Maps of Delft

Anyone familiar with Vermeer's oeuvre is aware of the maps which populate the background walls of his interior compositions. He was, however, hardly alone in his fascination for maps; any number of Dutch interiors show some kind of map, small, large, roughly sketched or more finely finished. Frans Hals, Gerrit ter Borch, Pieter de Hooch, Jan Steen, Jacob Ochtervelt, Nicolaes Maes all introduced depictions of real maps which may have had symbolic or allegorical significance. The first Dutch painter to include a wall maps (6) in a paintings was Willem Buytewech, although two of the maps.

Vermeer's Maps

In about half a dozen of Vermeer's paintings,1 maps can be seen hanging on the white-washed walls (not all are aware that a large wall map had originally been included and subsequently eliminated from the Woman with a Pearl Necklace). Five show the Netherlands and its provinces and one the European continent. Other than being interesting compositional elements and a discreet technical challenge, maps provided a type of theoretical window to the greater world outside of the quiet intimacy household environment. The presumed meanings of Vermeer's maps, and those of his colleagues, has been amply debated by Dutch art scholars and historians. Even though some confusion remains as to their precise meanings, the provenance of each of has been accurately established by the scholar James A. Welu.

Delft stem
Coenraet Decker,
Crest of the City of Delft
Engraving, From
Dirck van Bleyswijck,
Beschryvinge der stadt
, Delft, 1667–1680.

In her seminal study of Dutch realism, The Art of Describing, art historian Svetlana Alpers remarked on the mapping impulse as a peculiar characteristic of Dutch scientific and visual culture. Mapmaking and picture-making went hand in hand. According to Alpers, in no other time and place did mapping and picturing have such a strong coincidence as in seventeenth-century Holland. Map makers and map publishers were referred to as "world describers." The Dutch painter and map maker had in common the will to capture a great range of knowledge and information about the world on a flat surface.

However, real maps were made for practical purposes, for prestige and, more banally, for home decoration. In Vermeer's day, wall maps were a cheap way of embellishing bare walls and obviously struck a positive note for the Dutch whose mercantile exuberance had permitted their miniscule country to dominate great part of world trade. They were generally glued on heavy cloth and then hung with the aid of rods onto which were fixed balls which distanced their fragile surfaces from the humid walls. The demand for decorative maps was so insistent that map publishers had begun to reissue older, and in some cases, outdated ones. Seventeenth-century catalogues employed the "suitable for framing" sales pitch adding that some could be customized with decorative additions. Some were hand painted. An extremely limited number of maps have survived in respects to the amount described in inventories, catalogues and other sources. It is through Dutch painting that much of their beauty is known. Luckily, a few extraordinarily beautiful maps of Delft have survived.

Those unfamiliar with cartography of the sixteenth and seventeenth century may not recognize the geographical contents the maps of the Netherlands which are oriented with south at the top. "At this time the designing of maps with north at the top was not yet a standardized practice; a map could be arranged with north at the left, right, or bottom, according to the preference of the cartographer." The map of Europe in Vermeer's Woman with a Lute, for example, is oriented according to modern standards with the north to the top. "Wall maps of this period were usually made up of a number of engraved sheets which for display purposes were mounted onto a linen backing, then hand colored and given a coat of varnish. These large maps were often framed or mounted on rollers, as illustrated in the Budapest painting. The number of originals that survive from the sixteenth and seventeenth century is extremely low. In fact, catalogues, inventories and other documents from the period list numerous wall maps of which not a single original is known."2

Most Vermeer enthusiasts are familiar with the famous Kaart Figuratief and/or Joan Blaeu's Map of Delft. They describe the town so precisely that they are frequently used to locate those places in Delft which are of interest to the study of the artist's life (see map below) and can be used today for a walk around Delft's historic center. But while Vermeer represented various maps of the Netherlands and one of Europe, he never once represented a map of his birthplace. In the case of the Kaart Figuratief, we should remember that it rolled off the presses in 1678, three years after the artist's death. Vermeer's pride in his home town is evident in the famous View of Delft, perhaps the most important townscape in European easel painting.

