Pieter Saenredam, who is best known for his paintings of church interiors, had broad humanistic interests, ranging from the history and development of the Netherlands to the literature of antiquity. A prized source of information about Rome was a sketchbook of antiquities made in the 1530s by Maerten van Heemskerck (1498–1574), which Saenredam would eventually acquire.
This painting is based on one of the images in Heemskerck’s sketchbook. The ancient, circular chapel of Santa Maria della Febbre in the foreground was originally built as a mausoleum in the second century. After 1506 the chapel was converted into the sacristy of the new Saint Peter’s basilica, which was then under construction behind it. The massive piers of the crossing that would eventually support the famous dome designed by Michelangelo are clearly visible in Saenredam’s painting. When Saenredam painted the scene in 1629, the dome had already been completed, and the Egyptian obelisk in the foreground, quarried in the thirteenth century BC and taken to Rome in the first century AD, had been moved to a different location on Saint Peter’s Square, some 275 yards away.
Interestingly, Saenredam portrayed Saint Peter’s as though it were an abandoned ruin overgrown with weeds. He created a sense of depth in the landscape by overlapping layers of contrasting tone, moving from a dark foreground through the buildings’ pinkish yellow to the bright blues and greens of low-lying distant hills. It is probable that the cardinal in his horse-drawn carriage and the other figures in the landscape were painted by Saenredam’s colleague Pieter Post (1608–1669).
A fascinating development in the Netherlands in the early seventeenth century was the appearance of city histories: books recounting the important events and personalities that had determined the character of the community and brought it fame. One of the most important city histories was Samuel Ampzing’s Beschryvinge ende lof der stad Haerlem in Holland, published in Haarlem in 1628. Among the factors that inspired a justifiable sense of civic pride in Ampzing were the painters whose works brought glory to their native city even after their deaths, including
The poem emphasizes both the historical importance of the Town Hall as the palace and home of Willem II, Duke of Holland, and the honor it had brought to the city as a symbol of justice. The poem ends with a broad statement on the importance of justice as a foundation for the country.
Ampzing’s book was but one manifestation of a broader need felt by the people of this newly formed country to trace their roots, to emphasize their cultural heritage, and to build a mythology that could define their place in history. Saenredam experienced this impulse keenly: throughout his career he carefully recorded, with annotated drawings and paintings of public buildings, both the world he saw around him and the one he could reconstruct from careful examination of physical and documentary evidence.
It must have been in large part because of this desire to immerse himself in his own heritage that Saenredam, at the very beginning of his career, turned so enthusiastically to Heemskerck’s drawings of antiquities. Church of Santa Maria della Febbre, Rome is one of the most visible manifestations of Saenredam’s interest in the earlier artist’s work. Saenredam based his scene on a drawing from Heemskerck’s famous Roman sketchbook, which was filled with images of antiquity that the Haarlem artist had executed in Italy almost a century before.
See Christian Hülsen and Hermann Egger, Die römischen Skizzenbücher von Marten van Heemskerck im königlichen Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin (Berlin, 1913–1916; reprint, 1975). Heemskerck was in Rome between 1532 and 1536. Not all of the drawings in this sketchbook are now believed to be by Heemskerck. At least two other hands have been identified. See, in particular, Ilja M. Veldman, “Heemskercks Romeinse tekeningen en ‘Anonymus B,’” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 38 (1987): 369–382.
When Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem died in 1638, he had in his estate “het treffelyck getekent boeckie van Mr. Maertyn Heemskerck nae alle de fraiste antique van Roma.” See Abraham Bredius, Künstler-Inventare . . . , 8 vols. (The Hague, 1915–1922), 7:83; and Gary Schwartz, Marten Jan Bok, and Loekie Schwartz, Pieter Saenredam: The Painter and His Time (New York, 1990), 324 n. 26.
For a discussion of the relationship of Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem to Saenredam, see Gary Schwartz, Marten Jan Bok, and Loekie Schwartz, Pieter Saenredam: The Painter and His Time (New York, 1990), 23. That Saenredam eventually acquired the drawings seems probable given the announcement for the sale of his collection of graphic art after his death in 1669, which included “many drawings by Maerten van Heemskerck . . . made . . . from life in Italy.” For a hypothesis on how this acquisition came about, see Schwartz, Bok, and Schwartz, Pieter Saenredam: The Painter and His Time, 185.
