holland, whose lineage traced back to vassals of the German emperor around 950 in northern Holland, often played a dominant and ambitious role. The count of Flanders is a vassal to the French king, while the prince-bishop of Utrecht, though politically weaker, has ecclesiastical jurisdiction that included Delft. Conflicts among these authorities are frequent.
  • After conquering Holland, around 1075, Godfrey III, Duke of Lower Lorraine (c. 997–1069) establishes his manor on an elevated point where the Delf crosses the creek wall of the silted-up Gantel creek system (the largest tidal creek during the Late Iron Age and Roman period). While the land around Delft is good for grazing and for cultivating grains, the abundance of running water in the city will eventually allow two major industries to flourish: textile manufacturing and beer brewing. However, the combination of these two industries will also cause problems. The textile industry pollutes Delft's clean water, which is an essential ingredient for beer.
  • Around 1100, the Oude Delft is dug up in order to widen a section of the Gantel creek system and drain the surrounding land. When a second canal is dug parallel to the Delf at the end of the 12th century, the names Oude Delft and Nieuwe Delft are given to them (the latter nowadays bears successively the street named Lange Geer, Koornmarkt, Wijnhaven, Hippolytusbuurt, and Voorstraat). The land between the Oude Delft and Nieuwe Delft is raised with clay during the digging of the Nieuwe Delft. The remaining sandy ridge between the two canals is firm enough for driving the poles to build houses on. This forms the basis of the city . In the Golden Age, this higher-lying land in the center of the swampy city becomes a popular place to live for wealthy merchants. Many mansions, often the status of national monument, are still found on the Oude Delft. From a rural village Delft develops into a small city. Delft becomes an important market town, proven by the size of its central market square.
  • In 1200, the Stadhuis (City Hall) is built. It survives various expansions and renovations in the 1500s, and the city fire in 1536.
  • The oldest known brewery in The Netherlands, Heilige Geestkerkhof, dates to 1210.
  • In the 13th century, the Vliet waterway between Delft and The Hague is already heavily trafficked. In theory it is possible to sail from the north end of Delft all the way to Leiden. From there one could travel to Haarlem and Amsterdam via the Haarlemmermeer, or to Utrecht via the Oude Rijn. But there is an important obstacle in between them: the Leidschendam, over which larger ships have to transfer their cargo to barges on the other side. Moreover, the owners of the dam demand a fee.
  • On April 15, 1246, Count Willem II of Holland (1227–1256) grants Delft its city charter extending basic rights of self-government to the approximately 1,400 people living there, marking the official beginning of the city. Shortly thereafter, he communicates with the town's Magistrates and Citizens regarding the building of city defenses, involving land from the "Court of Delft." This implies that Delft had an organized administrative system and may have been granted city rights earlier. This organized system is also indicated by a document from about forty years prior, wherein Count Willem I referenced Delft's taxation system when conferring rights to the Egmond abbey. Trade and industry continue to flourish. Delft is then composed of three original grachten (inner-city canals) In the same years The Hague is small village now called the Oude Delft, Nieuwe Delft, and the Braantse Turftmarkt, Burgwal, and Verwersdijk. The charter exempts Delft's citizens from paying tolls in Willem's county, which gives a huge boost to trade. More importantly, the Delft residents will have a large degree of self-government in the field of regulations and law. The bailiff and seven aldermen may issue ordinances and try transgressions themselves. Initially, this city law only applies to the area of ​​the Nieuwe Delft, which is the canal along the current Koornmarkt, Wijnhaven, Hippolytusbuurt, and Voorstraat. In 1268, the residents along the Oude Delft receive the same privileges.
  • A weekly market is mentioned in city law as early as 1246. It is held at "Marktveld," and to this day—know as Markt or Market Square— takes place on the same day and in the same place. It is operated by or on behalf of Count Willem II of Holland, whose stewards collect money from the merchants who sell their wares there. The Count also owns the weigh house, the cloth hall and other buildings that are crucial to the economy of Delft. As the name suggests, Marktveld (market + field) was not paved, and since the terrain is relatively low, rain must have turned it into a plain of mud.
  • In 1246, the Oude Kerk (Old Church) is founded as St. Bartholomew's Church on the site of previous churches dating back up to two centuries earlier. The tower with its central spire and four corner turrets is added between 1325–1350. In the same year the June market of Delft begins.
  • In 1268 Floris V, Count of Holland extends the city Delft to the other side of the Oude Delft. The Count's permission specifies an exact distance from the Oude Delft between the Dirklangensteeg (then the Arnoudt Snemenbrug) and the Binnenwatersloot. Its eastern limit later becomes the bank of the singel, or outer moat.
  • As far back as the Middle Ages, streets in Delft are indicated by names to make it easy to find a particular house or its resident. The oldest known street name of Delft is Oude Delft, which already appears in a document from 1268. For centuries names rise and disappear by themselves. Everyday usage determines a street's name: soil conditions (think of the Rietveld); shape (Bree street); age (Oude and Nieuwe Langendijk) of an important building (Gasthuislaan, Oude Kerkstraat); activity (Voldersgracht, Verwersdijk, Smitsteeg) or a well-known resident (Dirklangenstraat, Harmenkokslaan, Jacob Gerritstraat).
  • In 1286, the Bagijnhof is founded by a group of lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world, called beguines. Since Bagijnhof is privately owned the beguines are allowed to continue to live there after the Reformation takes hold of Delft, when all the Catholic monasteries present in the city will be destroyed or closed.. The Bagijnhof later becomes a stronghold of Roman Catholicism with two schuilkerken (secret churches).
  • Around 1300, an outer moat is dug as part of Delft's defenses.
  • Around 1300, a dam, called the Leytsche Dam, is constructed in the Vliet between Delfland and Rijnland to protect Delft against flooding, as part of the Sijtwende (flood defense). Unfortunately, it—the polder level in Rijnland is on average about 1 meter higher than that in Delfland—also has a negative effect because it prevents Delft from building a direct waterway connection to northern cities, such as Leiden, Haarlem, and Amsterdam. It will have a profound influence on the development of the area and will eventually become the cause of many disputes between surrounding cities.
  • In the 1300s and 1400s, an impressive number of decorated and illuminated manuscripts are produced in Delft.
  • Although the Zeevisch-Markt (Fish Market) building bears a plaque reading 1342, it is probably not founded in that year. Fish is already a substantial part of the menu for the first inhabitants of Delft, and it had already been traded for centuries in the surrounding areas.
  • In 1347, Margaretha van Beieren (1363–1424) grants permission to expand the Oude Delft> .
  • In 1348, the Voldersgracht and the Langendijk running east-west between the Nieuwe Delft gracht and the Oosteinde gracht complete the delineation of Markt Plein (Market Square) balanced on either end by the Stadhuis and the Nieuwe Kerk.
  • On January 1, 1350, the tower of Oude Kerk is completed, but it already leans. While the construction continues the builders attempt to compensate and straighten the inclination of the bell tower floor by floor. Today only the spires alone are truly straight. At the time, the 75-meters high tower dominated the surrounding landscape until it is overcome in the 1600s by the construction of the Nieuwe Kerk. Citizens of Delft affectionately refer to the church as Oude Jan (Old Jan ) or Scheve Jan (Crooked Jan).
  • In 1355, Willem V of Holland (1350-1389) grants the citizens of Delft permission to build bulwarks of earth around the area that the city had the rights to administer. The bulwarks are made from sand, clay, and silt accumulated when the waterways were dug. They are topped by stone and brick walls. The wide waterway ringing the bulwarks becomes known as the singel (belt). It is soon followed by completion of the first two city gates at the north and south end of the Oude Delft, the only navigable waterways into and out of the growing city. By this year Delft had the same boundaries and inner waterways that it would have three hundred years later
  • In 1381, construction of the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) begins, following a miraculous appearance of the Virgin in 1381. Initially the church is built of wood. Three years later, construction begins in stone, in Gothic style, which will be completed in 1430. Construction of the stone tower continues for a century, between 1396 and 1496. When finished, it is 109 meters high. The nave and aisles are finished in the 1430s, the choir in 1476. The name of the architect is unknown. The original stained glass windows are destroyed in the 16th and 17th centuries.
  • In 1389, the city of Delft receives permission from Albert I, Duke of Bavaria (German; 1336–1404), the feudal ruler of Holland, to dig its own connection between the Schie and the Merwede (nowadays the Maas River), which provides an outlet to the Atlantic Ocean. During these years, Delft heavily depends on trade, especially the export of dairy and beer to Brabant, Zeeland, and Flanders; delays in shipping prove disastrous for such perishable goods. Additionally, raw materials must be imported to keep the local economy thriving. At the point where the canal crossed Schielands Hoge Zeedijk, Delft founds its own harbor: Delfshaven. Until then, ships had to sail to or from Delft, through Rotterdam or Schiedam. However, this route is winding, and inter-city conflicts sometimes close the vital passage of goods. When the canal is finished, Delft is able to send and receive seafaring vessels and avoid tolls levied by Rotterdam. In the same year, Duke Albrecht I establishes an elected water board. The project takes years to realize. But the canal is an enormous and complicated undertaking. Part of the Schie, from Delft to Overschie, could be used for the canal system, but some parts have to be dug. Land has to be purchased from many different owners; digging is done by hand. Quays are built on both sides of the canal, and a settlement is built at the mouth.
