Vermeer's 'View of Delft' Missing From 'Pride of Place' Show

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The greatest, most famous Dutch cityscape of all is Johannes Vermeer's big "View of Delft."

Yet it isn't in the National Gallery's show "Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes in the Golden Age."

The picture was supposed to come over from its home in the little Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, co-organizer of this show. Late in the game, however, Mauritshuis officials decided that they couldn't risk another trip abroad for their very greatest treasure. (It previously came to the National Gallery in 1995.)

Its absence is a shame, because there may never be another chance to see it with its closest kin, or them with it. And also because Vermeer's masterpiece is such a stunning example of the special viewing that Dutch cityscapes encourage, and reward. The painting's perspective is designed for viewing from the very far left, though it's not clear that that's ever been noticed. Seen from there, but only from there, the long, turreted gatehouse at the right edge of the scene looks as it's meant to, and as it really sat in life -- sticking out at right angles to the rest of the view, straight out at us.

Vermeer's "View" also rewards standing very close to it, even more than other such Dutch paintings do. Once the picture completely fills your sight, without a hint of frame in view, Vermeer's famous light and air and space wrap all the way around you. Suddenly, you're in a Vermeer, not looking at one.

Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age runs through May 3 in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, on the north side of the Mall at Sixth Street NW. Call 202-737-4215 or visit

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