Naturally, any journey into Vermeer (outside of New York City) should begin in Delft, the city that provided the Dutch master with the light and settings that make his work such a wonder of human achievement. For a full walking tour of the town, there’s no place better to look than in the pages of our “ART + TRAVEL EUROPE: Step into the Lives of Five Famous Painters”. But, certainly, there are more places to go and more things to see on the trail of Joannes Vermeer—chief among them being the Mauritshuis, the cultural jewel of Southern Holland’s most storied city, The Hague.
Home to an impressive collection of Dutch masters, including works by Vermeer, Pieter Bruegel, Rembrandt, Rubens, Rogier van der Weyden, Jan Steen and Paulus Potter, this unique museum is actually the former residence of Prince John Maurice, a cousin of the ruling family in Holland. Converted into a state museum in 1822 and a private foundation in 1995, the Mauritshuis’ renowned collection of Vermeers includes the legendary “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, the essential “View of Delft”, and the less well-known, though almost equally beautiful, “Diana and Her Companions”. But anyone pursuing Vermeer through history will actually learn a lot more about the painter through the rest of the institution’s collection than from a quick viewing of these three seminal works.
Though his output was ultimately small and his fame in his own time limited compared to his current renown, Vermeer was both a leader and a follower of the general tone, content and style of Dutch art to such a great extent that there is almost no work in the massive Mauritshuis that does not echo his experiments in light and perspective to one extent or another. While Bruegel’s busy, detailed panoramas bear little resemblance to Vermeer’s intimate scenes at a first glance, the Mauritshuis’ visitor can see early hints of the same play of light and dark, the same creamy whites and nutty browns as he or she might when looking deep into “View of Delft”. Indeed, there is something about the way Dutch artists paint air and sky, a vanilla haze if you will, that marks so many of their works. While Rembrandt, Vermeer’s older contemporary, has a much more dramatic, dark tinted relationship with light, that gauzy quality is readily apparent in his works on display at Mauritshuis. Finally, one can’t look at the sharp, clean sunlight pouring through a Paulus Potter work without thinking back to Vermeer’s window studies. As much as the master of Delft was a standout in his time, the paintings that surround his three famous works in the Mauritshuis demonstrate that while he had a singular brilliance, he was far from alone in his home country. Rather, the geniuses working before and at the same time as him drove him to the heights he achieved and it is at this gorgeous private museum that one can truly appreciate his place in a long, strong tradition of brilliant, transcendent art.
To see all these spectacular works for yourself grab a copy of “ART + TRAVEL EUROPE: Step into the Lives of Five Famous Painters” and head to:
8 Korte Vijverberg
+31 070 3023456
Top: The Mauritshuis’ exterior.
Bottom (clockwise from upper left): “The Bull”, Paulus Potter, c. 1647, “Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp”, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1632, interior of the Mauritshuis, “View of Delft”, Joannes Vermeer, c. 1659, all courtesy of the Mauritshuis.