  • In 1394, Duke Albrecht I gives the citizens of Delft permission to build a new city wall.
  • In 1396, the construction of the Schiedam and Rotterdam Gates begins. It will take until after 1514 before they are completed.
  • Marktveld is shortened by approximately 34 meters to accommodate the construction of the Nieuwe Kerk.
  • Due to the scarcity of wood, from the 15th century the Netherlands is largely dependant on veer (peat) for or fuel. Peat is formed when dead plant material—especially from mosses—accumulates over time. When compressed and dried, it becomes turf, which makes an excellent fuel that burns slow and heats well without much smoke. The demand for peat in Delft is so intense that the surrounding countryside is unable to meet it, being as it is indispensable for energy supply; from domestic use to baker's ovens. Moreover, in Delft the most important economic sectors, brewery, and pottery, are huge energy guzzlers. Tons of peat have to be brought in by ship. By the end of the 19th century, peat is replaced by coal.
  • At the end of the 14th century, the Meisjeshuis is founded by well-known Delft resident. The building is initially called Heilige-Geestzustershuis (Holy Spirit Sister House), in which nurses take care of sick people. In 1587, it is transformed into an orphanage for poor girls. The orphanage has workshops and learning quarters where girls study religion, crafts, cooking, and mathematics.
  • Around 1400, the Oostpoort (Eastern Gate) is built. It is the only remaining gate of the old city walls. Around 1510, the towers are enhanced with an additional octagonal floor and high spires. At this time, Delft has around 6,500 inhabitants.
  • By the 1400s, the shape of the binnenstad, or inner city, of Delft comprises everything within the surrounding moat, which is wider than the canals inside the city. The city is roughly rectangular, about 1.6 km long and 0.8 km wide. The inner sides of the city's protective embankments are made of earth and a brick wall covered with thorn bushes. A number of windmills stand even taller than the embankments' towers, providing clear views of the surrounding countryside. Four of the gates are situated at the ends of major inter-city canals. For tax purposes, the city is divided into sixteen districts; for defensive purposes, four districts. The city gates are not open day and night. When dusk falls, the large doors are locked and cannot be opened again until sunrise. On Sundays and public holidays, the gates are closed during the sermon so that peace in the city is not disturbed. Only pedestrians can get in and out via the small door or latch—but no more horses, wagons, or carriages. Gatekeepers, who work in day and night shifts, supervise who enters or leaves the city.
  • Around 1400, a group of women in Delft chooses a spiritual life and moves from Geerweg to a house on Oude Delft, behind the tower of the Oude Kerk. Shortly afterward, they decide to close themselves off from the outside world as a monastic community to fill their lives with prayer, in absolute obedience to the leader, the mater (mother), without personal belongings and unmarried. They found the Agathaklooster (Convent of Saint Agatha) with the help of wealthy citizens in Delft, adopting the rules of the third order of Saint Francis. In 1402, they are placed under the protection of the Count of Holland, Duke Albert of Bavaria. The Bishop of Utrecht, as the head of Delft's diocese, formally establishes the convent in 1403. The Agathaklooster flourishes in the late 1400s, becoming the richest monastery in Delft and earning the right to house 125 nuns, who mostly come from patrician families. It also receives many distinguished guests in its guesthouse. Eight nuns still live in the cloister in 1607. The last of them is buried in 1640.
  • Delft pottery originates in the early 1400s. At this moment, very simple pottery is being produced in various places in the Netherlands, in small pottery factories established where clay is found and where there is a good supply of peat or wood for firing the kilns. Initially, the factories are only located in the west of Holland, but later spread throughout the country. To make these simple pottery objects, the clay, which is modeled into the desired shape, is first fired, creating a red/brown finish. Afterward, the objects are sometimes decorated with patterns in contrasting color schemes, with paint made of watery clay or slip. They are then given a transparent lead glaze and fired again to make them watertight and easier to keep clean. This lead glaze is relatively expensive, so the early pieces of pottery are only glazed in areas that could become easily dirty, such as a spout, the bottom, or the inside.
  • In 1412, a 17-meter strip of Marktveld is given over to serve as a cemetery in front of the Nieuwe Kerk, which stands until the 19th century. This cemetery continued under the market. In 2004, part of the cemetery was examined during an archaeological excavation in front of the entrance to the Nieuwe Kerk. During this investigation, a wall was found near the statue of Hugo de Groot that marked the western boundary of the cemetery. However, this wall was not found in the drainage trench. It now appears that the burials extended much further towards the town hall than this previously discovered boundary. Nothing was yet known about the southern edge of the cemetery. This new research shows that it extended laterally less than 3 meters from the facades of the houses along today's Market Square.
  • In 1421, significant floo disrups vital overland trade routes to the south of Delft, impacting the economy. During the 1400s, the prosperity of Rotterdam is closely connected to that of Delft, as the smaller and younger city along the Rotte River had recently been connected to Delft by a network of canals.
  • In 1436, Delft acquires the rights to the Marktveld from Duke Philip of Burgundy. The city council can now decide how the space is used and arranged.
  • On September 7, 1445, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (French: 1396–1467), issues a charter (Privilegie) for Delft city fathers, the vroedschap, to appoint the first Veertigraad, a 40-member council of the richest, most honorable, most notable men from regent families to help the schout (sheriff) and schepenen (magistrates) govern the city. The Veertigraad gradually cedes city management to the burgemeesters and pensionaris. Typically, a young man born into a regent family replaces a father or older brother who has died or, after the 1618 reorganization, reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
  • In 1484, The Marktveld is paved for the first time, and the well that had always been there disappears. The site is raised by 90 centimeters, using the manure surplus from the surrounding area.
  • Around 1450, the St. Ursula Monastery is founded. The number of monasteries within the walls of Delft comes to ten, while there are two more outside the city walls: Koningsveld and the Monastery Sion to the north of the city.
  • In 1470, about 5% of the Delft population lives in monasteries, which occupy about 8% of the urban space.
  • In 1477, the first Bible in Dutch is published in Delft, and it is much smaller than the Gutenberg Bible, as only the Old Testament is printed. Yet its almost 1,300 pages require publication in two folio volumes. The text is an anonymous adaptation of an—again anonymous—translation. It is the first book to be printed by Jacob Jacobszoon van der Meer and Mauricius Yemantszoon van Middelburg, but the printer-financier relationship between the two is not clear.
  • In the later part of the 15th century, Haarlem, and Delft developed their own versions of a strong beer imported from Germany. Gouda specialized in a lighter, cheaper beer. Other Dutch towns soon impose excise taxes on beer from Gouda and Delft, just as these towns had done with German beer.
  • In the 16th century, the reputation of the monasteries among the population declines. Apart from the religious unrest caused by the Reformation movement, many people in Delft feel that there were too many monasteries. During the many years of economic setbacks and famine, people disapprove of the tax benefits that these institutions enjoyed.
  • Around 1500, there is a religious boom. Delft has two large parish churches, each with dozens of altars. About 150 priests earn a good living performing mass and other ceremonies in the service of the churches, brotherhoods, guilds, or wealthy families.
  • In 1503, a cult arises in the Oude Kerk in relation to a statue of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows. This devotion is stimulated by Duke Philip the Fair, who hopes to promote the sentiment of unity in the Netherlands by means of a "national" cult for the Virgin Mary. In Delft, the principal protagonist is Dirck Adamszoon van der Burch, vice-pastor of the Oude Kerk. He reports in letters to the court which miracles had occurred and how devotion had thrived. Pilgrims come from far and wide to partake in special masses, sermons, and processions.
  • In the 1500s, the municipal government and churches of Delft are more inclined to commission works of art from masters established in other cities than from those active locally. This is largely a consequence of the increasing importance of the Oude Kerk and the Nieuwe Kerk, which require objects grander and more public in nature than those produced by cloistered monks and nuns.
  • In the 1500s, the authorities and churches in Delft prefer to commission artworks from well-known artists in other cities rather than local talent. This trend is partly due to the prominence of the Oude Kerk and Nieuwe Kerk, which demand art that is more public and monumental than what monastic orders of Delft typically produced or required. Consequently, commissions for significant art pieces like large painted triptychs, sculptural groups, or substantial church furniture tend to go to experienced artists from bigger cities who have a track record of creating such works.
  • In 1510, the Nieuwe Kerk, which was formerly flanked by two rows of houses that had previously formed the boundary of the Marktveld, reaches its definitive size.
  • In 1514, the population of Delft is 10,700.
  • Around 1520, the renovation of the Oude Kerk comes to a standstill due to a lack of money. The colossal north aisle of the otherwise austere architecture marks the end of the rich Roman life of the Middle Ages.