As is evident later in Saenredam’s life, from the contents of his large library, the artist had broad humanistic interests, ranging from the history and development of the Netherlands to the literature of antiquity.
The contents of his library are described in the catalog for the sale of his collection, which was held on April 20, 1677. The catalog, discovered by Bert van Selm, has been analyzed, in part, by Gary Schwartz, Marten Jan Bok, and Loekie Schwartz, Pieter Saenredam: The Painter and His Time (New York, 1990), 181–187.
The other paintings based on this sketchbook are: The Colosseum, Rome, signed and dated 1631 (Girardet Collection, Kettwig-Ruhr); View from the Aracoeli, Rome, towards the Colosseum in the South, signed and dated 1633 (formerly Musée des Beaux-Arts, Orleans, but destroyed in 1940); and Portico of the Pantheon, Rome, signed and dated 1643 (private collection). These paintings are included in Gary Schwartz, Marten Jan Bok, and Loekie Schwartz, Pieter Saenredam: The Painter and His Time (New York, 1990) as, respectively, cat. nos. 114, 113, and 112.
The drawing in the sketchbook that Saenredam took as his point of departure for his depiction of Santa Maria della Febbre
The first art historian to connect the painting with the drawing, which is fol. 72r in the sketchbook, was J. Q. van Regeteren Altena, “Saenredam Archeoloog,” Oud-Holland 48 (1931): 1–3. He argued, on the basis of this information, that Saenredam had never traveled to Italy. Ilja M. Veldman, “Heemskercks Romeinse tekeningen en ‘Anonymus B,’” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 38 (1987): 369–382, attributed the drawing in the Heemskerck sketchbook to another, anonymous hand. For the purposes of this entry the designation “Heemskerck” will be used when referring to this drawing.
The following description of the buildings is based largely on Christian Hülsen and Hermann Egger, Die römischen Skizzenbücher von Marten van Heemskerck im königlichen Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin (Berlin, 1913–1916), 7 (from the description of the plates in the second volume).
This information has been gleaned from Horst W. Janson, The Sculpture of Donatello: Incorporating the Notes and Photos of the Late Jenö Lányi (Princeton, 1963), 97.
The drawing is a fascinating historical document, for it depicts a stage during the construction of Saint Peter’s that has been difficult to reconstruct. By the time Saenredam laid eyes on the Heemskerck sketchbook, the situation had changed radically, not only through the construction of the imposing dome designed by Michelangelo, but also through the relocation of the obelisk to Saint Peter’s Square.
For a depiction of the site from a similar point of view in the early 1580s, showing the dome under construction, see Henry A. Millon, Michelangelo Architect: The Façade of San Lorenzo and the Drum and Dome of St. Peter’s (Milan, 1988), 101, fig. E.
It would seem that Saenredam, given his humanistic leanings, would have recognized the buildings in Heemskerck’s drawings. Nevertheless, it is telling that he did not paint the circular roof defining the apse of the Cappella del Coro, which is clearly delineated in the drawing. Such an omission indicates that he was unaware of the character of that building. That he did not follow Heemskerck’s design slavishly is also evident from
A photographic or digital image analysis method which captures the absorption/emission characteristics of reflected infrared radiation. The absorption of infrared wavelengths varies for different pigments, so the resultant image can help distinguish the pigments that have been used in the painting or underdrawing.
A drawing executed on a ground before paint is applied.
One senses that Saenredam saw in Heemskerck’s stark drawing images of architecture he associated with antiquity. Saenredam apparently sought to emphasize the ancient venerability of the architectural setting while at the same time suggesting the continuity of the Catholic presence in Italy through the staffage figures and the papal tiara attached to the wall of one of the buildings. This approach seems to be a visual counterpart to the literary historicizing to which he had been exposed through his involvement in Ampzing’s Beschryvinge ende lof der stad Haerlem in Holland. The evocative power that this painting thus assumes makes it one of the most fascinating of Saenredam’s early works.
