Thursday, July 28, 2011

Excursion to Delft

Vermeer View of Delft (PD)

With its canals, cobbled streets, and connection to Vermeer, Delft draws you into a daydream of girls in pearl earrings and ermine capes, making lace or playing languid tunes on lutes. But search as you may, you won't find the scene that Vermeer painted. The closest I came to that was this scene of the Oostport (East Gate), constructed in 1400, and which may be one of the buildings portrayed in the painting:

Oostport, Delft

And yes, somebody still lives there, as evidenced by the neat flower boxes on the other side of the building:

Inside the Gate

Besides its connection to Vermeer, Delft is of course known for its delicate blue and white porcelain. We visited the Royal Delft Porcelain Factory, the last remaining Delftware company from the 17th century. Believe it or not, the firm was founded in 1653, during the era when the young Vermeer strode the city's cobbled lanes seeking the pure angle of light that illuminates his masterpieces.

A tour of the factory and showroom allows you to see the employees at work and introduces you to the multiple steps involved in producing a finished piece of pottery.

Factory worker using mold
In this room the potters produce plain white clay forms by means of various sizes and shapes of plaster molds. The clay objects are then fired once, at a temperature of 1100 degrees Celsius (2000 degrees Fahrenheit), producing a firm object which is called a "biscuit."

The biscuits are then painted by hand, using a black paint mixed with water, which will eventually give the various nuances of blue once the object is glazed and fired a second time.

Delft artist at work

From biscuit to finished product

During the second firing, a chemical reaction takes place that turns the black paint into the distinctive Delft blue.

The displays and showroom feature collections of various styles of porcelain products, including tiles. There is even an amazing rendition of Rembrandt's Night Watch in Delft tiles covering an entire wall:

Night Watch in Delft Tiles

Wandering the city after our factory tour we came upon the Market Square just as the vendors were dismantling their stalls at the end of the day. There has been a weekly market here for centuries. At one end of the square stands the Stadhuis, or City Hall, which dates from the early 17th century, but whose tower survives from medieval times. At the other end of the square the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) boasts a 100-meter (328 feet) spire  --  and inside, the mausoleum of William the Silent, celebrated as "Wilhelmus van Nassouwe" in the Dutch National Anthem, incidentally one of the oldest national anthems in the world.  

Nieuwe Kerk, Delft

Not far from the Market Square is the Prinsenhof, where William resided from 1572 to 1584, when he was assassinated in July 1584, the first head of state to be assassinated by means of a firearm. And a few steps away is the Oude Kerk (Old Church), which also has a magnificent tower.

Oude Kerk Spire

Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to explore the interior of the churches or the Prinsenhof, but that just gives me another excuse to return to Delft another time. Perhaps on my next visit I will indeed catch a glimpse of a girl wearing a pearl earring or an ermine cape. Why not, indeed the very paving stones here are imbued with history!

Paving Stones - Delft


  1. Thanks Ellen,
    These posts are wonderful; they really capture the essence of our visit!

  2. Thank you Lynn, I hope you had as much fun reading them as I had writing them! It gives us some nice memories of our trip too.