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Art Through Time: A Global View

The Urban Experience Art: View of Delft

» Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632–1675)

View of Delft

View of Delft
Artist / Origin: Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632–1675)
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 1660–1661
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 38 in. (96.5 cm.), W: 45 ½ in. (115.7 cm.)
Location: Royal Picture Gallery, Mauritshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands
Credit: Courtesy of Art Resource, NY/Photo by Erich Lessing

Vermeer’s View of Delft, painted between 1660 and 1661, is one of the best-known of all Dutch cityscapes from this period.

Vermeer’s meticulously painted view shows his hometown, seen from the south, under a cloudy blue sky. Using a slightly elevated vantage point and small dapples of lead white and yellow paint to create the effect of sunlight, Vermeer calls attention to some of the most important and recognizable monuments of the city, including its fortifications and the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk. By highlighting the Nieuwe Kerk in particular, Vermeer alludes to the city’s prestigious status as the final resting place of members of the House of Orange-Nassau, beginning with William the Silent (1533–1584), founding father of the Dutch Republic. William’s magnificent tomb in the Nieuwe Kerk, designed by renowned architect and sculptor Hendrick de Keyser and completed by his son Pieter in 1623, became a national symbol of Dutch independence. Vermeer’s image of Delft not only alludes to the city’s historical significance, but also celebrates its ability to overcome obstacles in the more recent past. The painting shows the city rebuilt after it was decimated by the explosion of a gunpowder store and fire in 1654.

Vermeer’s keen ability to describe the shapes and forms of the city’s architecture is matched by his dexterity with color and the effects of light. Although it is the subject of debate among scholars, Vermeer might have been aided in these accomplishments by the use of a viewing device known as the camera obscura, a forerunner to the modern photographic camera. The depth and luminosity of Vermeer’s painting and its contrasting pockets of shadows have been linked to effects of the camera obscura, which registered light reflecting and refracting and sometimes included areas not in focus.

Additional Resources

Bailey, Anthony. Vermeer: A View of Delft. New York: H. Holt, 2001.

Kemp, Martin. The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seurat. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Liedtke, Walter A. A View of Delft: Vermeer and his Contemporaries. Zwolle : Waanders Publishers, 2000.

Steadman, Philip. Vermeer’s Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Westermann, Mariet. A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic, 1585–1718. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

Wheelock, Arthur K. Vermeer: The Complete Works. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997.

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