Dirck Van Bleyswyck's Beschryvinge der Stadt Delft & the Kaart Figuratief

Kaart Figuratief, De Ram
Click here to a view of Kaart Figuratief with all its decorative elements

One of the great expressions of Delft's civic pride was the publication (first volume 1667) of Dirck van Bleyswyck's Beschryvinge der Stadt Delft, "The Description of Delft," an invaluable 900 page history of the city and one of the most ambitious seventeenth-century projects of its kind. Van Bleyswijck (1639–1681) was born into a prominent family and was sheriff, orphan master and burgomaster as well. He is known to have traveled extensively throughout the 17 Provinces.

Dirck Evertsz van Bleyswijk at the Age of Thirty
Dirck Evertsz van Bleyswijck at the
Age of Thirty

Johannes Verkolje
from Beschryvinge der Stadt
, private collection

Van Bleyswijck must have been an exceptionally resourceful Dutchman full of love and pride for Delft. At the time the Beschryvinge der Stadt Delft was first published he was only 27 or 28 years old. The idea for the book was born in a peculiar circumstance. Although Van Bleyswijck was forced by an illness to abandon plans for a tour of the Netherlands, France and Italy, he decided to take advantage of his bed-ridden condition to explore the history of his hometown. The book is the history of the city with descriptions of the greatest accomplishments of its citizens and a description of Delft's important monuments. Van Bleyswijck noted with disappointment that his own generation of Delt citizens was more fascinated by the foreign imports and modes rather than by their own cultural heritage.

Having noted Van Bleyswijck's ingenuity the town council of Delft commissioned a celebratory map called the Kaart Figuratief and put him in charge of the impressive task. The undertaking was sponsored chiefly by the Delft elite burger class, who dominated all aspects of civic life and were eager to extend their influence and enhance their own prestige.

Vermeer's Neighborhood

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.

The Kaart Figuratief is undoubtedly the most important map of Delft, a "true topographical monument (B. van 't Hoff)."3 However, it is not a map in the modern sense, rather, it is a hybrid of a map, an aerial photograph and theatre stage in which the whole town of Delft is seen from a bird's-eye view with buildings shown in isometric perspective. The drawing's three-dimensional relief offers an unparalleled sensation of a real brick-and-mortar town in miniature and it is difficult not to be moved by it. Beautiful as the Kaart Figuratief may be, it still has one drawback for the modern historian: it depicts a smaller number of buildings on any given city block than there actually were.4 Thus, exact measurements and identifications of specific building is not always possible. It also does not show the improvised wood structures in which the poor lived in the areas immediately surrounding the walled town.

Mouth of the River Meuse and a view on Rotterdam - Map of the river Maas
Mouth of the River Meuse and a View on Rotterdam
Map of the river Maas
Jacob Quack
Collectie Gemeentearchief, Rotterdam

The Kaart Figuratief was very likely inspired by a map of the Maas River Delta published by Jacob Quack in 1665 in Rotterdam, in which the port city was prominently displayed while Delft clearly had a secondary role in the map's scheme. The Kaart Figuratief was not made only to decorate Delft public buildings, but was sent to foreign dignitaries and authorities of other Dutch cities.

The Kaart Figuratief consists, apart from the detailed map of Delft, of a large profile of the city, a smaller profile of Delfshaven, 24 small city-views and prints of small maps of the "stadsheerlijkheden" (a sort of suburb) as well as four emblems of the city's principal burgomasters and a short description of the city. Its borders were decorated with coats of arms, Cupids, fishes, storks (see left), human figures (such as those of the claymixers and clothe-cutters, both important occupations for Delft's economy) symbolic figures and a 14-line poem by Constantijn Huygens, a sort of complete Renaissance man of the Untied Provinces. By representing Delfshaven (at that time a Delft municipality), Delft cast itself as an important seaport and boasted the headquarters of the Hoogheemraadschap van Delftland, the commission that exercised power over all of the vital waterway system of the region. In the lower corner right of the map male figures lie among a heap of the city's most important products: faience and clothe.

With these separately printed features it was possible to compose a large monumental wall map or to arrange it in three combinations for smaller prints. Detailed instructions for the arrangements ("Onderrechtung" resp. "Advertentie") by Van Bleyswijck were published.