  • On May 3, 1536, a large part of the city is destroyed by the Great Fire of Delft. The fire is said to have been caused by a bolt of lightning that struck the tower of Nieuwe Kerk, although some Delft historians believe this may be confused with another event on Ascension Day in 1441, when lightning struck the still-unfinished tower. An alternative version has it that on the day of the fire there is a strong westerly wind. A farmyard fire on the Buitenwatersloot may have gotten out of hand, and pieces of burning hay, straw, or reed were blown into the air. One house after another catches fire, and the fire spreads quickly eastward, up, and over the city wall. The Oude Kerk catches fire because the roof was then made of thatched hay. Part of the wooden tower burns down, and the organ, bells, and the stained-glass windows are lost. Fanned by a strong east wind, the fire ravages virtually everything west of the Nieuwe Kerk; houses of the time are mainly built with timber. Hundreds of families are forced to leave the city. Delft is rebuilt with stone instead of wood. Only a few buildings standing today pre-date the fire. Before the fire, the majority of the buildings of Delft featured predominantly late Gothic, Renaissance style, or a blend thereof, and substantial building and renovation activities occurred, coinciding with a robust economic expansion. However, these developments are confined within the Medieval city fortifications. This factor renders Delft's development distinctly divergent from that of other cities, such as Amsterdam, where, in the 17th century, suburban districts emerged, characterized by new canal rings.
  • In 1536, the population of Delft is 15,000.
  • In 1537, the plague strikes Delft. Over 2,000 people die.
  • In the 1540s and 1550s, stately houses go up around the Groote Markt (Great Market Square, Markt, or Market) near the Nieuwe Kerk, along the Oude Delft canal, and in other neighborhoods where many dwellings were burned down during the Great Fire. They changed little in plan, but their street facades—or orgevels—in Holland the "gables" rise from the ground—are constructed almost exclusively of stone, in a mixture of Late Gothic and Renaissance styles. The new houses built along tree-lined canals, where Delft’s rich burgers live, prompt the common people to quip: "they sit on cushions and rule the city." In this period, property owners in Delft, including those residing in the wealthier streets on the west side, are more concerned with roofs, walls, and stone facades than with home decoration.
  • In the second half of the 1500s, Delft’s two major industries—brewing and textile manufacturing—declined sharply, primarily because of competition from other towns and a spirit of free enterprise that did away with medieval systems of protecting trade. Moreover, the two products are also incompatible, as one polluted and the other required clean water. A number of other occupations, such as spinning, weaving, tailoring, peat-cutting, carting, and shipping, depended on the production of cloth and beer.
  • Between 1557 and 1558, the plague strikes again. About 6,000 people in Delft, or 20% of the population, die. According to the physician Pieter van Foreest (1521–1597), one of the most prominent physicians of the Dutch Republic, the plague that came to Delft in 1557 originated with the farmers from the surrounding countryside who supplied the town with produce.
  • From 1558 to 1595, Pieter van Foreest, one of the Netherlands' greatest doctors, served as Delft's doctor. While his colleagues based their practices on theories from classical antiquity, he modernized medical practices, publishing hundreds of case histories and describing in detail treatments and results. The University of Leiden, founded in 1575, engaged him to set up the medical training. He managed to persuade the city council of Delft to draft rules for the practice of medical professions and prevent quackery. He became the personal physician to William of Orange and conducted the investigation after the prince was murdered in 1584.
  • In 1560, the Vleeshal, or Meat Hall, is constructed. New neighborhoods and other civic buildings made during the early to mid-seventeenth century further contribute to Delft’s distinctive character. Much of the city's attraction for visitors comes from the fact that the squares and canals were bordered by buildings that date mostly from about 1550 to 1650. The population of Delft is 10,700.
  • In the mid-1560s, two great Dutch painters worked in Delft: Maerten van Heemskerck (1498–1574) and Jan van Scorel (1495–1562).
  • In 1565, a poor corn harvest strikes Delft.
  • In 1566, the Beeldenstor (in Dutch, roughly "image storm" or "statue storm") spreads to Delft, destroying many artworks in public and religious places. The Convent of Saint Agatha, however, is well protected and is spared.
  • In 1572, William of Orange (Willem van Oranje; 1533–1584) of the House of Orange took up residence in the former Convent of Saint Agatha, today’s Het Prinsenhof. By then, Delft is one of the leading cities of Holland and is equipped with the necessary city walls to serve as a headquarters.
  • 1568–1648: Duration of the Eighty Years' War. Delft is at the time one of the largest and most powerful cities in Holland. Early in the war, Protestant noblemen led by Willem of Orange, who desired to overthrow Spanish rule, styled themselves as Watergeuzen (Sea Beggars). In early July, they make their way north, capturing city by city. By the end of the summer, Delft joins the revolt, which soon includes the six largest cities of Holland: Dordrecht, Haarlem, Delft, Leiden, Gouda. Amsterdam is the last to join.
  • In 1572, Delft joins the revolt against Spain, and shortly afterward Calvinists take over the parish churches, abolish monasteries, and force priests and monks to renounce their faith or leave the city. Much of the Catholic heritage is destroyed or burned.
  • In October 1573, an attack by Spanish forces is repelled in the Capture of Delfzijl (The Battle of Delft). The battle is fought by a small Anglo-Dutch force under Thomas Morgan and an attacking Spanish force under Francisco de Valdez (Spanish; 1522?–580?). The Spanish are repelled and forced to retreat. The Spanish lose in all, around 700 men, mostly on the outskirts. Delft, among other Dutch towns and cities, had been saved, and this means that Leiden has a better hope of relief. After his initial attempts, Valdez informs the Duke of Alba of his defeat, showing him that victory could not be achieved without a larger force along with siege artillery. In the same year, The Kolk, which is a canalized watercourse on the south-western corner of the city walls, takes its initial triangular form from a bastion that had been constructed in 1573, when the city fortifications were modernized.
  • After the Act of Abjuration is proclaimed in 1581, Delft becomes the de facto capital of the newly independent Netherlands, as the seat of the Prince of Orange.
  • In 1583, the Dutch humanist, diplomat, lawyer, theologian, and jurist Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) is born in Delft. He lays the foundations for international law, and his concept of natural law has a strong impact on the philosophical and theological debates and political developments of the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • During the late 15th century, Delft is home to two notable painters, one of whom is referred to as the Master of the Virgin among Virgins. This anonymous artist, whose designation comes from a particular panel located in Amsterdam, has been linked to Delft through evidence of woodcuts based on his designs. These woodcuts were published by prominent Delft printers, including Jacob van der Meer—renowned for producing the Delft Bible in 1477, which was the first book printed in Dutch—and his successor, Christiaen Snellaert.
  • On 10 July, 1584, William is shot dead by the Roman Catholic zealot Balthazar Gerards in the Prinsenhof. Since the family's traditional burial place in Breda is still in the hands of the Spanish, he is buried in the Delft Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), inaugurating a tradition for the House of Orange that has continued to the present day. Willem's dream of religious tolerance is short-lived. Violence forces Catholics to give up their place of worship. Roman Catholic churches are seized and sacked. Works of art and liturgical objects that express "Popish idolatry" are destroyed in the iconoclastic fury. Catholics and adherents of other banned religions must resort to hidden and illegal churches in existing buildings. Initially, authorities take action against this phenomenon. Later governments take an increasingly pragmatic stance since it had become clear that a large part of the population would never join the Reformed Church—many government officials embrace the official church only to maintain their job and social position. The use of hidden churches is therefore increasingly tolerated. Around this time, Delft also occupies a prominent position in the field of printing. A number of Italian glazed earthenware makers settled in the city and introduce a new style.
  • At the end of the 16th century the status of Delft as a military stronghold has declined. By that time, the front gate of the Schiedam is already in ruin, and in 1590-1591, extensive renovations are carried out.
  • In 1591, Vermeer's father, Reynier Jansz. (c. 1591–1652), is born on Beestenmarkt number 14 in a house called Nassau, in Delft. His parents were the tailor Jan Reyersz., who had moved from Flanders to Delft by 1597 and Cornelia (alias Neeltge Goris, who died 1627). Neeltge Goris is active as uijtdraegster, or a second hand goods dealer, liquidating estates of deceased people. Paintings are frequently part of estates.
  • In 1592, a citizen of Antwerp, carpet and tapestry weaver François Spierinx (c.1576?-1630?), flees persecution in Antwerp and establishes his business in Delft. Delft offers him the vacant Saint Agnes Convent, near the East Gate, free of charge to stimulate the local tapestry business. Soon, great numbers of "embroiderers" and "tapestry-workers" flock from the South. Richly decorated pieces only appear at the end of the seventeenth century. However, this imported textile industry is only a moderate success. Other than Spierinx, only a few Delft cloth traders become rich. The industry is primarily intended to keep the poorest of the population off the street and offer women and children a meager additional income.
  • In 1592, Moijses van Nederveen receives permission from the Delft city council to set up a powder mill outside the Waterslootsepoort, just across the border from Delft in Vrijenban, roughly at the location of the current Kogelgieterij. In the powder mill, nitre, sulfur, and coal are mixed with horsepower to form gunpowder. This is a dangerous process. The mill will explode in 1604 and again in 1742.
