In 1641, on April 23, Vermeer’s father, Reynier Jansz. Vos, bought the large and heavily mortgaged Mechelen inn on the Market Square at the corner with the Oude Manhuissteeg. He paid 200 guilders in cash and assumed two mortgages for the total value of 2,500 guilders. Mechelen had six fireplaces which tells us something of its size, the largest construction of the Markt . Like all the neighboring houses, the front side faced the Market Square and the backside plunged straight down into the Voldersgracht canal. Mechelen was demolished in 1885 to make way for fire-prevention equipment.
The Mechelen Inn was the bustling heart of the town. Its location, with the town hall on one side and the Nieuwe Kerk on the other side. It was an ideal meeting place for discussions and exchanging news and archives show that many Delft artists also used to meet here for shop-talk.Inn-keeping and art dealing often went hand in hand. In these circumstances, it is obvious that the young Vermeer was exposed to the many paintings that adorned the walls of the inn as well as a chance to encounter artists and artisans who no doubt frequented the locale. Mechelen was also spacious enough to contain Vermeer’s wife when she moved in.
We know that by 1660, Johannes Vermeer and his family had been living together in his mother-in-law’s (Maria Thins) house at Oude Langendijk, in the heart of Delft’s Catholic community, the “Papenhoek,” or Papists’ Corner adjacent to the Nieuwe Kerk. The first document which proves that the Vermeer and his wife Catharina had changed living quarters is dated 27 December, 1660 although it is possible he made his move somewhat earlier. From a topographical point of view, the move from Mechelen to Oude Langendijk was a short one, perhaps no more than 120 paces across the Market Place. But from social point of view, it was worlds apart. The Papist Corner was not a ghetto because many of the families who chose to live there of their own free will and many were prosperous. In Delft about a quarter of the population was Catholic.
The house of Vermeer doesn’t exist any more, there is now a church where the house once was. There are no reproductions how the house looked like. When Vermeer died he left his modest possessions and was as you have read before, in debt. A notary came to make a very detailed inventory list of the possessions, so it could be decided what was the property of his widow and mother in law and what goods could be auctioned. Because that inventory list described the rooms where the goods were, historians made an effort to reconstruct the house of Vermeer, and how it may have looked like. This is the one there is more or less consensus about:
The house Thins / Vermeer was reconstructed by Zantkuijl for the first time in 2001 in a responsible manner, ie maps based on records and in-depth knowledge of building history of houses in the Republic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.Vermeer might have worked on his paintings in a pretty small studio (L) on the floor at the front of his house. Given the area there would be no place for a large camera obscura.
The inventory from 1676 is comprehensive and detailed. By showing floor plans of the house Thins / Vermeer we have some idea how this small but long (approx.) 32 meter long house might have looked like.