Pieter Jansz Saenredam
(Assendelft, 1597-1665, Haarlem)
Interior of St. Bavo Church, Haarlem, 1636
Oil on panel, 43 x 37 cm
Signed & dated lower right: … Saenredam fecit / 1636
Schwartz/Bok 46
When the Dutch painters in the first third of the 17th century step by step appropriated the everyday world around them as the field of their art, they were soon fascinated by churches: the largest edifices and interiors of their time. Some artists became "church painters". A special understanding of architecture and perspective was needed, but what counted in the end was the painterly result. Saenredam was the first painter to represent the emptied, echoing, whitewashed Calvinist naves of the northern Netherlands with great factual precision and sensitivity; he was also the first to discover new angles of vision by always altering his vantage-point. He prepared for his paintings with meticulously exact drawings. For this picture too there is a sketch (in The Hague) done on the spot and a construction plan with measurements (in Berlin; it even bears the date 22nd December 1635 and the indication that the Bührle Collection's picture was finished on 9th May 1636). The view is determined not so much by the spatial volume as by intricate glimpses, intersecting planes in depth, strong light and shadow contrasts and overlappings, by vertical shapes. Strange contrasts to the dramatically brittle architecture constitute the "accessories"; In the foreground a family is having a picnic around a food basket; to the right in front of the pillar there are silhouetted two citizens in conversation; and what can the man be doing in the triforium of the transept? The general tone is determined by a cool white light. The rhomboid shape on the rear pillar is a coat-of-arms; these memorial plaques can still be seen in Dutch churches.