  • In 1595, the Marktveld is repaved, in which a compass rose is installed in front of the Nieuwe Kerk.
  • In 1596, the painter Leonaert Bramer (1596–1674) is born in Delft. He creates genre, religious, and history paintings and becomes close to the family of Johannes Vermeer.
  • At the end of the 16th century, the city council officially establishes a few street names for the first time. These concern four streets on the site of the former Sint-Ursula monastery at Gasthuislaan. Because many Flemish textile workers live there, they name the streets after the cities of Tournai, Lille, Ypres, and Bruges.
  • In 1601, a group of twelve merchants and manufacturers of Delft decide to ready a ship for a voyage to the East Indies. The following year, however, the States General force all the existing overseas trading companies to form a single Dutch East India Company, putting an end to competition between them.
  • The 1660s, the so-called Dutch Golden Age, was a period of remarkable economic, cultural, and scientific flourishing in the Netherlands, which, like many cities in the Netherlands, was shared by Delft. Key factors included maritime trade dominance via the Dutch East India Company, the establishment of a modern financial system, and advancements in art, exemplified by painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer. Additionally, it saw notable progress in the sciences and politics, positioning the Netherlands as one of the world's major powers. The prosperity enjoyed by Holland's middle classes did not extend to everyone. Much less wealth seeped down to the lowest classes than is often assumed from the neat streets and well-ordered households that appear in so many of the era's paintings. The workhouse, the poorhouse, slum living and child labor were all evident. A laborer worked 14 hours or more a day for a few pennies; an able seaman, who ran a 50-50 chance of not coming back from an Indies voyage, made two or three guilders a week. Recent research shows that the Golden Age was far from golden for perhaps half the population.
  • In 1602, the VOC (Dutch East India Company) is founded as the world's first shareholders' company. It is an amalgamation of small, independent trading companies to which the States-General of the Dutch Republic grant far-reaching privileges. The most important of these is a monopoly on all trade east of the Cape of Good Hope. The company's main goal is to acquire a share of the profitable trade made in spices, textiles, and precious metals produced in this vast region, which includes Persia and India, the Malaysian Peninsula, the Indonesian archipelago, China, and Japan. The VOC consists of six Chambers (Kamers) in port cities: Amsterdam, Delft, Rotterdam, Enkhuizen, Middelburg, and Hoorn. The company rapidly expands becoming the largest employer in the Republic, and the growth of its power is felt immediately, even in the smaller participating cities. Delft, with a total investment of 469,400 guilders, is one of the smaller chambers. Although Delft is inland, it has access to the Atlantic Ocean through the port city of Delfshaven, a municipality of Delft, thereby allowing the import of vast quantities of precious Chinese porcelain. Some pieces are visible in Vermeer's paintings.
  • In 1615 - Vermeer's father, then a silk weaver (kaffawerker), marries Digna Baltens (d.1670) in Amsterdam. When Digna signs a statement to the effect that she is unmarried at the time, she with a cross. Later she learns to sign her name in full. The marriage is performed on 18 July. Reynier Jansz. is 24 years old.
  • In 1620, only about one-fourth of the population of Delft belongs to the Reformed Church. The city harbors many Catholics and Mennonites, as well as a range of religious minorities. Many citizens, however, prefer to remain unaffiliated with any church. Protestants and Catholics participate equally in many areas of public life in Delft; for example, in the guilds, which regulate economic life, and in the civic-guard companies. Vermeer's parents baptize, Gertruy, their first child, in Delft.
  • In the beginning of the 17th century, there are about 100 breweries in Delft.
  • Between 1602 and 1680, the Delft chamber of the VOC alone sends out eighty-two ships, in sizes ranging from about one to six hundred tons. Managers of the company maintain a yacht at the quay just west of the Schiedam Gate. The boat runs back and forth to Delfshaven, where ships returning from the East are unloaded into the small damlopers (dam runners) that carry the goods to warehouses in Delft. Since the decline in the brewery industry, Delft investors begin to seek new ventures in land, government loans, and shares of the VOC.
  • On May 29, 1611, the Guild of Saint Luke is founded, although the guild had existed long before. It is named after its patron saint, the Evangelist Luke. According to legend, the evangelist had painted a portrait of the Virgin Mary. Further, Luke's gospel is known as the most visual account in the Bible, including details and atmosphere. In Delft, as in every other artistic center, artists, and artisans come together primarily to limit the import of artworks from outside the city. The guild system is designed to improve the crafts and protect their quality. Members are required to pass a compulsory master's test, which guarantees the quality of the products and keeps them at a high level. Other protective measures are used to combat the increase in counterfeit goods and control foreign imports. For example, this is accomplished by limiting only painters belonging to the guild to sell paintings. The board of the guild comprises six members (two potters, two stained-glass artists, and two painters) under the leadership of a dean who is a member of the council of forty, a municipal advisory body. The painters are the most influential members. Membership of the guild brings along benefits as well as obligations and rules. A member is not allowed to take over another member's job except in cases of force majeure, such as illness or drunkenness. A simple sick benefit system exists, providing income and medical aid in case a member becomes seriously ill. Members are expected to attend the funerals of other members. Fees and fines for trespassing these rules are collected by a footman.
  • In 1613, the States General contracts Spierinx to produce a series of grand tapestries for the sum of 16,933 guilders. On May 17, 1616, Karel van Mander (1548–1606) rents a house belonging to the St. Anna convent for this purpose. Spierinx owns an art collection that boasts fine prints and drawings, including works from Italy and a superb collection by the painter Lucas van Leiden (1494–1533).
  • In 1614, the Kolk is excavated to create a more functional harbor.
  • In 1614, a milestone is reached in the development of Delft poverty relief, which would later be imitated in many other cities and earn a place in history books as the Delft model. Until then, it had been impossible to prevent poverty and begging. Attempts were made to employ the poor in the textile sector, but the number of poor people was far too large and the earnings were very low. Moreover, not everyone was able to work. In 1614, the city council takes a drastic step. The responsibilities of the deaconate and the Holy Spirit are transferred to and centralized in the Chamber of Charitate. The city is then divided into six well-organized districts, each with a deacon and a charity master who oversee the needy.
  • In 1614, the city council grants the surgeons' guild permission to set up an anatomy room in the baptistery of the Oude Kerk, with thirteen trained and competent surgeons. Their guild is supervised by the university-trained physicians employed by the city or the hospital, numbering no more than three or four. The surgeons gather in the Oude Kerk for more than four decades, until they move to a new space in 1656.
  • In 1615, Reynier Jansz. Vos and Digna Baltens, the future parents of Vermeer, are married shortly afterward they move to Delft, where they run an inn on the Market Square. Birth of Emanuel de Witte (died 1692) in
  • On August 1, 1616, riots break out in the city in protest of a new excise tax on corn. The civic guard is called out but has trouble organizing due to the crowded streets. After this incident, the civic guard is reorganized geographically into four districts, with bands stretching across the city, instead of by type of weapon.
  • From March 3 to March 4, 1618, Delft City Hall burns down. Everything is destroyed except the limestone tower; its bells are melted beyond repair, and are later re-cast as the Nieuwe Kerk's first bells in 1660. According to witness statements in the Orphanage Room, the fire from the night before had not been extinguished properly and flared up at night, leading to disastrous consequences. The floor of the Orphanage Room collapses into the Secretariat. Civilians rush to save what can be saved and manage to bring precious paintings and piles of papers to safety, but much is lost. Eventually, the entire town hall burns down, except for the heavy stone towers. It is rebuilt in Dutch Renaissance style, following a design by Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621), who also designed Prince Willem's mausoleum in the Nieuwe Kerk.
  • In 1618, the Delft mintmaster and brewer Melchior Wyntgis (15??–1626 or later) compiles an inventory of his art collection in Brussels. The collection contains 170 paintings, the total value of which he estimates at more than 12,500 guilders. A large number of them are by masters from the Southern Netherlands, and the entire collection gives the impression of being an art dealer's stock in trade.
  • On August 1, 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers leave Delfshaven aboard the Speedwell. Since then, the town's Oude Kerk has been known as the Pelgrimskerk (Pilgrim Fathers Church).
  • Starting in the 1620s, earthenware producers in Delft, Haarlem, and probably Rotterdam attempt to create high-quality imitations of Chinese porcelain. However, it is only after a prolonged period of experimentation that they succeed in making thin, light, white-glazed earthenware decorated in blue in the Chinese style.
  • In 1621, the Bank of Delft is established.
  • In 1621, an English trading company known as the Merchant Adventurers is persuaded to establish its headquarters in Delft. As a result, the city gains an import monopoly on undyed English woolen cloth. Moreover, the activities involved in processing and transporting the cloth to other parts of the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe are expected to create new jobs in Delft.
  • In 1620, the Kolk is completed.
