cat. 12
Pieter Jansz. Saenredam (1597-1665)
The West Front of the Sint-Mariakerk
(St. Mary’s Church) in Utrecht
, 1662
Oil on panel. 65.1 x 51.2 cm
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

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The exhibition Contexts of the Permanent Collection, number 22, presents a survey of the work of the architectural painter Pieter Jansz. Saenredam (Assendelft, 1597 - Haarlem, 1665) through examples of some of his finest paintings. These include one of the artist’s masterpieces, The West Front of the Sint-Mariakerk (St. Mary’s Church), Utrecht, from the collection of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Pieter Jansz. Saenredam was born in Assendelft near Haarlem on 9 June 1597. Following the death of his father Jan Pietersz. (1565–1607), a well-known printmaker and draughtsman, Saenredam moved with his mother to Haarlem, a city that offered more professional opportunities. Saenredam trained in Haarlem and according to his biographer Cornelis de Bie worked in a wide variety of pictorial genres until 1628 when he decided to devote all his activities to architectural views. His contacts with the mathematician and surveyor Pieter Wils and with other architectural painters in Haarlem such as Salomon de Bray (1597–1664), Pieter Post (1608–1669) and his friend, the painter and architect Jacob van Campen (1595–1647) would be crucial in his decision to devote himself to this genre. Throughout his career Saenredam collaborated with these other Haarlem painters and the exhibition includes an interesting portrait of Saenredam by Van Campen, loaned by the British Museum [cat. 1]. Saenredam was not the first artist to devote himself to architectural painting but his importance lies in his innovative working method, based on drawings and measurements of buildings made at first hand. He would later perfect this material in his studio and produce construction drawings with the aim of achieving the most perfect depiction possible. Years later the artist would transfer these drawings to other supports such as panel. During the process Saenredam corrected the proportions and even omitted some details if he considered that they spoiled the harmonious beauty of the buildings. In order to transfer his drawings Saenredam used squaring-up or tracing. The monumentality and simplicity of his work, together with the spatial clarity and reduced palette of pale tones, resulted in remarkable paintings and Saenredam was highly appreciated and financially successful during his own lifetime.

Saenredam spent most of his life in Haarlem but made regular trips to other cities to paint interiors and exteriors of buildings, most of which were churches. Dating from his early period is the magnificent Interior of the Sint-Bavokerk (St. Bavo’s Church), Haarlem, from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles [cat. 2]. In 1633 Saenredam returned to his native city of Assendelft where he made various drawings that he later used in the panel depicting the Interior of the Sint-Odulphuskerk (the Church of St. Odulphus), loaned by the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam [cat. 5]. Later Saenredam visited Alkmaar, represented in the exhibition by his View of a Chapel in the north Aisle of the Sint-Laurenskerk (the Church of St. Lawrence), loaned by the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht [cat. 3].

The twenty weeks that Saenredam spent in Utrecht in 1636 were particularly significant. The city was one of the most important in The Netherlands and had a large number of churches. The exhibition includes a number of views of these buildings, including The Chapel of St. Anthony and the north Aisle of the Sint-Janskerk (St. John’s Church), from the Centraal Museum, Utrecht [cat. 4], The Nave of the Buurkerk, from the south to the north [cat. 8], The Nave and Choir of the Sint-Janskerk (St. John’s Church) with St. Anthony’s Chapel, from the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam [cat. 9] and The Nave and Choir of the Sint-Catharinakerk (St. Catherine’s Church, cat. 10) from the Bearsted Collection at Upton House, loaned by the National Trust. Works depicting Utrecht conclude with three works from Saenredam’s last period depicting the now destroyed Sint-Mariakerk (St. Mary’s Church) which was of particular interest to the artist during his time in the city and to which he devoted the entire first six weeks. One of these paintings depicts the interior in The north Aisle of the Sint-Mariakerk, Utrecht, loaned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [cat. 6], while the other two are of the exterior: View of the Choir of the Sint-Mariakerk, Utrecht, from the Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis in The Hague [cat. 11], and The West Front of the Sint-Mariakerk, Utrecht from the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza [cat. 12].

Saenredam also visited Amsterdam and Rhenen but during 1650 focused his attentions on Haarlem and in particular the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). This is depicted in Interior of the Nieuwe or Sint-AnnaKerk (the New or St. Anne’s Church) from the Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest [cat. 7].