One unresolved issue is whether the staffage figures—the cardinal riding in a horse-drawn wagon and the two accompanying gentlemen dressed in seventeenth-century costumes—were actually executed by Saenredam or by
Sturla J. Gudlaugsson, “Aanvullingen omtrent Pieter Post’s werkzaamheid als schilder,” Oud-Holland 69 (1954): 59–71.
Mauritshuis: Hollandse schilderkunst—landschappen 17de eeuw (The Hague, 1980), 77–79, nos. 765–766.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower center on paper attached to base of obelisk: P. Saenreda.fe. / Ao 1629
Friedrich, king of Prussia. (sale, Frederik Muller and Co., Amsterdam, 25 November 1924, no. 60); Anton W.M. Mensing [1866-1936], Amsterdam; (his estate sale, Frederik Muller and Co., Amsterdam, 15 November 1938, no. 96); (D.A. Hoogendijk, Amsterdam); J.A.G. Sandberg, Wassenaar, in 1950; private collection, The Netherlands; (D.A. Hoogendijk, Amsterdam), by 1953; (Frederick A. Stern, Inc., New York); sold 1954 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1961 to NGA.
- Pieter Jansz. Saenredam 1597-1665, Museum Boymans, Rotterdam; Museum Fodor, Amsterdam, 1937-1938, no. 1.
- Le Paysage Hollandais au XVIIe Siècle, Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, 1950, no. 82.
- Tentoonstelling Kunstbezit van Oud-Alumni der Leidse Universiteit, Stedelijk Museum Lakenhal, Leiden, 1950, no. 47.
- Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 1961, no. 111.
- A Collector's Cabinet, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, no. 51.
The support is a beveled, horizontally grained oak panel with a slight concave warp. Narrow oak strips, possibly original, are attached to the edges. The vertical strips are sawn at regularly spaced intervals to counteract splitting of the wood. Neither the smooth, thin, white ground layer nor the paint extends onto the strips. Infrared reflectography at 1.5 to 1.8 microns reveals a loosely executed underdrawing that delineates the church architecture. Minor changes in two of the windows and some architectural details are visible between the drawn and painted stages.
Paint, applied thinly with small brushes, leaves both the wood grain and the individual brushstrokes plainly visible. The sky was laid in first, followed by the buildings, with the figures painted over the completed background, in an economical technique employing opaque wet-into-wet layering and thin scumbles and glazes. Figures and landscape were handled similarly and appear contemporaneous.
Abrasion is minimal. Discolored inpainting covers small losses found primarily along the bottom edge, in the church architecture, and in the sky. In a selective cleaning, prior to acquisition, a layer of discolored, aged varnish was left over the dark foreground in the lower left and over a clump of bushes rising from the building at the left. The painting has not been treated since its acquisition.
 Dendrochronology provides a felling date between 1627 and 1634. Dendrochronology was performed by Dr. Peter Klein, Universität Hamburg (see report dated January 7, 1987, in NGA Conservation department files).
 Infrared reflectography was performed with a Santa Barbara focal plane array InSb camera fitted with an H astronomy filter.
- Thieme, Ulrich, and Felix Becker, eds. Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. 37 vols. Leipzig, 1907-1950: 29(1935):306.
- Bredius, Abraham. Künstler-Inventare: Urkunden zur Geschichte der holländischen Kunst des XVIten, XVIIten und XVIIIten Jahrhunderts. 8 vols. The Hague, 1915-1922: 7(1921):83.
- Regteren Altena, J.Q. van. "Saenredam Archeoloog." Oud Holland 48 (1931): 1-2, repro. 2.
- Swillens, P.T.A. Pieter Janszoon Saenredam: Schilder van Haarlem, 1597-1665. Amsterdam, 1935: 8, 83, no. 38, repro. 28.
- Hannema, Dirk. Pieter Jansz. Saenredam, 1597-1665: schilderijen en tekeningen. Exh. cat. Museum Boymans, Rotterdam; Museum Fodor, Amsterdam. Rotterdam, 1937: no. 1.
- Trivas, Numa S. "Pieter Saenredam." Apollo 27 (March 1938): 154-155.