  • In 1622, Delft has 20,150 inhabitants; by 1680, the number increases to approximately 22,000.
  • In August 1623 and April 1624, the English trading company Merchant Adventurers hosts grand celebrations in the Prinsenhof to honor Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of King James I, and her consort, King Frederick V of Bohemia.
  • In 1625, Delft establishes a bank of exchange in the newly rebuilt Town Hall to facilitate international financial transactions. Cloth dyers from other regions set up businesses in Delft, along with several English printers.
  • In c. 1627–1630, Vermeer's father, Reynier Janz., who since 1652 calls himself "Vos," rents an inn on the Voldersgracht in Delft called The Flying Fox (De Vliegnde Vos). The reason for the change of name is unknown.
  • In 1628, Leonaert Bramer, friend of Vermeer's family and believed by some to have been Vermeer's master, returns to Delft after a visit to Italy.
  • In April 1629, a captain and merchant from Delfshaven named Piet Hein (1577–1629) is appointed lieutenant admiral of the Dutch navy. Two months later, he dies in a skirmish with privateers near Dunkirk and is buried in Delft's Oude Kerk, in a tomb financed by the Delft chamber of the VOC
  • In 1631, Reynier Vos, Vermeer's father, establishes himself as an art dealer. He joins the Guild of St. Luke (the painters' guild) on October 13. In addition to being an art dealer, he is also a weaver who produces caffa, a fabric similar to silk.
  • In 1632, the scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and the artist Johannes Vermeer are born in Delft. Van Leeuwenhoek perfects the microscope and makes several groundbreaking discoveries, including the first accurate description of red blood cells. As the financial administrator of the Town Council, he later takes charge of Vermeer's estate after the artist's death and arranges for his widow to auction off his paintings. The population of Delft at this time is 21,000.
  • In 1634, English cloth merchants decide to relocate their business to Rotterdam, abandoning Delft. All subsequent attempts to rejuvenate the Delft textile industry prove futile. With the closure of the bank of exchange in the mid-1630s, Delft becomes significantly less cosmopolitan.
  • In the mid-1630s, the VOC disappoints investors, and the Delft office remains in operation only until 1676, when it is transferred to Rotterdam. A company formed with Delft capital to send ships on whaling missions to Greenland from Delfshaven fails to materialize.
  • From about 1645 to 1653 Vermeer receives his artistic training with an as yet unknown master or masters, either in Delft or possibly in another city.
  • In 1636, the first regular trekschuiten (horse-powered tow barge) connection from Delft to Leiden is established over the Vliet river, which flows into Delft from the North. Two years later, The Hague is also connected to this route with a fork in the Vliet at the current Drievliet. The connection between The Hague and Delft becomes the busiest route in the Netherlands. Between 6:30 in the morning and 7:00 in the evening, a tow boat departs from Delft to The Hague and vice versa every half hour. The trekschuiten system gains such popularity that it eventually inspires a literary genre called schuitepraatjes (boat talk). These boat-talk pamphlets discuss or poke fun at topical issues through fictional conversations between, for example, a farmer, a merchant, and a gentleman, during a trip on the tow barge.
  • In 1640, Delft is home to eleven potteries, each featuring a single kiln and employing an average of fifteen painters and servants. Vermeer's father signs a deposition as "Vermeer." Again, the reason for the change in name is unknown.
  • In 1641, Reynier Janz. Vos buys a large house and inn called "Mechelen" for 2,700 guilders on the Grote Markt (Great Market), in Delft. Three days earlier, Jan Thins (brother of Maria Thins, Vermeer's future mother-in-law) bought a house on the Oude Langendijk, Delft. In this house Vermeer will keep his studio and spend most of his adult life.
  • By 1645, only twenty-five breweries remain operational. However, the rapid expansion of the faience industry between 1650 and 1670 creates numerous new jobs, countering the notion that the decline in breweries and the textile industry deals a fatal blow to the city's economy. Families who had amassed fortunes in brewing or cloth production, and increased their wealth through wise investments in East India trade, continue to invest in public monuments and support a thriving local school of painting throughout most of the 17th century.
  • Between 1644 and 1647, due to civil unrest in China, the importation of Chinese porcelain drops from 200,000 pieces to 125,000 pieces in 1647, and to a mere 15,000 pieces in 1652. This decline stimulates production among Delft potters.
  • As the pottery industry gains prominence in Delft, potters' standing within the Guild of St. Luke evolves. By 1648, two of the six headmen are potters. Although an attempt in 1678 to form their own guild fails, the potters eventually establish their own organization within the guild in 1689.
  • On October 12, 1652, Reynier Janz. Vos, Vermeer's father,is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk, Delft.
  • In 1653, the De Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles (Royal Delft Porcelain Factory) is founded by David Anthonisz van der Pieth. Until the late 18th century, the company produces earthenware for clients in the Netherlands and across Europe, commonly known as Delftware. Delftware ranges from simple household items—plain white earthenware with little or no decoration, to incredibly ornate pieces.
  • In 1650, when Vermeer is 18 years of age, the population of Delft stands at 24,000. Slightly more than half of the citizens are native to Delft.
  • In the mid-17th century, an estimated 50,000 paintings in Delft households belong to middle-class families.
  • By the mid-1600s, the production of Delft pottery skyrockets.
  • In 1652, Carel Fabritius (1622–1654) enrolls in the Delft St. Luke's Guild and paints A View of Delft.
  • On April 5, 1653, Vermeer marries Catharina Bolnes, who is a year and a half his senior. She comes from a respected Catholic family in Gouda. Among the witnesses to the civil marriage is the successful Delft painter Leonaert Bramer (1596–1674). The night before, Bramer, and a certain Captain Melling declare that Maria Thins refused to give her consent in writing but she states that "she would suffer the (marriage) banns be published and would tolerate it." The religious ceremony occurs on April 20 in Schipluyden (or Schipluiden) according to Catholic rites and is therefore likely clandestine. The newlyweds initially reside in the Mechelen house, where Vermeer's father operates an inn on the Market Square. On December 29, Vermeer gains admission to the Guild of St Luke as a master painter. He pays a portion of his enrollment fee: 1 florin and 10 stivers. He completes the payment (a total of 6 florins) on July 24, 1656. On April 22 ,Vermeer and the successful painter Gerrit ter Borch from Deventer co-sign a document in Delft.
  • On October 12, 1654, a gunpowder magazine known as t Secreet van Hollandt explodes in an event referred to as the Delftse Donderslag (Delft Thunderclap), devastating much of the city. The explosion, caused by 40 tonnes (80,000 to 90,000 pounds) of the Netherlands' black powder reserve, results in over a hundred deaths and thousands of injuries. Fortuitously, many citizens are away attending a market in Schiedam or a fair in The Hague. Carel Fabritius, a colleague of Vermeer and Rembrandt's most gifted pupil, dies while painting a portrait, along with some of his limited body of work. Another Delft painter, Daniel Vosmaer, loses an eye. Remarkably, a baby girl is found alive after 24 hours, still sitting in her high chair and holding an apple. Arnold Bon, a bookseller and publisher, laments Fabritius's death in verse but finds solace in Vermeer's emerging talent.
  • Immediately following the catastrophic Thunderclap of 1654, Delft's mayors resolve to relocate the Pesthuis, a hospital for plague victims, to a location outside the city. In alignment with contemporary medical insights, patients suffering from the highly contagious disease are to be isolated even post-mortem. Funds are allocated to purchase land for a cemetery, which appears on a map as early as 1656.
  • In 1654, painter Jan Steen (c. 1626–1679) takes over one of the few remaining breweries—De Slang (The Snake), alternatively known as De Roskam (The Currycomb), on the city's main canal. However, he relinquishes it three years later due to financial setbacks. Steen's failure is partly attributable to a nationwide economic slump induced by the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-54).
  • In 1655, the Schie Canal is completed with a towpath along its western side. Spearheaded by the Delft city council, the project aims to facilitate commerce with Delfshaven. The trekschiuten (tow-boat ferry service) operate from the Zuidkolk, adjacent to the Kethel or Schiedam gate. They offer hourly departures in both directions and connect to Overschie, near the Maas River. From there, one can travel straight to Delfshaven, turn right to Rotterdam, or left to Schiedam. With 13 to 15 daily services to Rotterdam in both directions (except Sundays), Delft becomes a critical junction in Southern Holland's tow barge network. The undertaking involves negotiations with numerous landowners and necessitates the construction of various infrastructures like bridges, rights of way, and toll exemptions.
  • On December 14, 1655, Vermeer and his wife co-sign a document declaring themselves secondary sureties and co-principals for a debt incurred by the deceased Reynier Jansz. Vos. The document is signed "Johannes Reijninjersz Vermeer," with "Vosch" crossed out.
  • In 1656, Vermeer pays the remaining part of the master's fee in the Guild of Saint Luke. Vermeer signs one of his first known paintings, The Procuress.
  • In the 17th century, an estimated 120,000 passengers annually make the journey between Delft and Rotterdam via tow barge.
  • In 1657, Maria Thins, Vermeer's mother-in-law, in the first draft of her testament, leaves to Vermeer's daughters jewels and the sum of three hundred guilders to Vermeer and Catharina.
  • On 30 November, 1657, Vermeer and his wife acknowledge a debt of 200 guilders to Pieter Claesz van Ruijven (1624- 1674), who lent them the money on the same day. This is the first record of a relationship between the artist and his most important patron, who will eventually acquire as many as twentyone paintings by Vermeer.
