Exciting new discoveries in lead-up to Vermeer exhibition(s)

Burial registration with details about Vermeer’s funeral dated 16th December 1675. Delft City Archives

During the preparations for the exhibition Het Delft van Vermeer (Vermeer’s Delft) at Museum Prinsenhof two new biographical facts about Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) surfaced. For example, former archivist Bas van der Wulp of Erfgoed Delft found a still unknown entry of Vermeer in the burial register of the Oude Kerk, which shows that the artist was given a funeral. In an archive document with damage reports, employee Babs van Eijk of Museum Prinsenhof Delft found that Vermeer’s mother Digna Baltens received financial compensation for the damage suffered to Herberg Mechelen after the devastating gunpowder disaster of 1654. These finds add new knowledge about Vermeer’s life. Both archive items can be seen in the exhibition.

Burial registration

The hitherto unknown mention of Vermeer in a grave register of the Oude Kerk, where the artist is buried, states that at Vermeer’s funeral, on December 16, 1675, the coffin was carried by no less than fourteen pallbearers and that the church bell rang for one ‘while’ read . The exact burial entry reads as follows: ‘December 16 (1675): Johan Vermeer, painter behind the N[ieuwe] Kerck aen de O[ude] Langendijck. Own graff. 14 carriers, 1 whistle. 8 minor children, 3 of age.’

Funeral standing

The initial suspicion that the guild may have paid for his funeral seems unlikely. Former archivist Van der Wulp therefore looked for funerals by other painters, but none of them had such a costly funeral. However, Vermeer’s brother-in-law, Willem Bolnes, who died in 1676, received just such a funeral, and Vermeer’s mother-in-law, Maria Thins, who died again a few years later, also had a similar funeral with the exception that for her the clock struck two ‘ whiles’ was sounded and not just one. It is therefore suspected that Vermeer’s funeral was paid for by his mother-in-law. Van der Wulp: ‘Probably the mother-in-law only wanted to advance Vermeer’s funeral costs to her daughter and at that time there was still no idea of ​​the financial misery that Vermeer had left behind: three years after the Disaster Year 1672, Vermeer was penniless.’

Remarkable find

The discovery about the funeral can be called remarkable in view of the extensive Vermeer research – dozens of people have already conducted research in the past 100 years . For example, Van der Wulp, who has worked for the archive for 45 years, has never made such a discovery before. He speaks of ‘ a bang (not a flare) and a beautiful moment, just after my career .’ Janelle Moerman, director of Museum Prinsenhof Delft, says: ‘So much has already been researched about Vermeer that everything you find about the artist is actually news. With every find we add, as it were, a piece to the life puzzle of this most famous Delft master.’

Compensation Herberg Mechelen
During the devastating Delftse Thunderclap on 12th October, 1654, Herberg Mechelen also suffered damage. A year later, the States of Holland paid compensation to Vermeer’s mother Digna. She ran the inn after her husband’s death and was still living there at the time of the devastating gunpowder disaster. The archive document with damage reports in which this is stated was already known, but not that Vermeer’s mother also received compensation.

About Vermeer’s Delft
The exhibition Vermeer’s Delft focuses on the life of Johannes Vermeer, his network and his relationship with the city of Delft. On the basis of more than 100 objects from the Netherlands and abroad, including masterpieces by Delft painters, applied arts, maps, prints, drawings, books, ego documents and other archives, a picture is sketched of the bustling urban climate in the 17th century. Never before has this been the starting point for an exhibition about the world-famous Delft master. The exhibition runs parallel to the large Vermeer exhibition in the Rijksmuseum.

Het Delft van Vermeer (Vermeer’s Delft) runs at at Museum Prinsenhof in Delft from 10th February until 4th June 2023.