Counting Vermeer


3.5 Strip widths

As mentioned earlier, the canvas which was used as a support for paintings, was manufactured for other purposes. The weaving was done, not in urban centers with strict quality control, but as home craft in rural areas in the Dutch Republic like Twente, the Achterhoek, Brabant and the Zaanstreek, an important center for the manufacturing of sail cloth. Canvas was also imported on a large scale from other regions in Europe, for instance Flanders, the north-west of France, Silesia and Westphalia. Strips of canvas were made with a length of 50 ell (circa 35 meters) and even more. The 1673 inventory of the store of the Rotterdam paint dealer Abraham Lambertsz van Bubbeson records a strip of unprepared canvas with a length of 90 ell (circa 63 meters).1 Canvas was produced in various standard widths, depending on the size of the loom. Van de Wetering's study shows that in Rembrandt’s paintings strips of somewhat over one meter (1,5 ell) are common, but strips of circa 70 cm (1 ell), circa 85 cm (1,25 ell), circa 140 cm (two ell), circa 175 cm (2,5 ell) and circa 210 cm (three ell) also occur.

Monumental paintings usually consist of several strips of canvas which have been sewn together. When canvases are composed of several strips, full-width strips were used as much as possible. Rembrandt's Night Watch probably consisted of three strips with the full width of 140 cm, only one of which is still intact today. It is notable that there were local differences in the use of cloth having different strip widths. Monumental group portraits made in Amsterdam, such as Rembrandt's Night Watch, are commonly composed of several strips, while in Haarlem usually one strip of canvas was used for these large paintings, which could be more than three ell (210 cm) wide.2 For example, The Allegory of Frederik Hendrik as the Bringer of Peace (Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem) which Jan de Bray painted for the Prinsenhof in Haarlem at the behest of the city council, was painted on a canvas consisting of one strip with a width of 217 cm.

Apart from the investigation into the canvases of Vermeer, no study has yet been carried out on canvas paintings in Delft to determine the width of the strips that would have been readily available to Vermeer in his hometown. Only two early paintings by Vermeer consist of more than one strip. In the Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (L02) of circa 1654-1656 two strips are joined with a vertical seam. If the larger width was a strip width, it would measure 95,5 cm wide. In The Procuress (L03) of 1656 the two strips are joined with a horizontal seam and the strip at the top has a selvedge along the top edge. Assuming, as was usual, that the strips were joined selvedge to selvedge at the seam, the strip width of the strip at the top is circa 104,5 cm.3 On two of all the other paintings by Vermeer, of which the support was made out of one strip of canvas, both selvedges are present, which means that the entire width of the strip can be measured. The width of the strip in Young Woman with a Wine Glass (L10) is 67 cm and of View of Delft (L12) 118 cm.4


1 X. Henny, ‘Hoe kwamen de Rotterdamse schilders aan hun verf?’, in: N. Schadee (ed.), Rotterdamse meesters uit de Gouden Eeuw, Rotterdam (Historisch Museum) 1994, pp. 43-53, esp. pp. 49 and 53 (note 85).

2 E. Hendriks, ‘Haarlem studio practice’, in: N. Köhler et al. (ed.), Painting in Haarlem 1500-1850 : the collection of the Frans Hals Museum, Ghent 2006, pp. 65-96, esp. pp. 70-74, 86-87.

3 N. Costaras, ‘A Study of the Materials and Techniques of Johannes Vermeer’, Vermeer Studies. Studies in the History of Art 55 (1998), pp. 145-167, esp. p. 147.

4 Costaras 1998 (note 3), pp. 146-147.

Cookies disclaimer

Our site saves small pieces of text information (cookies) on your device in order to deliver better content and for statistical purposes. You can disable the usage of cookies by changing the settings of your browser. By browsing our website without changing the browser settings you grant us permission to store that information on your device.
I agree