  • After being proclaimed king by the English Parliament, the exiled Charles II declines invitations from France and Spain to set sail for England from their territories. Instead, he accepts an offer from the Dutch States General while residing in Breda. On May 26, 1660, Charles II arrives in Delft by yacht to a triumphant reception. He departs from The Hague on May 23, 1660, reaching London six days later.
  • By the late 1600s, Delft emerges as the primary producer of pottery in the Netherlands. This rise is partly attributed to the decline of the local brewing industry, enabling artisans to occupy larger facilities previously owned by breweries.
  • In the late 1660s, the city commissions Leonaert Bramer to decorate the Great Hall of the Prinsenhof. The canvas murals he creates depict scenes suitable for both governance and entertainment, including musicians, waiters, and banqueters.
  • By the 1650s, the trekschiuten system of horse-towed boats becomes remarkably efficient. One could travel from Delft to The Hague in as little as one hour and forty-five minutes, with departures every hour, or reach Amsterdam in approximately twelve hours. These tow boats operate with high frequency, experience minimal delays, and can sail in nearly all weather conditions. While primarily serving as passenger transports, they are also occasionally used for carrying cargo—such as gin from Schiedam distillers to Delft.
  • On December 27, 1660,Vermeer and his wife bury a child in the Oude Kerk. The same document states that the couple is living in the house of Maria Thins on the Oude Langendijk, in Delft.
  • In 1661, the painter Vermeer creates View of Delft.
  • On October 18, 1662, Vermeer ascends to the position of vice-dean of his guild. To boost its financial resources, the guild raises the apprenticeship enrollment fee from 10 stuivers to 2 florins and 10 stuivers.
  • On August 11, 1663, Vermeer receives a visit in Delft from the French art enthusiast and alchemist Balthasar de Monconys. Monconys notes in his diary that he finds the asking prices for paintings in Holland excessively high. Later that year, on October 18, Vermeer is elected dean of the painter's guild for a one-year term.
  • After 1664, Delft no longer records any cases of the plague. Probable date of birth of Johannes, one of the two known sons of Vermeer.
  • In 1665, the population of Delft reaches 25,000. Pieter van Ruijven and his wife Maria Knuijt, Vermeer's patrons leave a considerable sum five hundred guilders to Vermeer in their last will and testament. This kind of a bequest is very unusual and presumably testifies a close relationship between Vermeer and Van Ruijven. Vermeer's wife is excluded in he predeceases her. An average Dutch house might cost one thousand guilders.
  • In 1667 , Vermeer's name is mentioned in Dirck van Bleyswijck's Description of the City of Delft as the successor of the deceased painter Carel Fabritius. Maria Thins empowers Vermeer to collect various debts owed to her and to reinvest the money according to his will and discretion.
  • In 1669 - Vermeer paints, signs, and dates The Geographer. Vermeer's mother leases Mechelen to a shoemaker for three years. Pieter Teding van Berckhout, a young scion of a landed gentry family of The Hague, visits Vermeer twice and writes his impressions in a diary. Vermeer and his wife bury another child in the Oude Kerk.
  • By 1670, one-fourth of Delft's populace is engaged in pottery production. Of the over 100 breweries that once existed in the early 1600s, only 15 remain. Meanwhile, the city houses 28 pottery factories, many of which are equipped with a second kiln.
  • On February 13, 1670, Vermeer's mother passes away at her Vlamingstraat residence. On July 13, Vermeer inherits the Mechelen inn located on the Market Square. Later, on October 18, he is elected as the dean of the guild for a one-year term, along with the outgoing headman Louijs Elsevier. Vermeer's mother is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk, in Delft, February 13. Gertruy Reynier Vermeer, Vermeer's sister, is buried in the Nieuwe Kerk, in Delft. In 1671, Vermeer inherits 148 guilders from his sister Geertruyt.
  • In 1672, Vermeer leases his deceased father's inn, Mechelen, to an apothecary for six years. Once he is elected as an official of the Guild of Saint Luke.
  • In 1672, French King Louis XIV invades the Netherlands, marking the Het Rampjaar (the disaster year). On January 1 of the same year, Dirck van Bleyswyck publishes Beschryvinge der Stadt Delft (Description of the City of Delft). Forced by illness to abandon his travel plans, van Bleyswyck opts to delve into the history of his hometown from his sickbed. Despite his love for Delft, he observes a generational shift, as the younger generation seems increasingly interested in foreign cultures at the expense of local heritage. This change in sentiment, van Bleyswyck believes, can be attributed to the republic's prosperity and global expansion by the latter part of the 17th century.
  • On January14, 1672, Vermeer leases the Mechelen to an apothecary for a period of six years . Later, on 23 May, Vermeer is summoned to The Hague with several other painters to appraise a collection of twelve Italian paintings. This appraisal was needed due to a dispute between the art dealer, Gerrit van Uylenburgh, and their potential buyer, Friedrich Wilhelm, the Grand Elector of Brandenburg.
  • On April 9, 1672, Delft dispatches troops to defend against the French invasion. By June 29, jobless protesters from Schiedam have occupied the Delft City Hall. On September 10, half of the Veertigraad (Council of Forty), composed of Delft's wealthiest citizens, are replaced by pro-Orangist officials.
  • On May 3, 1672, Johannes Vermeer and fellow Delft painter Hans Jordaens travel to The Hague. Along with other artists like Karel Dujardin, they assess thirteen "Italian" paintings being sold by Gerrit Uylenburgh to the Elector of Brandenburg and deem them of poor quality.
  • On June 27, 1673, another child of Vermeer and his wife was laid to rest in the Old Church in Delft in a grave purchased by Vermeer's mother-in-law, Maria Thins. Later, on 21 July, Vermeer visited Amsterdam and sold two bonds totaling 800 guilders to Hendrick de Schepper. One of these bonds, valued at 500 guilders, had initially been issued in the name of Magdalena Pieters van Ruijven, who was the daughter of Vermeer's patron, Pieter Claesz. van Ruijven.
  • In 1674, Vermeer's name appears on the register of the Delft militia. In the words of a Delft edict of 1655, Schutterij (the Dutch word for guardsman) were "the most suitable, most peacefully and best qualified burgers or children of burgers." On 4 May, Vermeer travels to Gouda to settle some affairs of his recently deceased father-in-law, Reynier Bolnes. On 10 June, Maria Vermeer, the eldest daughter of the artist, marries Johannes Gillisz. Cramer, a merchant.
  • In 1675, in the last document in which Vermeer's name appears he was alive, the artist borrowed one thousand guilders from Jacob Rombouts in Amsterdam, using as collateral a restricted obligation under the custody of the Orphan Chamber of Gouda for 2,900 guilders, to the usufruct of which Maria Thins was entitled.
  • On December 1, 1675, Vermeer was buried in an "Eijgen Graff" (Own Grave) in the Oude Kerk. The grave was owned by his mother-in-law Maria Thins. A number of Johannes and Catharina’s children had previously been buried in the same plot prior to Vermeer’s death. A recently discovered register regarding the people buried in the Delft's Oude Kerk states that Vermeer's coffin was carried by fourteen pallbearers and that the church bell tolled once for him. This indicates Vermeer’s funeral would have required a significant financial expenditure. Bas van der Wulp, a member of the city archives who made the discovery, explains that such a ceremony was clearly luxurious, adding that although he read about funerals in Delft with twenty pallbearers, these were reserved for members of the town's elite. Vermeer’s wealthy mother-in-law, Maria Thins, received a little more at her funeral, “two intervals of bells.” Maria Thins' troublesome son, Willem, later also received a similar funeral. Van der Wulp believes that Thins probably paid for her son -in-law's funeral thinking of eventually advancing the costs to her daughter, as they were probably not yet aware of the financial misery in which Vermeer was in at that time.
  • On February 29, 1676, an inventory of movable objects from Vermeer's estate is compiled. Anthonie Leeuwenhoek, inventor of the microscope and famous scientist from Delft, is appointed executor of Vermeer's estate.
  • On February 2 and 5, 1677, Leeuwenhoek appears before the Lords Aldermen of Delft to settle Vermeer's debt with Jannetje Stevens, who then transfers back to Vermeer' estate twenty-six paintings in the possession of Jan Coelenbier. A public sale of the paintings is planned. Maria Thins notifies that The Art of Painting ("de Schilderconst") was transferred to her by her daughter and that the painting should not be included in the sale of Vermeer's estate in the Guild Hall of Saint Luke. Leeuwenhoek denies the legality of the transfer. The sale of the paintings takes place in the Guild Hall, March 15. No records of the sale survive.
  • . In the late 1660s, the city of Delft pays Leonaert Bramer for decorating the Great Hall of the Prinsenhof with canvas murals, which appear to have depicted scenes appropriate both to government (what may be The Rape of the Sabine Women on the long wall; figures of Justice and Charity on the sides of tl1e fireplaces) and to entertainment (musicians, waiters, and banqueters).
  • In 1680, Delft's population is recorded as 25,000. On December 27, Maria Thins is buried and her daughter Catharina Bolnes inherits her possessions.
  • On January 2, 1688, Catharina Bolnes, Vermeer's wife, is buried in Delft's Oude Kerk. Her death certificate indicates that she had moved to a Verversdijk residence, known by the sign of the Blue Hand.
  • In 1687, Catharina dies in Delft during a visit to her daughter Maria Vermeer and Johannes Cramer at their house the "Blue Hand" on Verwersdijk. She is given her Last Sacraments on December 30 and is buried three days later. Her relatives could afford to pay twelve pallbearers. She leaves five children under twenty-five years of age who were still unmarried.
  • Around 1700, Delft's population stands at approximately 22,000. Many foreigners leave the city, but Delftware factories peak in number, reaching over thirty establishments. Employee counts per factory are estimated to range from fifteen to sixty.
  • In 1732, the population of Delft decreases to 15,000.
  • By 1749, the population further dwindles to 13,900.
  • Between 1834 and 1836, the Rotterdam and Schiedam Gates, landmarks featured in Vermeer's View of Delft, are taken down.

