BASSEN, Bartholomeus van
(b. ca. 1590, Den Haag, d. 1652, Den Haag)

The Tomb of William the Silent in an Imaginary Church

1620
Oil on canvas, 112 x 151 cm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest

In this painting an imaginary Gothic church interior is the setting for the tomb monument of William the Silent (1533-1584). Seen from the choir, whose stalls occupy the left foreground, the monument has been placed in the crossing, partially obscuring the view into the nave, To the right of the tomb the transept open into a side aisle or a chapel. The plain white walls and the absence of any religious imagery suggest that the church is a Protestant one. The man dressed in fine red attire in the foreground faces away from the viewer and toward the tomb, thereby drawing us into the scene, while other expensively dressed people casually walk about and chat. The figures have been attributed to Esaias van de Velde (1587-1630), with whom Van Bassen frequently collaborated.

The rendering of the interior - the central perspective, deeply receding space, and detailed description of the architectural details - is reminiscent of the Antwerp tradition of architectural painting as represented by Hans Vredeman de Vries, Hendrick van Steenwyck, and Pieter Neeffs the Elder. Their rigidly constructed interiors often appear to be airless boxes, However. While retaining the single-point perspective favoured by his Flemish colleagues, Van Bassen introduces light and atmospheric effects as means to articulate architectural space. Thus, the shadowed area in the foreground serves as a repoussoir to set off the crossing and the tomb, which is bathed in sunlight streaming in from the left transept. The right transept, with its northern light, is more softly lit, in contrast tot the brightly lit chapel or aisle beyond it. In the nave soft yet relatively radiant light counteracts the deep recession of the space.

It has been often observed that Van Bassen's interiors appear more realistic than those of his Flemish predecessors. This is mainly a result of his realization that light and atmosphere are as important as perspectival systems for producing a convincing illusion of a three-dimensional space. The following generation of Delft architectural painters, such as Van Bassen's pupil Gerard Houckgeest as well as Hendrick van Vliet and Emmanuel de Witte, developed this approach more fully after 1650.

The actual setting of the tomb of William the Silent is in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft, where the monument stands in the choir and the seated effigy of the prince faces the nave. In the present painting Van Bassen has turned the tomb 180 degrees and enlarged it in relation to the church interior, thus making it a more awe-inspiring presence. The tomb has been commissioned by the States General in commemoration of the "Father of the Fatherland", William the Silent, who had been assassinated at his residence, the Prinsenhof, in Delft, in 1584. Work on the mausoleum began in 1614, after designs by the Amsterdam architect Hendrick de Keyser (1565-1621). The tomb was finished only in 1623, by Hendrick's son Pieter (1595-1676), three years after the date of Van Bassen's painting. The picture is the earliest painted rendering of the monument. Since the figures on the top of the monument were never "in situ", Van Bassen probably worked from designs or a model.