Magnificent Veduta "View of Delft" has always been considered one of Jan Vermeer's masterpieces. At auction in 1696, it was the most expensive painting sold for 200 guilders. It was acquired by the Mauritshuis Royal Gallery in 1822 for an impressive 2,900 guilders. The purchase is said to have been initiated by the first king of the Netherlands, Willem I. In the mid-19th century, View of Delft inspired French critic Théophile Toret to rediscover Vermeer.
View of Delft is the most famous 17th century landscape in Western art and one of the largest paintings by Vermeer. The interaction of light and shadow, an amazing cloudy sky and subtle reflections in the water make it an absolute masterpiece. It is a calm day and the city has a calm atmosphere. Vermeer reflected this serenity in his composition, breaking it into four horizontal stripes - coast, water, city and sky.
On the embankment on the left are a mother with a child, two fashionably dressed men and a woman conducting a conversation, and closer to the center there are two more women. The water is part of the Schee which flows into the Rhine. The water area depicted by Vermeer was expanded in 1614 to become Delft's harbor. The artist chose a north view. The picture is dominated by the fortress walls with two gates of the XIV century - Schiedam and Rotterdam. On the left, on the horizon, in the distance, you can see the spire of the Old Church. Much of the city is hidden in shadow, except for the sunlit tower of the New Church. More than half of the painting is devoted to the dramatic morning sky; a tiny clock on the Schiedam Gate shows the time after seven. "Vermeer also painted the buildings a little tidier than they actually were. "- notes Mauritshuis.
The top view of the city of Vermeer was probably painted from the second floor of the hotel. To convey the flickering reflections on the water, he used a point technique - it is easy to see it in the area of the two boats on the right. Some art historians consider this to be evidence that the artist used a camera obscura: diffuse reflections like these appear in partially focused images transmitted by the device.
Proof of how carefully Vermeer worked on this masterpiece is the fact that he mixed sand into some colors to achieve a certain effect. Examination of the painting revealed that sand was added to the ocher used to paint the window frames of the long building to the left, behind the fortress walls. This increased the reflectivity of the paint surface.
Despite the impression of precision that the painting produces, Vermeer did not strive for documentation. He seems to have shifted the buildings a bit in order to build a more harmonious composition. In topographic drawings taken at about the same time and from the same point of view, the buildings look taller and stand tighter to each other.
Today, the area that Vermeer wrote looks completely different, although the shape of the old harbor remains the same. The ramparts disappeared long ago, and the gates were demolished in the period from 1834 to 1836. Most of the medieval buildings along this part of the river have also been lost. The spire of the New Church burned down in 1872 and was replaced by a higher neo-Gothic one. The original tower of the Old Church has been preserved, although now it has a pronounced slope.
In 2019, a team led by Professor Donald Olson of Texas State University applied astronomical techniques in an attempt to pinpoint the exact date of the writing of "View of Delft." The key was the octagonal tower of the New Church, by the shadows on which scientists determined the position of the sun, and then fixed the time on the current tower clock. Previously, it was believed that the scene was depicted just after seven in the morning - as mentioned above, this time is shown by the clock on the Schiedam Gate. But this is only approximately, because minute hands appeared only at the end of the 19th century (what appears to be a minute hand in the picture is actually a counterweight to the hour hand). So the alternative reading gave the result "closer to eight".
Further, the researchers found out that the bells on the tower of the New Church were installed in 1660, and the picture shows an empty belfry. Hence, the landscape was conceived before. By entering the angle of the sun's position and time into the astronomical software, they narrowed the date ranges to two options - April 6-8 and September 3-4. And, since deciduous trees in the northern climate of Delft bloom only at the end of April, and the painting depicts thick foliage, spring dates were excluded. So astronomers concluded that Vermeer's View of Delft was inspired by the scene he observed on September 3, 1659 (or a year earlier) at about 8 am local time.
“It is known that Vermeer worked slowly. The transfer of all the details on his large-scale masterpiece could take weeks, months or even years, Olson emphasizes. - His surprisingly accurate portrayal of the characteristic and fleeting play of light and shadow on the New Church suggests that he painted at least this detail while directly observing the sunlit tower that towered over the walls and roofs of Delft. ".