Johannes Vermeer Paints View of Delft

The composition was built up in light and dark passages.

The sky, foreground, and light parts of the water are laid in with lead white while the town and its reflection were left in reserve. Some parts of the townscape are underpainted with black. A rough surface texture was created in many places, particularity in the stone facades, and in the roofs, by underpainting with lead white containing exceptionally coarse pigment particles mixed with sand. The fine yellow ocher paint of the step gable at left contains transparent rounded particles of sand.

The View of Delft is a veduta painting made between 1659 and 1660 by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. It is housed in the Mauritshuis of The Hague.

Topographic views of cities had become a tradition by the time Vermeer painted his famous canvas. Hendrik Vroom was the author of two such works depicting Delft, but they are more archaic in that they followed the traditional panoramic approach that can be seen in the two cityscapes by Hercules Seghers at the Berlin museum. The latter artist was one of the first to make use of the inverted Galilean telescope to transcribe the preliminary prints and their proportions (more than twice as high as wide) into the more conventional format of his paintings.

We admire the town, but it is not a profile view of a township, but an idealized representation of Delft, with its main characteristics simplified and then cast into the framework of a harbour mirroring selected reflections in the water, and a rich, full sky with magnificent cloud formations looming over it.

Vermeer executed his View of Delft on the first floor of a house south of the river Schie. He worked on the spot, but the optical instrument pointed toward the city and providing the artist with the aspect translated onto canvas, which we admire for its conciseness and special structure, was not the camera obscura but the reversed telescope. It is only the latter that condenses the panoramic view of a given sector, diminishes the figures of the foreground to a smaller than normal magnification, emphasizes the foreground as we see it in the picture, and by the same token makes the remainder of the composition recede into space. The image thus obtained provides us with optical effects that, without being unique in Dutch seventeenth-century painting, as often claimed, convey a cityscape that is united in the composition and enveloped atmospherically into glowing light.

The View of Delft is chronologically the last painting by Vermeer that was executed in rich, full pigmentation, with colour accents put in with a fully loaded brush. The artist outdid himself in a rendition of his hometown, which stands as a truly great interpretation of nature.