Naturally, the greater part of the "Kaart" conforms with the older map of Blaeu. But much work had to be done just the same to bring the map up to date. Van Bleyswijck reports that in 1676 the surveyor ("landmeter") Jacob Spoors, together with a number of assistants made a detailed surveying of the city and were paid 174 guilders by the magistrate. The most significant novelty in Delft topography was the construction of the Paardenmarkt upon the site of the area demolished by the Delft explosion of the gunpowder-magazine in 1654.

Why Storks? 5

a stork of Delft Surprisingly, storks appear various times as protagonists of the Kaart Figuratief. Some are scattered about in the outskirt fields while others are featured more prominently in the large stem to the lower-right of the map.

Storks were encouraged to build their nests in Delft since its citizens believed that they brought good fortune. Storks with clipped wings formed a colorful note along the street where the fish market was held. The were also admired for their courage: a story was told that a stork, who was unable to move her barely fledged chicks from their nest during the Great Fire of Delft of 1536, covered them with her wings to save them from the flames. It may not be a coincidence that the colors of the Delft coat-of-arms ia re the same as those of the stork, a black bar on an argent ground.

Various historical documents (bills, receipts etc.) from the years 1675–1677 are housed in the Delft Municipal Archive which reveal the process of the Kaart's production. The total amount of the costs was 2,666 guilders 15 stuiver. A medium-sized house in those times might cost from 800 to 1,000 guilders.

Johannes de Ram engraved the plan of Delft while Coenraet Decker was responsible for engraving all the pictorial elements which included many propagandistic embellishments. A number of craftsmen and draughtsmen were employed. Payments were made to the accomplished painter Johann Verkolje for the drawings of Delfshaven in profile, the large, panoramic profile of Delft, and the two churches with their towers. Pieter van Asch (an excellent still life painter) made two drawings of the Overschie and Voorburg. Andries Hoogeboom was the typesetter, Andries Smith the printer and Jacobus Robijn hand-colored the maps. Moreover, the original maps were adorned with elaborate gilt frames. Steven Swart, a woodcarver, and, Joris Arentszm, a painter and gilder, made eleven elaborate frames with carefully orchestrated symbolic images all determined by the erudite Van Bleyswijck. For example, the sun which dominates the top of the frame, which now graces one of the frames in the Delft Prinsenhof, is explained in Latin: Sol iusteae illustra nos (The sun of justice shines on us).

Van Bleyswijck published in the "Beyvoegselen" (attachments) to the second volume of his Beschryvinge a "Sleutel ofte uytlegginge van de Sinne-beelden..." (key for the interpretation of the allegories). This lead to the assumption that the second volume of Bleyswijck's Beschryvinge van Delft had been published soon after 1677. For the printing of this new volume Van Bleyswijck made use of a number of plates intended for the Kaart Figuratief (mainly the city views), to save money for the production of new plates. Later, in 1729, the Delft citizen Reinier Boitet6 used many of the plates from the Kaart Figuratief for his own Beschryving der stad Delft (little more than Van Bleyswijck's work with some corrections and attachments).

Maps and paintings in the Netherlands of the seventeenth century

Evangelos Livieratos and Alexandra Koussoulakou, "Vermeer's maps: a new digital look in an old master's mirror," e-Perimetron, Vol.1, No. 2, Spring 2006, 138–154.

One of the most prominent examples of the harmonic duality of maps as scientific tools and objects of culture is witnessed in the Netherlands during the seventeenth century. The Dutch were then world leaders in the field of cartographic production: globes, maps, charts and atlases were issued in unprecedented quantities during the seventeenth century in the Netherlands. This period is also known as the golden century of the country: state power and world dominion were combined with progress in science and in arts.

During the seventeenth century the globe was popularized—especially in the Netherlands—as a vanitas motif in art; both terrestrial and celestial globes were used in this sense. A well known 'vanitas' theme of this particular time in the Netherlands was Vrouw Wereld (the Lady World): an allegorical figure dating back to medieval times and personifying worldly pleasures; in paintings she appears as holding a bubble and wearing on her head an orb or globe—the bubble and the globe symbolize transience Dutch mapmakers of the time were even combining more skills: they were surveyors, cartographers, painters of landscapes and even more.

Artists of the time were employed in executing maps and plans of all kinds; the transformation from map to landscape- or city-view and vice versa made the distinction between the scientific and the artistic, as we experience it today, almost non-existing. Perhaps we cannot grasp the lack of this distinction, because nowadays we are not aware of the pre-industrial way of the world, when craftsmanship was the natural link between the scientific and the artistic.

