By Priya de Langen
First published in ACCESS Summer 2013 e-zine
Delft is a city that has borne many of the Netherlands’ great painters, scientists and noteworthy historical figures. Names such as Johannes Vermeer and Hugo Grotius are part of its rich cultural tapestry. It is also known as the city of princes – the Dutch royalty are interred in its churches, the most famous of them, William of Orange.
Truly, with Delft’s rich cultural history it still maintains an idyllic quality unlike the chaotic cadence found in
the larger Dutch cities. Perhaps, that is one of its major charms.
Delft started off as a rural village, and received its city charter in 1246. By the 17th century, Delft had become one of the most important cities in the country – a centre of arts as well as a trading port with the Dutch East India Company. Delft’s historic roots are still visible today – observe the buildings in the city centre were erected centuries ago.
The city centre square, Markt, is the best place to start – here locals congregate for drinks in pleasant weather, watch performances or go to the weekly flower markets on Thursdays and Saturdays. Here you’ll find the stunning city hall and the New Church of Delft. Oude Delft is one of the richest historic areas in the city, with lovely architecture such as the renaissance style building, the Arm of Savoy, which accommodates the Municipal Record Office of Delft. Next to it is a lategothic styled building, the Gemeenlandshuis. Take notice of several plaques on buildings throughout the city that serve as a memorial to Delft’s noteworthy citizens, including one for the personal physician of Prince William of Orange. Also, keep an eye out for cubes around the city featuring some of Vermeer’s paintings.
Delft boasts some of the loveliest churches in the Netherlands and they are a must to visit. One of them is the New Church, or Nieuwe Kerk, in the city centre. Built in 1381, it is the country’s second tallest church tower. The breathtaking interior features stained glass memorial windows such as the Prince William window. Most of the Dutch royal family ancestors are interred here in this church’s crypts. Inside you will see the renowned mausoleum of Prince William of Orange, the predecessor of the current Orange-Nassau monarchy. One of the Netherland’s top 100 UNESCO protected sites, the stunning piece of sculpture is comprised of various precious metals and stones; including gold, bronze, black marble and Italian white marble.
To pay your respects to Master painter Johannes Vermeer and to renowned scientist Anthony van Leeuwenhoek, who invented the microscope, visit the Old Church, or Oude Kerk, a 10-minute walk away from the city centre. Besides its 27 stained glass windows, this grand gothic church is recognisable by its ‘leaning tower’. The sepulchre of Dutch naval hero Maarten Harpetszoon Tromp is located here.
Past & present pride
To trace the history of Delft, visiting its museums is a necessity. The Prinsenhof, (municipal museum) is the place where Prince William of Orange was murdered in 1584. Exhibits include the history of his life and how he rose to lead the country, plus a documentary his assassination. Besides the infamous staircase where he was shot, a display showcases the gun that was used to shoot him while the wall also spots two bullet holes from the murder weapon.
‘The Delft Masters in the Golden Age’ exhibition presents art by famous Dutch painters. Visitors will certainly
find interesting the ‘From William to William’ exhibit, containing paintings of all the rulers of the House of Orange over the past 400 years in chronological order, up to the newest portrait of King Willem-Alexander, only recently revealed on May 1st, 2013 after his investiture.
A museum dedicated to one of Delft’s most famous sons is the Vermeer Centre Delft. Johannes Vermeer was born in Delft and found his muse there. The paintings are life-size reproductions of his originals, a true visual spectacle. The tour starts with a video in English and Dutch on the history of Vermeer. His works are shown from his earliest paintings with biblical themes to well known pieces such as The milkmaid and The girl with a pearl earring. The engaging ‘Studio of Vermeer’ room displays the colour palate of the master’s paintings and highlights various spaces with different types of light to present how Vermeer could have used a certain angle of light to paint his masterpieces.
Beautiful Delft Blue
Delft Blue, or Delftware pottery, is a quintessentially Delft creation, ranging from tableware to mugs and even
jewellery. You can trace the roots of Delft Blue to the 17th century when in 1602 and 1604, Dutch privateers captured two Portuguese ships carrying large amounts of Chinese porcelain. This cargo was auctioned off for high prices and encouraged by this success;the Dutch East Company (VOC) started importing porcelain from China. However, potters in Delft decided to experiment, which eventually led to the creation of its ‘home-grown’ Delft Blue earthenware.
The Royal Delft Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles is the only factory that still remains from the 17th century. See firsthand how the process of making the earthenware came to be perfected in the video glimpse into the history and the development of Royal Delft. Master painters can be seen at work.
The Royal Treasury (Koninklijke Schaatkamer) displays Delft Blue porcelain belonging to the Royal family –
the highlight of the factory is without a doubt the breathtaking piece, Rembrandt’s Nightwatch painting on
Delft Blue tiles, a life-size 480 piece mosaic was made by two Royal Delft master painters, taking more than a
year to complete.
Modified for web by Laila Borrie, ACCESS Web editor