View on Delft: ecosystem ‘city’

Vermeer, Johannes (1660-1661) View on Delft [oil on canvas]. The Hague: Mauritshuis.

By Jack P. Kruf

This painting of the city of Delft, made around 1660, is from the master hand of Johannes Vermeer. More than inspiring. I would like to live there if I am honest. In the time machine of Professor Barabas. Boom. 360 years back in time. Feels this way. As a huge fan of Vermeer I gave myself the book Vermeer by Karl Schütz as a gift. The XL version. Last week I bought one of the last copies of this first edition. Happiness can be so simple and be found so easily.

With View of Delft Vermeer created an iconic image of the city for me: the city as an entity, as the ecosystem city. The overwhelming and overarching cloudy sky gives the city of Delft the dimension that it is part of a larger whole, nature. It puts Delft in perspective. It humbles. At the same time, the citizens in the foreground remind you as watcher that the painting is also about everyday life. It creates the image that the city itself is comprehensive and offers a higher dimension to its inhabitants. That of a place where you belong, where you can live, love, meet and work.

View of Delft is for me a holistic image in which Vermeer shows us the multiple layers of the ecosystem ‘city’: citizen, group, street, neighbourhood and city. In ecological terms he shows organism, group, niche, habitat and system at the same time. And that under the clouds of a much larger dimension, the sky, the world. A Masterpiece. It leads to the need and the want of further exploration of the city as an ecosystem.

The Bodmer Oak, Fontainebleau Forest

Monet, C. (1865) The Bodmer Oak, Fontainebleau Forest [Oil on canvas]. New York City: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

By Jack P. Kruf

The subtitle of this masterpiece could have been inspiration. It influenced me during the years of study and exploration. It is painted by impressionist Claude Monet (1840–1926) in the year 1865. According Plant Curator there is a strong possibility this tree is of the species Quercus petraea (Mattuschka) Lieblein (Sessile Oak, Chêne sessile, Wintereik, Traubeneiche), an emblematic tree of the french forest. The Bodmer Oak was named after Swiss artist Karl Bodmer (1809–1893), who exhibited his painting of a tree in the heart of Fontainebleau Forest, La Forêt en Hiver, 15 years earlier at the Salon of 1850. The painting of Monet is in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Monet used bright yellows, greens, and oranges to depict sunlight filtering through the canopy of branches. The carpet of russet leaves signals that he painted this view just before he concluded a months-long visit to Fontainebleau in October 1865 (Source: MetMuseum.org). What makes this painting so special for me that I feel I actually am standing in the middle of the forest, at the same level as the tree, at the same spot within the wide forest. It connects.

The secrets of the forest always intrigued me but the interest was ignited by Professor dr. ir. Roelof A.A. Oldeman (emeritus). As professor Silviculture and Forest ecology at Wageningen University, he taught me how to read the complexity of the forest, to understand its core elements and processes. and find beauty in its own laboratory of design.

“The forest tells its own story, listen!”

Roelof A.A. Oldeman

From him I learned how to diagnose in a wider and holistic perspective while keeping connected with individual trees. He taught me to reflect on the forest as a system – an ecosystem – leading to (some) understanding in the years following of the bigger picture of life, of people and society. It created an almost sabbatical view on life. The scientific reflection of Oldeman worked as a catharsis and offered new hope, possibilities to understand and re-create. The wisdom of ecologist John Muir became clearer and clearer for me during the years: 

“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”

John Muir