Kaart Figuratief (1675–1678) in Detail

  • dimensions: 81.5 (82.5) x 124.5 (125.5) cm. Printed with four copper plates (the plates are housed in the Stedelijk Museum "Het Prinsenhof." It is still possible to make new prints of the Kaart Figuratief with these plates.)
  • justification: East-Nord-East above.
  • center top: two emblems of Delft.
  • top left-hand: depiction of the "College/VAN DE GROOTE / VISCHERIJE / VAN / HOLLANT/ende/WESTVRIESLANT" with emblems of Delft, Schiedam, Enkhuizen, Brielle and Rotterdam.
  • right-side top: small map of the "HOOGH HEEMRAEDSCHAP VAN DELFLANDT" (Water and Dyke Board) with above the emblem of Delfland and beneath the pictures of the "Huis Honselaersdijk" and Rijswijk stylistic emblems of the "13 HOOFT AMBACHTEN" resp. 13 SLUYSEN VAN DELFLANT" (watergates) surrounding the picture.
  • right-side below: "OP D'AFBEELDINGE DER STADT DELFT" / Door bevel van de Hoogh-Achtbare Heeren / Burgemeesteren / der selve uytgegeven" (Picture of the city of Delft / published by the order of the city's honorable Mayors); beneath a poem in 14 lines, signed "CONSTANTER" (= Constantijn Huygens sen.). Beneath: "met Privilegie voor 15 Iaren." Surrounded by depictions of ceramic-making.
  • left-side below: 4-part compass-rose, measure: 13 cm. = 50 "Delflandsche ofte/Rynlandsche Roeden" (rod = old square measure)
  • bottom: "Amsterdam by Pieter Smith," left below: "I. De Ram Fecit."

.in collaboration with Adelheid Rech.

Details of the Kaart Figuratief

A windmill
Rotterdam Gate

Oude Kerk

Oude Langendijck

St Luke guild


River Schie

Engravings from of
Beschryvinge der Stadt Delft

Convent of St Agatha

Communal Land House

Old Hospital
Town Hall
Nieuwe Kerk

Oude Kerk

Map of Delft by Joan Blaeu

Map of Delft, Willem Blaeu

Delfi Batavorum vernacule Delft, published in Amsterdam, 1649

Detailed plan of the city Delft from Joan Blaeu's town book of the Netherlands, first published one year after the peace of Munster and the Spanish acknowledgement of the Dutch Republic. Delft was one of the chambers of the V.O.C. Blaeu planned his town book towards the end of the battle with Spain to consist of two volumes, one showing the towns of the Republic, the other showing towns belonging to Spain. In the second edition, due to a large scale re-conquest of land by the Republic, Blaeu had to transfer several towns to the volume showing towns of the Republic and as a consequence this volume became larger than the other, thus the composition of the atlas became linked to the struggle for independence of the Republic.

The Blaeu map accurately follows that of Marcus Zuerius Boxhorn (Professor in Leiden), published in 1632 in Theatrum sive Hollandiae Comitatis by Hendrik Hondius in Amsterdam.

Click here for a detailed zoom feature of Blaeu's map.

  • justification: East-Nord-East above.
  • dimensions: 37.5 x 49 cm.
  • above center: a cartouche, written in thin letters: "Delf."
  • top right: an empty vignette

Blaeu converted the map by Boxhorn into folio-format to be included in his Stedenatlas van de Verenigde en van de Koninklijke (Zuidelijke) Nederlanden (two volumes, 1649). A comparison with the proof copy the revised map presents the following changes:

  1. The vignette in the middle was given another inscription.
  2. The Delft emblem on the top left of the proof copy was moved to the right side. The left-hand one became an emblem of Holland.
  3. The index of the proof copy, originally intended as a large vignette on the top right was moved to the below left..
  4. The Doelenstraat was lengthened, with a new bridge over a new canal (now Raam, north-side from Paardenmarkt).
  5. A windmill at the corner of two canals (present Achterom and Zuiderstraat), by Boxhorn and in the proof copy (Blaeu) depicted with blades, had become a trunk without blades.

The "proefdru" designed after Boxhorn necessitated s few topographical changes published to be publiushed in Joan Blaeu's Stedenatlas.