  • * Among the sources for this timeline are the invaluable Oefgoed Delft Stadsarchief (City Archives Delft)—particularly the article entitled 365 DAYS DELFT—and the Lens on Leeuwenhoek website.

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 Kerk (Old Church) and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), 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."

"Seventeenth-century Delft was stately, conservative, and aristocratic. In a country known for its cleanliness, it was reputed to be the cleanest town in the Netherlands. The Calvinist preachers exhorted their flocks to keep their souls as immaculate as their houses. Cleanliness was not only a matter of godliness: it was also good for the beer business. Since the Middle Ages, ordinances had been in effect that prohibited throwing rubbish and feces in the canals, to keep the water pure for the breweries."John Michael Montias, Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 8.

"Delft was a beer town; few streets lacked an inn or tavern, and Delft beer was said to be as strong as wine. The process of brewing required cleanliness, and Delft was a place where domestic cleanliness was highly valued, yet the great age of Delft breweries had passed. In the previous century, the town had a country-wide reputation for its beer, but in this period the number of breweries had declined with more competition from other towns and the loss of markets in the southern provinces; because of this, the city's tax assessment from the States-General had been reduced in 1612. Even so, in 1617 the English traveller Fynes Moryson claimed that Delft had 300 breweries, certainly enough for its twenty-five thousand people. One brewery on the east side of the Pontemarket was called the World Turned Upside-Down, in which Carel Fabritius painted a mural; the widow who owned the brewery removed the mural when she sold the establishment in 1660. The quantity of beer Delft drinkers put away was said to be 250 liters a year per head of population, and if the city's children were left out of the reckoning, the quantity per head was all the greater: a good deal of Dutch courage. A hangover was the inevitable day-after condition for those attending family parties, weddings, or funerals. A large tankard or vaan containing roughly a liter or a quart cost about two stuivers, a tenth of a guilder. Beer was drunk at all times of day, from breakfast on, in inns with such names as the Serpent, the Golden Mill, the Young Prince, the Target, and the Three Hammers. The latter was a pub in the Small Cattle Market where Vermeer's paternal grandmother, Geeltge Goris, had lived with her second husband Claes Cortiaenszoon van der Mione. Some inns served clienteles drawn mostly from foreign residents who had been attracted by the town's prosperity: for instance, the Delft English House, the French House, or the Scotch Arms. An inn called Mechelen that stood on the corner of the Market Place and the Oudemansteeg, an alley that went through to the Voldersgracht, would have attracted by its name—that of a town in the southern Netherlands—immigrants from those parts. Many Dutch patriots would recall Mechelen as the place where in 1572 Spanish soldiery had invaded a convent and raped Catholic nuns."Anthony Bailey, Vermeer: A View of Delft (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2002), 44-45. Vermeer's family connection with beer through the two inns his father and mother ran—The Flying Fox and Mechelen—as well as with "beer-money" via the Van Ruijvens, Vermeer's patrons.

