An article on Vermeer’s Delft, first published in the October issue of Jet Wings, International
There’s a ghost that haunts the historic town of Delft. She has been spotted across the Nieuwe Kerk, silently pointing the way to her master’s house. Tourists say they’ve even seen her at souvenir shops. Some swear she was inside a vodka shot glass. No one knows her name, or where she came from. They just know her as the Girl with a Pearl Earring, the girl made immortal by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.
Vermeer is one of Delft’s biggest attractions today. There is a hotel with his name, a café, a museum dedicated to his work and his life marks the most popular landmarks of the city. In fact, one of the best ways to discover the oldest parts of town is to walk the Vermeer Trail. Don’t worry, you won’t have to play adventurer- all you have to do is buy the easy-to-follow ‘Vermeer Trail’ map, available at most cafes and shops in town.
The trail begins at what was once called The Flying Fox inn (now a private home), where Vermeer was born in1632. We go past his childhood home (which was demolished in 1889) on to the looming New Church. Completed in 1496, the church is the burial site of the founding father of the Netherlands, William of Orange. It is also where Vermeer was christened.
Next up, the trail takes you all the way outside the centre, to the historic city gate at De Kolk, what was once a harbour. Many believe that is where the artist stood as he painted ‘View of Delft’, a landscape of 17th century Delft. It is worth heading here. Not only is the view of old Dutch houses along a shimmering canal still breathtaking, the gate itself dates back to the 1400s.
If all the walking starts to get tiring, head towards Beestenmarkt. The square that once housed the birthplace of Vermeer’s father. His house today is a pub called Billy Beer, decorated with teddy bears of all shapes and sizes. Beestenmarkt itself is a popular hotspot of Delft and is lined some of the city’s most famous pubs and cafes.
The map then guides you towards the Old Church (Oude Kerk), where Vermeer and his family are buried. Founded in 1246, the biggest selling point of this Gothic church is its rather visible architectural flaw. It tilts. Romantics have their own theories why.
That’s not the only mystery in Delft. Master Vermeer has one to his credit too. Every old family in Delft has a different theory about which house the artist has painted in ‘The Street’. Some say it may be in a house in Nieuwe Langendijk, there are others who believe it is actually a street behind the new Church instead. Rumour has it that every year art students spend days walking the streets of the old city, matching the light in the painting to the view in reality. Perhaps one day someone will know for sure, and real estate prices will sky rocket.
Meanwhile, there’s another spot of interest for the Vermeer enthusiast. A must-visit actually. The Vermeer Centrum Delft , which opened in 2007, is the only place in the world where there are 37 true scale reproductions of Vermeer’s paintings. If that sounds too academic (read boring), don’t worry, they’ve found a way to make it fun. There’s a recreation of a corner that appears in several paintings , including Officer and a Laughing Girl. A window is kept slightly ajar to let filtering light fall on a table covered with a red carpet exactly like the one in the artist’s studio. Visitors can become the painting – sit at the table, stand by the window and pose for photographs. And, if you’re suitably impressed by the artist when you’re done, there’s a big memorabilia shop on the way out. They even have a selection of pearl earrings, exactly like the ones worn by the Girl With A Pearl Earring.
Vermeer’s is a big hit in the kitsch department too. Nearby tourist shops are loaded with memorabilia – fridge magnets, plaques, thimbles (!), and postcards, pens, shot glasses. At the Delft Souvenir Shop, we found some magnets of The Milkmaid. And, just in case, you haven’t already had enough of Vermeer, there’s always Hollywood to lend a helping hand. Almost every store in town stocks CDs of the 2003 film, Girl with a Pearl Earring, usually near the cash counter with huge discount stickers on them. And there she is again, the ghost, staring out at you from the covers, only this time, she looks a lot like Scarlett Johansson.