Researchers in Amsterdam have pinpointed the long-debated location depicted in Vermeer’s painting “The Little Street” using sources from 17th-century records to Google Maps, the Rijksmuseum has announced. The exact address of the site of the quaint scene is in the artist’s hometown Delft, on present-day Vlamingstraat 40–42, a street that runs along one of the area’s canals, although a previous and extensive study had claimed it as Nieuwe Langendijk 22–26. The painting, which dates to around 1658, hangs in the Rijksmuseum, which today opened an exhibition around the discovery.
“The answer to the question as to the location of Vermeer’s little street is of great significance, both for the way that we look at this one painting by Vermeer and for our image of Vermeer as an artist,” Pieter Roelofs, Rijksmuseum curator of 17th-century paintings said in a statement.
To make this definitive claim, Frans Grizenhout, a University of Amsterdam art history professor, had combed through documents published at the time of the artist’s life. One important source was a 1667 ledger that recorded taxes residents living in these canal houses paid to dredge and maintain the waterway, amounts determined by the width of the dwellings. The measurements of the buildings and the adjacent passageways, accurate within 15 centimeters, were all listed, so Grizenhout had to search for a layout that corresponded to Vermeer’s depicted buildings and alleys, comparing the details from the ledger with views on Google Maps.
“The painting ‘The Little Street’ by Vermeer shows a very exceptional urban development, with two alleyways (gates) in this rhythm: from left to right house-alley-alley-house,” as art historian Kees Kaldenbach [emphasis his], who attended a presentation on the discovery, wrote. “It took a long investigation in this ledger in order to find the place with the precise rhythm. Moreover, seventeenth-century Dutch manuscripts are notoriously hard to read.”
According to Rijksmuseum, each property spanned about 6.3 meters (nearly 21 feet) along the canal, separated by 1.2 meter-wide (nearly 4 feet) passageways. The positions of small gardens behind the houses also confirmed the site, as there “was no other place in Delft during that time where this constellation [of buildings] was found,” as the museum describes.
Not many aspects remain of the original homes, which Kaldenbach suggests were built shortly after 1500 due to the artist’s detailed renderings of cracked masonry. After consulting an old map at the Museum Prinsenhof, Grizenhout also found that the house Vermeer painted — today, no. 42 — survived a 1536 fire that burned down much of the town’s structures. The current buildings, according to Rijksmuseum, were built in the last quarter of the 19th century.
Researchers also found that the building towards the right of the painting actually belonged to Vermeer’s widowed aunt, Ariaentgen Claes van der Minne. She sold tripe to the neighborhood, and the passageway shown was known to locals as the Penspoort, or “The Tripe Gate.” Vermeer’s mother and sister also lived along the canal, just opposite the houses shown, and researchers believe the painter was familiar with the subject he chose.
To celebrate the discovery, the museum also created an interactive Google Art Project that allows viewers to learn about the research as well as explore the street view of Vlamingstraat. The exhibition, Vermeer’s The Little Street discovered, will continue at Rijksmuseum through March 2016 before it moves to the Museum Prinsenhof in Delft; the painting, part of the show, usually rarely leaves the museum.
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