SAENREDAM, Pieter Jansz
(b. 1597, Assendelft, d. 1665, Haarlem)

St Mary's Square and St Mary's Church at Utrecht

Oil on wood, 109,5 x 139,5 cm
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

In this outstanding architectural view, painted three years before the artist's death and one of the masterpieces of his maturity, Saenredam shows the almost deserted Mariaplaats on a quiet summer's afternoon. The twelfth-century Mariakerk is on the right: in the middle of the Gothic rose window in the Romanesque facade is the golden crown commemorating Emperor Hendrick IV (1050-1106). On the left is a high wall with gates which opened onto the gardens of houses belonging to the deans of the chapter of St Mary. In the background is a row of houses with stepped gables and rising above them are the towers of the Buurkerk on the left, with its wooden roof, and the Cathedral, with its slender octagonal lantern. The painting is signed and dated above the door of the church.

Pieter Saenredam, the son of the distinguished engraver Jan Saenredam, was a painter of church interiors and topographical views. Born in Assendelft, he was taken as child to Haarlem and remained there for the rest of his life, entering the guild as a master in 1623. He made very precise architectural drawings which he then transferred to panel or canvas, sometimes making small modifications for compositional reasons. As was his usual method of work, Saenredam based this painting on a detailed drawing made (as he notes in a lengthy inscription) 'from life' on 18 September 1636, in brown ink and watercolour. (The drawing is today in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem.) Saenredam, using the drawing twenty-six years after he had made it, drew a grid on the panel in order to transfer the composition from the drawing to scale. In some areas of the picture, for example beneath the rose window, the construction lines can be seen through a thin layer of transparent paint.