living in a Vermeer painting

19Nov12

I live in a four hundred year-old house whose quirks include being able to look out the bedroom window and into the living room window. Lying in bed one day, I noticed that the brick wall of the living room has been covered over with mortar – but only up to the height of the ground floor. The exterior wall of the upstairs part of the house has been left as plain brick.

brick wall covered in mortar

In Vermeer’s painting of a street in Delft there is also mortar over the exterior walls of the ground floor but not the upper floors!

vermeer delft street

Our living room wall bows outward in a rather alarming manner, so I figured that the mortar was structural. But why would the mortar layer not also extend to the upper floor of the house as well? Was mortaring over the bricks on the ground floor just something that builders did in the 17th century?

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