National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Cathedral of Saint John at 's-Hertogenbosch Pieter Jansz Saenredam (artist)
Dutch, 1597 - 1665
Cathedral of Saint John at 's-Hertogenbosch, 1646
oil on panel
overall: 128.9 x 87 cm (50 3/4 x 34 1/4 in.) framed: 168.3 x 127 cm (66 1/4 x 50 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
1961.9.33
On View
From the Tour: Dutch Landscapes and Seascapes of the 1600s
Object 8 of 8

The fifteenth-century Gothic cathedral at 's-Hertogenbosch, a town near the Maas river, glows in soft daylight. The iconoclasts, or “image destroyers” of the Protestant Reformation, had replaced the church’s stained glass and whitewashed its vaults. On the choir stall at the lower left corner, Saenredam identified the subject and dated the picture 1646.

At no single moment in the cathedral's history, however, would all these furnishings, statues, and memorial plaques appear simultaneously. Saenredam's preparatory drawing of the interior, for example, is dated 1 July 1632, twelve years before this painting, and shows the altarpiece empty, hung with a curtain. Prior to his visit, the altar’s painting had been removed by Catholics fleeing the Protestants. Saenredam, a close friend of the altarpiece’s artist, ingeniously reinserted the missing picture in his painting.

Saenredam’s systematic sketches and measurements of specific structures allowed him to create such plausible impossibilities. His scrupulous observation of lighting and textures was to influence the views of domestic interiors by Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch.

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