The most famous interior in Delft is not one of those sunbathed parlours, filled with globes, paintings, chandeliers and virginals, half-seen in the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, but a dusky whitewashed passageway in the Prinsenhof, formerly a monastery, later a palace and now home to the city’s municipal museum. There, a small frame at hip level guides the eye to two dimples in the wall, which, were it not for the plaque above, might be dismissed as scars from a minor accident during a furniture move. But here was no mishap. The two holes stand as a memorial to the father of the Dutch nation, William of Orange, who was gunned down on this spot by a fanatical Catholic in 1584.
The Prinsenhof is host to a new exhibition of paintings by Pieter de Hooch, whose interior scenes bear a striking resemblance to those of Vermeer, his acquaintance and colleague in Delft’s Guild of St Luke. De Hooch was born in Rotterdam in 1629, but took up residence in Delft in the 1650s, his most fruitful period, before relocating to Amsterdam the following decade. He has long been eclipsed by Vermeer, though his interiors are arguably more ambitious. ‘We do not place the paintings by this master in the first rank,’ wrote the 18th-century French dealer Alexandre-Joseph Paillet. This is the first solo exhibition of his work for twenty years, and only the second ever.
Not one of de Hooch’s paintings remains in Delft, meaning that this exhibition has had to be created from scratch. It and the accompanying catalogue, which surveys de Hooch’s life, artistry and legacy, are a marvel of industry and intelligence. The long-awaited reunification of de Hooch’s works has