MADRID.- November 11 marks the opening of the 22nd exhibition in the Contexts of the Permanent Collection series, which on this occasion is devoted to the Dutch painter Pieter Jansz. Saenredam (1597-1665). Through the exhibition, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza will be offering an overview of the work of this artist, one of the leading names of 17th-century Dutch painting in a survey that will include some of his finest compositions. Saenredam was a pioneering figure in his use of detailed preparatory sketches and perspectival measurements made at first-hand, and he devoted almost his entire career to the depiction of interior and exterior architectural views. As a result, and according to his biographer Cornelis de Bie, Saenredam was the first architectural portraitist.
The exhibition focuses on a panel in the Museums own collection entitled The West Front of the Sint-Mariakerk in Utrecht of 1662. Despite its relatively small size (65.1 x 51.2 cm) it is a major example of the perspectives on which the artist exclusively focused from 1628 when he decided to abandon other genres. Also dating from that year is the charcoal portrait drawing of Saenredam by the artists friend, the painter and architect Jacob van Campen. Loaned by the British Museum in London, it is also included in the exhibition.
Saenredams oeuvre is relatively small, possibly due to the painstaking care involved in the production of his works. The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza has selected eleven of the finest examples, for which reason the exhibition offers a unique opportunity to study at close hand the work of this great artist and draughtsman who is almost unknown to the wider public within Spain.
The depiction of architecture: the rise of an independent genre
The painting of architecture arose as an independent genre in the Low Countries during the 17th century. While 15th-century Flemish art had included depictions of church interiors, 16thcentury Dutch and Flemish painters were the first to establish the bases for this new pictorial genre. The masters who preceded Saenredam, such as Hans and Paul Vredeman de Vries, Hendrick van Steenwijck the Elder, Bartholomeus van Bassen and Dirck van Delen, had confined themselves to depicting imaginary architectural views.
Within this context and following ten years of training in the workshop of Frans de Grebber in Haarlem, Saenredam stood out among his forerunners and contemporary as the first artist to use real rather than invented architectural motifs, depicted with enormous realism and rigour. Only on a few occasions did he correct proportions or omit details in order to achieve greater clarity in his compositions or to emphasise the monumentality of his subjects.
Interior and exterior views of the Mariakerk, Utrecht
When painting the façade of the Romanesque church known as the Mariakerk in Utrecht (demolished in the 19th century), we know that Saenredam allowed himself some licence. If we compare this painting to the artists drawing in the Gemeentelijke Archiefdienst in Utrecht dated 30 August 1636, it is evident that he eliminated two unsightly contstructions that had been added to the outer edges of the façade and that he modified the dimensions of the central rose window. He also added three figures standing by the building in order to convey the proportions of the space and of the church.
Despite the difference of date between the drawing and the painting, it is likely that Saenredam used the former as the starting-point for his oil. He regularly made sketches and studies in situ, to which he added detailed observations and the date, often setting them aside for many years before the opportunity arose to use them as the bases for finished compositions.
The present exhibition brings together in an exceptional manner other oils of the Mariakerk by Saenredam, in which the building is seen from different viewpoints. They include View of the Choir of the Mariakerk, Utrecht (1659), loaned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The lateral, north Nave of the Mariakerk, Utrecht (1659), from the Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis in The Hague.
A survey of Dutch monuments
Most of Saenredams surviving compositions relate to buildings in Haarlem where the artist lived. However, there are also a large number of drawings and paintings of the most important buildings mainly churches in Alkmaar, Rhenen, Assendelft, Amsterdam and Utrecht. Thanks to the artists habit of carefully dating all his works it is possible to recreate with precision his movements around Holland.
Saenredams first known architectural composition is Interior of the Church of St. Bavo in Haarlem of 1628, loaned by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Saenredam depicted St. Bavo on numerous other occasions between 1628 and 1636. During the summer of 1632 the artist visited ´s-Hertogenbosch, executing a panoramic drawing of the city, the Town Hall and the interior of the Cathedral of St. John. He then travelled to his native city of Assendelft and there are various surviving drawings of the interior of the Odulphuskerk dating from July to August 1633. These would provide the models for his oil painting on this subject of 1649, which is to be seen in the exhibition, loaned by the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, on loan from the City. Over the following years Saenredam worked on a number of occasions in the city of Alkmaar and the exhibition includes View of a Chapel in the lateral, north Nave of the Church of St. Lawrence, loaned by the Catharijneconvent in Utrecht.
In the summer and autumn of 1636 Saenredam undertook an artistic expedition of twenty weeks to Utrecht in order to draw and measure the churches of St. John, St. Catherine and the Mariakerk. Utrecht is undoubtedly the focus point of the exhibition as half of the paintings selected for inclusion depict the interiors or façades of its three churches.