HEYDEN, Jan van der
(b. 1637, Gorinchem, d. 1712, Amsterdam)

View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam

Oil on panel, 41 x 59 cm
Wallace Collection, London

The works of Jan van der Heyden, one of the finest city-view specialists, are responsible for our general impressions of seventeenth-century Amsterdam. In paintings such as his View of the Westerkerk he presented a pristine, sunny image of the city in the 1670s. These cityscapes, many of which inventively recombine actual and fictional buildings, are as interesting for their omissions as for their inclusions. Both serious and comic descriptions of Amsterdam called attention to the busy traffic of people and carts, to the crying children and fighting street dwellers, to dirt and to crime, but van der Heyden's city views edit out congestion, noise, transgression, and dust, and gloss over class distinctions. They thereby present a salutary image of a unified, prosperous city, a beautifully painted fiction affordable only to its prosperous elite.

Van der Heyden's painting takes as its centerpiece the Westerkerk, a church designed in 1620 by Hendrick de Keyser, then the city's most famous architect. Although the structure owed much to earlier Netherlandish designs executed in warmly coloured local brick, its details are innovative. To contemporaries the bell tower, completed in 1638, must have looked cosmopolitan with its three levels of classical columns in stone, topped by brackets that support a fanciful bulb. As the largest Protestant church built up to that time, it constituted a local answer to the magnificent tradition of Catholic building.

Although de Keyser's church primarily served the Jordaan, a modest neighbourhood, van der Heyden represented it as seen from the stately Keizersgracht, the new Emperor's Canal.