Assendelft 1597–1665 Haarlem
Pieter Jansz. Saenredam was the first painter to focus on the accurate topographical depiction of architectural subjects — a significant development from the fanciful inventions painted half a century earlier by artists such as Hendrik van Steenwijck the Elder (ca. 1550–1603). Among the sites depicted in the sixty or so known works in his painted oeuvre, Saenredam frequently painted the Cathedral of St. Bavo (the ‘Grote Kerk’) in Haarlem, where he was to be buried. He also ventured out of Haarlem, where he spent most of his life, to paint churches in other Dutch cities such as Utrecht, Amsterdam and his birthplace Assendelft. He was a friend of Holland's foremost living architect Jacob van Campen (1596–1657), who designed, in the classical style, Haarlem’s ‘Nieuwe Kerk’, painted several times by Saenredam, as well as the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Van Campen drew a portrait of the artist (1628, British Museum, London inv. 1854,0628.2), showing him as a hunchback. Constantijn Huygens (1596–1687), was an important early patron of Saenredam, owning three of his paintings. Huygens was a poet and an important advisor to the Stadholder, Frederick Prince of Orange to whom he introduced Rembrandt and Lievens.
Saenredam’s portraits of churches are in direct contrast to those of his contemporaries in Delft, Emanuel de Witte (1617–92), Hendrick van Vliet (1611–75) and Cornelis de Man (1621–1706) whose interiors are painted with more baroque drama and a more dramatic sense of the play of light on stone, often filtered through windows. Instead, Saenredam endows his interiors with a simplicity and architectural minimalism which is more Protestant in sentiment.
Saenredam’s paintings were the end-product of a precise working method: he made perspectival drawings in situ, complemented with measurements and plans. From these he produced a final compositional drawing which was then transferred to the panel or canvas to be painted in the studio. By drawing a church from numerous viewpoints, he produced, in effect, an architectural portrait. He reproduced the way the human eye experiences space by the introduction of a wide-angled view such as one sees through a camera obscura. While his sophisticated use of linear perspective and crisply painted details led to a camera-realistic result, Saenredam was never pedantic about topographical accuracy. His subtle use of a muted palette adds to the airy lightness of space and brings a sublime aura to his subject. Like fellow Dutch Golden Age artist Vermeer, Saenredam’s minimalist visions enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the twentieth century.
Top auction results for Pieter Saenredam
A View of Assendelft
Sold for £3,737,250 ($5,868,797)
London, Christie’s, 3 July 2012, Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale, lot 14
The Town Hall at Haarlem with the Entry of Prince Maurits in 1618
Sold for $3,010,000
New York, Sotheby’s, 28 January 2016, Master Paintings Evening Sale, lot 48
Haarlem, the Interior of the Nieuwe Kerk, seen from the Southwest
Sold for $1,856,000
New York, Sotheby’s, 22 January 2004, Important Old Master Paintings, lot 90