New archival research has made it possible to pinpoint the exact location of Johannes Vermeer’s world-famous painting known as ‘The Little Street’. Prof. Frans Grijzenhout, professor of Art History at the University of Amsterdam, consulted seventeenth-century archives that had never before been used for this purpose. These clearly indicate the site of the street pictured in the painting.
The Rijksmuseum is dedicating an exhibition to the discovery of Vermeer’s little street, which will run from 20 November, 2015 to 13 March, 2016. It will then transfer to Museum Prinsenhof in Delft.
His new research has enabled Professor Grijzenhout to identify the exact address: it is Vlamingstraat in Delft, at the point where the present-day numbers 40 and 42 stand. Various other addresses in Delft have been suggested over the years, but none was convincing. The new source Frans Grijzenhout consulted for this research, which led to the conclusive findings of his investigation, 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 on a canal had to pay for dredging the canal and maintaining the quay outside their door. The register provides a detailed account, accurate to within around 15 centimetres, of the width of all the houses and of all the passageways between them that lined Delft’s canals in Vermeer’s day. He was able to establish that on the north side of Vlamingstraat, a quite narrow canal in what was then the poorer eastern quarter of Delft, there were two houses where numbers 40 and 42 now stand. Each house was approximately 6.3 metres wide, and between them were two immediately adjacent passageways, each around 1.2 metres 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.
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 – the 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.
There are some thirty-five 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 Rijksmuseum, 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.
Frans Grijzenhout: Vermeer’s The Little Street. A View of the Penspoort in Delft (Published by Rijksmuseum) ISBN: 978-94-91714-69-6
The exhibition Vermeer’s The Little Street discovered is on show from 20 November – 13 March 2016 in the Rijksmuseum and afterwards in Museum Prinsenhof Delft.