- Bernt, Walther. Die niederländischen Maler des 17. Jahrhunderts. 3 vols. Munich, 1948: 3:no. 1017, repro.
- Musée de l'Orangerie. Le paysage hollandais au XVIIe siècle. Exh. cat. Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, 1950: no. 82.
- Pelinck, Egbert. Tentoonstelling kunstbezit van oud-alumni der Leidse universiteit. Exh. cat. Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden, 1950: no. 47.
- Bersier, Jean Eugène. L'influence d'Italie dans la peinture hollandaise. Paris, 1951: 102 n. 1.
- Gudlaugsson, Sturla J. "Aanvullingen omtrent Pieter Post’s werkzaamheid als schilder." Oud Holland 69 (1954): 59-71.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 158, no. 61, repro.
- Walker, John. "The Nation's Newest Old Masters." The National Geographic Magazine 110, no. 5 (November 1956): 646, color repro. 652.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 157.
- Magnuson, Torgil. Studies in Roman quattrocento architecture. Stockholm, 1958: 190.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 323, repro.
- Plietzsch, Eduard. Holländische und flämische Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. Leipzig, 1960: 123.
- Houtzager, Maria E., P. T. A. Swillens, and Iohannes Q. van Regteren Altena. Catalogue Raisonné of the Works by Pieter Jansz. Saenredam. Exh. cat. Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 1961: 164-165, no. 111, pl. 115.
- Walker, John, Guy Emerson, and Charles Seymour. Art Treasures for America: An Anthology of Paintings & Sculpture in the Samuel H. Kress Collection. London, 1961: 156-158, color repro. pl. 149.
- Pensa, M. "Pieter Jansz. Saenredam." Arte Antica e Moderna 18 (April-June 1962): xi, repro.
- Janson, Horst W. The Sculpture of Donatello: Incorporating the Notes and Photos of the Late Jenö Lányi. Princeton, 1963: 97.
- National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 119.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 107, repro.
- Vey, Horst. Sammlung Herbert Girardet: holländische und flämische Meister. Exh. cat. Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne; Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Cologne, 1970: cited in discussion of no. 48.
- Hülsen, Christian, and Hermann Egger. Die römischen Skizzenbücher von Marten van Heemskerck im Königlichen Kupferstichkabinett zu Berlin. 2 vols. Reprint of Berlin 1913-1916 ed. Soest, 1975: 7.
- National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 316, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 298, no. 400, repro.
- Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 141-142, fig. 129, as Church of Santa Maria della Febbre, with St. Peter's Under Construction, Rome.
- Duparc, Frederik J. Mauritshuis: Hollandse schilderkunst - landschappen 17de eeuw. The Hague, 1980: 77–79, nos. 765–766.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 298, no. 394, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 365, repro.
- Schwartz, Gary, and Marten Jan Bok. Pieter Saenredam: de schilder in zijn tijd. Translated by Loekie Schwartz. Maarssen and The Hague, 1989: 73 fig. 83, 76, 105, 204, 272, no. 111.
- Schwartz, Gary, and Marten Jan Bok. Pieter Saenredam: The Painter and His Time. New York, 1989: 73 fig. 83, 76, 105, 204, 272, no. 111.
- Slive, Seymour, and Jakob Rosenberg. Dutch painting 1600-1800. Pelican History of Art. Revised and expanded ed. New Haven, 1995: 264.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 349-353, color repro. 351.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. A Collector's Cabinet. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1998: 30, 68, no. 51, repro.
- Butler, Kim E. "'Reddita lux est': Raphael and the Pursuit of Sacred Eloquence in Leonine Rome." In Artists at Court: Image-making and identity, 1300-1550. Edited by Stephen J. Campbell. Boston, 2004: 145, fig. 9.4.
- Kuretsky, Susan Donahue. Time and Transformation in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art. Exh. cat. Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota; J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville. Seattle, 2005: 31-32, fig. 19.
- classical antiquity
- landscape with ruins
- revolution +Dutch Revolt
- philosophical disciplines +humanism
- mathematical perspective
- symbolic representation of concept
- historical person +Maerten van Heemskerk