The Address of Vermeer's Little Street Discovered


The site and significance of the little street in Delft

Welcome to the Little Street
"The answer to the question as to the location of Vermeer's little street is of great significance, both for the way that we look at this one painting by Vermeer and for our image of Vermeer as an artist."  -- Pieter Roelofs, curator of 17th-century paintings at the Rijksmuseum.  

New research in the archives has made it possible to pinpoint the exact location of the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer's world-famous Little Street painted around 1658. Also known as View of Houses in Delft, this is the only known outdoor scene by Vermeer of this type: a quiet street with only a few figures.

The discovery of the whereabouts of Vermeer's little street is the subject of an exhibition running from 19 November 2015 to 13 March 2016 in the Rijksmuseum.

Vermeer ((b. 1632-d. 1675) has captured the various materials meticulously: the worn bricks of the masonry...

...the gleam of the leaded windows, the white- plastered wall.

He applied the paint thickly in one spot and thinly in another.

In some places it is smooth, in others grainy.

The Address of the Little Street
Frans Grijzenhout, Professor of Art History at the University of Amersterdam, consulted 17th-century records that had never before been used for this purpose. These records clearly indicate the actual site of the little street in the town of Delft.  

Various other addresses in Delft have been suggested over the years, but none was convincing.

The new source Professor Grijzenhout consulted for his research, which led to the conclusive findings is De legger van het diepen der wateren binnen de stad Delft [The Ledger of the Dredging of the Canals in the Town of Delft] of 1667, also known as the Register op het kadegeld [Quay Dues Register]. It is a record of how much tax everyone in Delft who owned a house had to pay for dredging the canal and maintaining the quay outside the door. The register provides a detailed account, accurate to within 15 centimeters, of the width of all the houses and of all the passageways between them that lined Delft's canals in Vermeer's day.

Grijzenhout determined the location as Vlamingstraat in Delft, at the point where the present-day numbers 40 and 42 stand.

View of 40 and 42 Vlamingstraat from opposite side of the canal.

Each house was approximately 6.3 meters wide, and between them were two immediately adjacent passageways, each around 1.2 meters wide.

Further research into the position of the houses and the small gardens behind them confirmed that the situation on the spot corresponds exactly with the painting. There was no other place in Delft during that time where this constellation was found.

Tripe Gate

The houses now on the site were built in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The only aspect that can still be recognized as it appears in The Little Street is the striking gate and passageway on the right.

The investigation also revealed that the house on the right in the Little Street belonged to Vermeer's widowed aunt, Ariaentgen Claes van der Minne, his father's half-sister.

She earned her living and provided for her five children by selling tripe, and the passageway beside the house was known as the Penspoort - Tripe Gate. We also know that Vermeer's mother and sister lived on the same canal, diagonally opposite. It is therefore likely that Johannes Vermeer knew the house well and that there were personal memories associated with it.

The painter was born, lived and died in Delft, Netherlands.

There are some 35 surviving paintings by Vermeer, among them just two townscapes. One is View of Houses in Delft, the earliest known name of The Little Street in the Rijkmuseum, the other is View of Delft in the Mauritshuis in The Hague. There are three other paintings by Vermeer in the Rijksmuseum collection, The Milkmaid, Woman Reading a Letter, and The Love Letter.

Vermeer's paintings are exhibited in the Rijksmuseum's Gallery of Honour, where they are seen by thousands of visitors every day.

The exhibition about Vermeer's Little Street will be running in Museum Prinsenhof Delft from 25 March to 17 July 2016. All Vermeer's locations can all be visited easily from the Museum.

Credits: Story

Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam
Museum Prinsenhof Delft
Dr. Frans Grijzenhout, University of Amsterdam

Credits: All media
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