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 do not appear to be taken from any of the known wall maps of the 16th or 17th century (see box right). In any case, maps were something very Dutch.
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 Vermeer's map has been accurately established by the scholar James A. Welu.
Crest of the City of Delft
Dirck van Bleyswijck,
Beschryvinge der stadt
Delft, Delft, 1667-80.
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 17th-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 16th and 17th 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.
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 17th-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 Bleyswijck at the
Age of Thirty
from Beschryvinge der Stadt
Delft, 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.
This detail of Dirck Van Bleyswyck's
Kaart Figuratief shows the area
around the Groote Markt (Market
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
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
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 17th 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, pp. 138-154 <http://www.e-perimetron.org/Vol_1_2/Livieratos_Kousoulako
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 17th 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 17th century the globe was popularised—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".