Information about the map of Delft in the Stedenatlas van de Nederlanden (City Atlas of the Netherlands) by Joan Blaeu (1649):

  • dimensions: 37.5 x 49 cm.
  • justification: East-Nord-East above.
  • top center: vignette "DELFI BATAVORUM / vernacule / DELFT"
  • top left: emblem of Holland.
  • top right: emblem of Delft.
  • left-hand vignette: index 1–-37 in 5 columns (37 streets and monuments named expressly in the map)

Delft After the Great Fire of 1536

Delft After the Great Fire of 1536

The map above was (unusually) painted on canvas and represents Delft after the great Fire of 1536. Since the map is not executed on panel it is unlikely that it had been made in the time soon after the Great Fire. More likely, it is a copy of the original now lost. Nothing is known about the maker or the reasons for its creation.

The sections of the city which were destroyed by the fire are painted in lighter colour than those which had remained intact. The inscription on the surrounding dark border reads: "Viertien Kercken veel menschen ende huusen al sonder ghetal syn in Delft ghebrant dat Raethuys ende die vleis hal 1536" (Fourteen churches, numerous people and countless houses are burnt in Delft the Town Hall and the Meat Hall 1536").

dimensions: 92 x 160 cm.; with strip around the map: 116 x 183 cm. West-South-West above.

A List of Historic Maps of Delft

  1. map of Delft after the Great Fire of 1536.
  2. map by Jacob van Deventer, c. 1550.
  3. map in the Stedenboek by Braun and Hogenberg, first "state" (1581).
  4. map in the Stedenboek by Braun and Hogenberg, second "state" (1581) and in the Stedenatlas by Janssonius (1657).
  5. map in Plantijn's edition of Ludovico Guicciardini's Beschrijving der Nederlanden (1581, 1582 and 1588).
  6. small map ("kaartje") in Valegio's Raccolta (c. 1600).
  7. map in the northern Netherlands folio-edition of Guicciardini's Beschrijving der Nederlanden (1609–1648).
  8. drawing of a map in a manuscript housed in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek Den Haag. (single sheet)
  9. map in Boxhorn's Theater van Holland (1632 and 1634).
  10. small map of ?? (unknown origin), housed in the Municipal Archive Delft.
  11. small map in the 12o-editions of Guicciardini (1634–1660).
  12. small map in Parival's Delices de la Hollande (1651 and later).
  13. proof copy of Joan Blaeu's map of Delft (before 1649).
  14. map in the Stedenatlas van de Nederlanden by Joan Blaeu (1649)
  15. map in Matthäus Merian's Topographia Germaniae Inferioris (1655 and later).
  16. map in the Stedenatlas by Janssonius (1657), by Erven Janssonius van Waesberge (1682)
  1. Officer and Laughing Girl, c. 1655–1660, Frick Collection, New York; Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, c. 1662–1665, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, c. 1662–1665, Metropolitan Museum, New York; A Woman with a Lute, c. 1662–1665, Metropolitan Museum, New York; The Art of Painting, c. 1662–1668, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; The Love Letter, c. 1667–1670, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
  2. James A. Welu, "The Maps of Willem Buytewech," Hoogsteder-Naumann Mercury 5, 1987,
  3. Bert van 't Hoff: Oude plattegronden van de stad Delft. Rotterdam, Den Haag 1962. 10.
    This booklet provides detailed information to the most important maps of Delft
  4. Bas van der Wulp, "A View of Delft in the Age of Vermeer," in Dutch society in the Age of Vermeer, eds. Donald Haks and Marie Christine van der Sman, Zwolle: Waanders Books, 1996.
  5. Kees Kaldenbach, The Genesis of Johannes Vermeer and the Delft School' a Wall Chart on the Cultural Heritage of Seventeenth Century-Delft.
  6. note from Kees Kaldenbach's excellent Vermeer website, A multimedia encyclopedic web site on Johannes Vermeer & life in Delft: Reinier Boitet (1691–1758). Boitet was a publisher and printer; he published a newspaper from 1721 onwards and reprinted and enlarged Bleyswijck's book Description of the Town of Delft. His print shop was called De Draeck (The Dragon) on Wijnhaven at number 11–12. He was also active as poet.

The Klok