Pieter de Hooch, 'The Courtyard of a House in Delft', 1658
The Dutch artist Pieter de Hooch painted this peaceful and orderly picture in 1658 in the town of Delft.
A woman, indefinable in plain clothes typical of a servant, holds the hand of a small girl as they walk down two small steps. The woman carries a long ceramic butter dish in her hand, while the girl is carrying something we can’t see in her apron. The two look at each other and we have, perhaps, joined them mid-conversation. There is an open door to the right of them, through which they have entered into the balanced, tidy, and domestic setting of a courtyard.
On the left of the painting we can see into a tiled corridor, through an open door, and into the street beyond. The private world of the home is being extended into the public space beyond. Another woman, possibly the girl’s mother, looks out of the house onto the street, calmly waiting for someone or something.
The courtyard has a wonderful luminescence which is beautifully contrasted with the shaded interior. It is painted with painstaking accuracy and seems at first glance to be a record of an actual place. However, from other similar paintings by De Hooch we can deduce that it is assembled from differing architectural elements.
De Hooch painted a number of similar courtyard scenes during his time in Delft, frequently including servants. He himself may have been a servant while in Delft, which may have influenced his choice of subject.
Above the doorway is a tablet the inscription of which, partially covered in vines, may well be intended to make the viewer appreciate the virtue and purity of a well ordered home. Translated, it reads: ‘This is in Saint Jerome's vale, if you wish to repair to patience and meekness. For we must first descend if we wish to be raised.