Pieter Jansz. Saenredam (1597 – 1665) was a Dutch Golden Age artist who specialized in painting interiors of churches. He removed all but the architectural details from the interiors of churches and filled these golden hued soaring cathedrals with light and space. His meticulous attention to perspective as well as to the proportions of columns and arches in the interiors of churches evokes symmetry and harmony. With the low vantage point, and with his restrained – almost monochromatic – whitewashed color palette he created an atmosphere that invites contemplation, while capturing the magnificence and timelessness of these Dutch kerks on canvas.
Saenredam was born on June 9, 1597 to an accomplished engraver and draftsman Jan Pietersz Saenredam. When his father died, Pieter and his mother left his hometown of Assendelft and lived in Haarlem where he first showed interest in architectural paintings – painting his two favorite churches Saint Bavo and Nieuwe Kerk multiple times.
A brief stay in Utrecht – from June 1636 to January 1637 – left a strong impression and was a period of great creativity where he made numerous paintings of Utrecht cathedral and Mariakerk.
He became the most important artist of the genre during the Dutch Golden Age and changed the way churches were painted. Many other Dutch artists tried to evoke the same luminous atmosphere with their paintings of church interiors – but none was ever able to equal his vision.
I am quite fascinated by the number of women in Dutch paintings of the mid-1600s that are either reading or writing a letter. It is of course one of the many consequences of the Dutch Golden maritime age that the men and women were separated for long periods of time, and this was how they kept in touch. What is interesting however is how many of the artists picked up the same subject.
I think the Dutch artists of the same era liked to present the same content – it seems to be the same pattern with still life paintings, oranges and lemons in paintings, followed by swirly peels of oranges and lemons in paintings – perhaps the patrons all wanted the same content in their paintings.
Apparently, it’s not just us curious to know what gossip was being shared in those handwritten letters – there were others who tried to peek into the letters.
I started looking for paintings of people sitting at their desks and reading or studying because it’s finals week and that’s what I should be doing – then I decided to find women (instead of men) at desks when I discovered how many Dutch 17th Century Dutch paintings showed women reading and writing letters!! Quite a circuitous route – but still interesting to think of all those women sitting at home writing letters, sending all sorts of family and local gossip to their husbands and boyfriends while they were away exploring the world for months on end.
I should be focused like her and study for my exams!!
(Images Courtesy: Google Arts and Culture, Rijksmuseum, The Frick Collection, The Wallace Collection, Dresden Art Museum, essentialvermeer.org, MET Museum)