Beer making in seventeenth century Delft was a sophisticated and economically significant industry, benefiting from the Dutch Golden Age's innovations and prosperity. The beers produced were diverse, and the brewing methods were advanced for the time. The basic ingredients of beer (water, malt, hops, and yeast) were well known, but the precise brewing methods varied. Dutch brewers were skilled in these techniques, and they often kept their recipes and methods a secret to maintain a competitive edge.

The use of hops in brewing was well established by the seventeenth century. Hops not only added flavor but also acted as a preservative, allowing beer to be stored and transported over longer distances. This was a significant advancement over earlier medieval beers, which were often flavored with a mixture of herbs known as gruit. Water quality was crucial in brewing, and each city's beer had a distinct taste because of its local water source. Delft, like many Dutch cities, would have had its unique water profile, influencing the characteristics of its beer.

Brewing was an important industry and was often regulated by brewers' guilds. These guilds controlled the quality of beer, the brewing process, and even the price. The Dutch were also significant traders of beer, exporting it throughout Europe.

Delft, like other Dutch cities, had numerous breweries, which ranged from small, family-run operations to larger enterprises. Delft was known for its high-quality beer. Dutch cities like Delft, Haarlem, and Gouda were reputed for their brewing. While detailed recipes from the period are scarce, Delft, like other Dutch cities, likely produced a range of beers, from light, more perishable ales to heavier, hoppier beers that could be exported.

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."

from: Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer." In The Public and the Private in the Age of Vermeer, 34. Osaka, 2000.

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.

When Vermeer was born in Delft in 1632, the city was already more than 350 years old. In those times, Delft was a prosperous, if conservative, Dutch town located in the south of the United Provinces, in the province of Holland. It had survived devastating fires and various bouts with the plague but it boasted a long and distinguished past. It was not only the home of the famous School of Delft of painting, but also a thriving center for the decorative arts: tapestry, silver, and faience, or Delft Blue, (click here for a detailed timeline of Delft).

In 1657, when the twenty-one-year-old painter began to exercise his profession, Delft had about 22,000 inhabitants. It had a near-rectangular shape whose longer side runs roughly from south to north, about 1.3 kilometers long and 0.75 kilometer wide. It was surrounded by medieval walls, eight armed gates to discourage potential invaders, and a navigable moat that branched out to the rest of the Netherlands, one of which led to Rotterdam and, via the Maas River, to the North Sea. Internally, Delft was crisscrossed by a series of canals flanked by tree-lined streets. Foreigners often remarked on the city’s lovely architecture, peaceful atmosphere, salubrious water, and exceptional cleanliness.

Getting around Delft required no particular means. A walk from Vermeer's studio on Oude Langendijk to his father’s inn, Mechelen, where the young painter had grown up, took a bit more than two minutes—another 40 footsteps got him to the front steps of the Guild of Saint Luke, the guild of Delft’s artists and artisans in which Vermeer served two times as dean. To check in on the latest progress of Peter de Hooch, one of the most talented painters living in Delft and probably a friend, required about four minutes. To the house of the renowned scientist and lens-maker Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, about two and a half minutes. One of the longest walks he took was to the Hooikade, where he painted the epic View of Delft from the second-story room of a long-lost inn: twelve minutes by foot.

In the seventeenth century, every ambitious European painter aspired to travel to Italy, and especially to Rome, where Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci had established and practiced the fundamental rules of the art of painting. None of the great masters responsible for the rise of Dutch painting, however, felt the need to go to Italy. Esaias van de Velde, Jacob van Ruisdael, Frans Hals, Vermeer, Jan Steen, and Rembrandt stayed in Holland close to their own culture. Vermeer is documented to have taken various business trips to Gouda, and once to Amsterdam, on behalf of his mother-in-law, Maria Thins. However, it is hard to imagine that the painter, whose work shows an awareness of cutting-edge art movements, would not have traveled more extensively to the thriving art centers of Dutch art—which were relatively near one another—to seek out fellow artists to exchange ideas and inspect their latest works first hand.

trekschuit Inside a trekschuit

By the time Vermeer became active as a painter, the Netherlands had developed a vast and highly efficient transportation system of canals, which connected all the major cities. The horse-drawn trekschuit was so efficient that one could travel from Delft to Rotterdam in an hour and forty-five minutes, with departures every hour. Travel by trekschuit was immensely popular because other than being reliable, comfortable, and cheap, it was also possible to travel safely in any weather. It was so popular that it is portrayed many times in Dutch paintings, including Vermeer’s own View of Delft, which exhibits the artist’s familiarity, if not sympathy, with trekschuit travel. In the left-hand lower corner of the painting, a typical covered trekschuit rests silently moored along the triangular body of water on the south side of Delft, called the Kolk. Vermeer portrays the front of the boat with a reddish canopy formed by a tarpaulin stretched over hoops that protected second-class passengers from intermittent drizzle and rain. Out of sight, on the back of the ship, was a wooden deckhouse for first-class travelers. Six figures, including an infant, are stationed on the sand quay waiting peacefully for the arrival of the schipper, the horse, and the jagertje who will carry them to The Hague or Leiden. Vermeer must have taken a trekschuit from this very spot many times.

In front of the trekschuit, two men speak to an elderly woman, all soberly dressed. Each of the men wears a black, wide-brimmed hat made of felted beaver fur, which at the time arrived in Europe via French traders operating in North America. Such hats were fashionable across much of Europe during the period 1550–1850. In Vermeer’s paintings, they appear in the Officer and Laughing Girl and the Glass of Wine. The soft yet resilient hairs of the beaver could be easily combed to make a variety of hat shapes. A good beaver hat could retain its shape when wet. A detail from the lower left of Vermeer's View of Delft shows that he was intimately familiar with towboat travel. To the left, a nurse holds a newborn infant in her arms. Her deferential body language suggests she is their social inferior. Two elderly women stand face to face to the right and converse as they wait. Both wear similar headgear and blue aprons, which appear countless times in Dutch paintings of daily life. The woman to the left carries a basket. Originally, a man stood to the right of the two figures but it was painted out by Vermeer. Such details remind us that Vermeer was indeed a great painter but one who nonetheless experienced the pleasures and pains of ordinary life like anyone else.

In 1633, a quarter of a million people were transported by trekschuits. The number increased significantly as time passed. The speed was only about 7 kilometers per hour, which was faster than walking, but far more comfortable than by horseback or by stagecoach—the stagecoach was almost twice as fast, but four to five times more expensive. Roads were, being no more than dirt paths, impossible to use in bad weather. If the trip took too long, the skipper promptly refunded his passengers. But fines were also levied for departing too late; running latecomers were left behind. A typical trekschuit could carry about 20 to 30 passengers. Those who wanted a specific seat or seat cushion had to pay a little extra (one penny). In addition to passengers, trekschuit also carried small cargo, letters, and money.

To reach Amsterdam, Vermeer would have taken an early morning walk to the North side of the Kolk, the harbor on the South-east corner side of Delft where towboats departed for Leiden, Haarlem, and Amsterdam every day following strict schedules. The twelve-hour trip was the longest in the Netherlands, but it was possible to disembark at crossing points and continue with the next shift two hours later, perhaps refreshing oneself with a drink at one of the various inns established along the route. Trips to nearby art centers such as Leiden, The Hague, and Rotterdam, were much shorter, making same-day round trips not only possible but easy. Although fashion may have changed from Vermeer’s time, a glimpse of the life on a towboat can be grasped from two drawings made a few decades after Vermeer died.

It is impossible to know how Vermeer mixed with his fellow travelers, but the ride was smooth enough to sketch a few interesting faces inside the covered cabin, or the slowly moving landscape from a wooden bench on the deck, perhaps while smoking a Gouda clay pipe with the boat’s vigilant skipper. Foreign diarists often remarked on the beauties of the countryside. The French diplomat Balthasar de Monconys, who once visited Vermeer’s studio, thought that with its well-tended waterways lined by trees, beautiful groves, and the picturesque windmills, "the land resembles a pleasure garden rather than plain farmland." He also noticed a large number of swans and wondered why they were ignored by the Dutch.

What kinds of conversations would Vermeer have had? There is less than unanimous consent as to the passengers' behavior and the level of their talk. Samuel Pepys, the English traveler-diarist, approved the conduct of his travel companions and was surprised to note that nearly everyone spoke French. Another Englishman described how traveling Dutch women, however, delighted with lascivious and obscene talk. Another related how he had engaged in a delightful conversation with an attractive young Dutch woman who became uncomfortably forthcoming upon their arrival, giving rise to the suspicion that he had been lured into a sex-for-money scheme. And yet, the fact that so many foreigners and Dutchmen of different classes and different geographical origins who intermingled intimately on the towboats must have had an educational effect on the populace and cemented Dutch national identity, already noted for its high level of public education and tolerance. One unexpected consequence of towboat travel was the birth of a literary sub-genre called schuitpraatjes, or "boat talks or boat prattle," which were so popular that they were sometimes even read aloud during the ride.

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 (c. 1550–1630), 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 (c.1562–1640) and Karel van Mander the Younger (1579–1623) , 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 (1565–1621). The well-known seascape-painter Hendrik Cornelisz  Vroom (c.1562–1640) 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 (1603–1689) 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 Jansz. van Mierevelt (1566–1641) 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).Kees Kaldenbach, "The Vermeer House," accessed November 19, 2023.

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.


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