It’s Thursday and it’s market day in Delft. There’s antiques, bric-à-brac and books, as well as food.
Chocolate, lollies and licorice…
This is as close as we got to herring, eel and other fishy Dutch delicacies…
Delft is primarily known for its historic town centre with canals, and now with Honey’s shoe floating around, for Delft Blue pottery where we had a beary royal experience, for the Delft University of Technology and its renowed engineering and science courses, for the painter Vermeer and the scientist Antony van Leeuwenhoek, and for its association with the Dutch royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau.
This is the most famous cityscape of the Dutch Golden Age. The interplay of light and shade, the impressive cloudy sky and the subtle reflections in the water make this painting an absolute masterpiece. We are looking at Delft from the south. There is hardly a breath of wind and the city has an air of tranquillity. Vermeer reflected this tranquillity in his composition, by making three horizontal strips: water, city and sky. He also painted the buildings a bit neater than they actually were.
You can take a guided art history tour through the painting on Kees Kaldenbach’s website: http://kalden.home.xs4all.nl
Vermeer was a Dutch painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime. He seems never to have been particularly wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings. Vermeer worked slowly and with great care, using bright colours and sometimes expensive pigments, with a preference for lapis lazuli and Indian yellow. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.
However, most everyone would be familiar with another of his paintings, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, which we saw at the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Tracy Chevalier’s novel Girl with a Pearl Earring and the film of the same name (2003) are named after the painting; they present a fictional account of its creation by Vermeer and his relationship with the (equally fictional) model. Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth playing the lead roles also made the movie memorable.
The movie did get some things right, such as the fact that Vermeer and his wife Catharina, at some point moved in with her mother, Maria Thins, who lived in a rather spacious house at Oude Langendijk. Here Vermeer lived for the rest of his life, producing paintings in the front room on the second floor. He and Catharina had 15 children, four of whom died before they were baptised. His family obligations with so many children may have taken up much of his time. He was also acting as both an art-dealer and inn-keeper in running the family businesses and he spent time serving as head of the Guild of Saint Luke, a trade association for painters in Delft. All these commitments plus his extraordinary precision as a painter may have limited his output. In addition, Vermeer never had any pupils and therefore there was no school of Vermeer.
In all probablity, Maria Thins’ dwelling stood on the corner of two streets, the Oude Langendijk and the narrow ally Molenpoort (present day Jozefstraat). At the end of the Molenpoort there was a wooden gate which served to stop cattle which had escaped from the Beestenmarkt. The site of Vermeer’s house is now occupied by the 19th-century Maria van Jesse church building. A commemorative plaque, an initiative of the Dutch art historian and Vermeer expert Kees Kaldenbach, signals the place for today’s curious.
Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes. Almost all his paintings are apparently set in two smallish rooms in his house in Delft; they show the same furniture and decorations in various arrangements and they often portray the same people, mostly women.
Recognized during his lifetime in Delft and The Hague, his modest celebrity gave way to obscurity after his death; he was barely mentioned in Arnold Houbraken’s major source book on 17th-century Dutch painting (Grand Theatre of Dutch Painters and Women Artists), and was thus omitted from subsequent surveys of Dutch art for nearly two centuries. In the 19th century, Vermeer was rediscovered by Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger, who published an essay attributing sixty-six pictures to him, although only thirty-four paintings are universally attributed to him today. Since that time, Vermeer’s reputation has grown, and he is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.
In December 1675, Vermeer died after a short illness. He was buried in the Protestant Old Church on 15 December 1675. His wife Catharina attributed his death to the stress of financial pressures. The collapse of the art market damaged Vermeer’s business as both a painter and an art dealer. She, having to raise 11 children, asked the High Court to relieve her of debts owed to Vermeer’s creditors. The Dutch microscopist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who worked for the city council as a surveyor, was appointed trustee. The house, with eight rooms on the first floor, was filled with paintings, drawings, clothes, chairs, and beds. In his atelier, there were two chairs, two painter’s easels, three palettes, ten canvases, a desk, an oak pull table, a small wooden cupboard with drawers and “rummage not worthy being itemized”. Nineteen of Vermeer’s paintings were bequeathed to Catharina and her mother. The widow sold two more paintings to Hendrick van Buyten in order to pay off a substantial debt for delivered bread.
With the market gone for the day, and all the fishy fish packed away, the little bears have come out to try safer Dutch delicacies – bitterballen, kaasstengels and mini kiploempia’s with a little cherry beer 🙂
And to finish, a little cherry cake 🙂
We need a lot more sustenance than this to tackle the House of Orange-Nassau!