In the eyes of a tourist, not much has changed in The Delft over the past 300 years: the quiet streets with their passageways and interior courtyards, the 17th century houses of red bricks facades, wooden doors and lintels, green and tan tiled entryways and small lead-glass windows, the gables and connecting walls which form a link to the neighboring houses. Jan Steen told stories of this quaint little town in his paintings in the mid 1600’s. In The Burgher of Delft and his Daughter (1655), Steen painted a late summer scene of everyday life in The Delft which had just become independent of the Spanish rule with the Treaty of Westphalia. The Dutch had just appointed the Prince of Orange as their stadtholder and the patrician “burghers” ruled each providence.
In The Burgher of Delft, Steen depicts the burgher sitting on a raised stoep in front of his home, which was often found in the Netherlands as a place for conversation with neighbors and a place to hold business. This scene takes place is on the west bank of the canal known as Oude Delft. In the background is the Oude Kerk (church) and the Delflands Huis.
Jan Steen was one of the few Netherlandish painters who depicted everyday life, much like the Impressionists of nineteenth century France 300 years later. The burgher’s daughter is holding a fan in one hand and holding her skirt in the other as she was possibly instructed for proper posturing. This shows the etiquette of the day which was required by Erasmus of Rotterdam in his treatise on education (1532). Steen strives here to show the self confidence of both the burgher and his daughter in direct contrast with the beggar woman and her poor child.
One of the last details that I would like to point out is the open window of the burgher’s home and the red, wooden shutter. This is also still very common in Delft homes today. Steen has placed in the window a colorful vase of flowers, a motif of steel-leven which is translated as “still life”. The tulip had been brought to the Netherlands from Constantinople in the 17th century and takes prominence in most Dutch paintings. Tulips continue to populate the Dutch countryside today. This beautiful bouquet also leads us to think about the interior of the home: the carved chairs and tables, rich tapestries, and hand painted Blue Delft earthenware.
I have included a picture taken during my visit in 2010 of the same street and vantage point in The Burgher of Delft and his Daughter, with the Oude Kerk in the background.
Founded as St. Bartholomew’s Church in the year 1246 this church continues to be a gathering place for worship. The ornate stained glass windows are vibrant with ochre yellows, heavenly blues deep reds and dark greens. The stained glass portrays the history of the Netherlands as well as Biblical stories. There are approximately 400 people buried in the Oude Kerk, including Steen’s contemporary Johannes Vermeer.