Studio of Pieter Jansz. Saenredam (Assendelft 1597-1665 Haarlem)
The North transept and Choir Chapel of the Sint Janskerk, Utrecht oil on panel 50.6 x 40.7cm (19 15/16 x 16in).
PROVENANCE: Most probably the Collection of J. L. Strantwijk His sale, Amsterdam, 10 May, 1780, lot 226 Possibly, sale, Greenwood Auction House, London, 15-16 April, 1791, lot 40 Probably the collection of Thomas Kerridge (1748-1828) and thence by descent to Albert Hartshorne (1839-1910) and thence by descent to the present owner
A drawing by Saenredam executed in situ on 7 October 1636 in the Sint Janskerk, Utrecht, now in the Utrecht Municipal Archives, clearly provides the starting point for the present painting (see fig. 1). Infra-Red Reflectography of the panel reveals underdrawing which closely follows the initial study (see fig. 2), even including a note, upper right, made by the artist indicating the height of the vaults. Saenredam carried out the preparatory drawing during his trip to Utrecht in 1636 and it is known that he kept these detailed preliminary studies from his travels early in his career to provide source material for later paintings. It would therefore be entirely feasible for a member of his studio also to use such a drawing and to use it as a starting point for a finished work, imitating his master's working methods. Small alterations have been made in transferring the composition from the drawing to the panel, such as the removal of the beam above the entrance to the choir chapel, centre, and moving another beam which runs across the top of the drawing between two columns, which, in the painting, sits on the pilasters of the far wall instead. Such changes are not unheard of in Saenredam's modus operandi. The difficulty with the present painting is that very few works exist that have been given to artists who were known to have worked in Saenredam's studio or by contemporary imitators. One possible example is The Nave of the Laurenskerk, Alkmaar, now in the Stedelijk Museum, Alkmaar, which has been cautiously given to Izaak van Nikkelen and is based on Saenredam's preparatory drawing, in the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna.
Comparison of the present painting with other works accepted as being by Saenredam produces varied results. The quality exhibited in his acknowledged masterpieces, such as his View of the exterior of the Mariakerk and the Mariaplaats, Utrecht of 1662, now in the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, reveal the present work to be relatively heavy handed and coarse in the treatment of the architectural details. However, The North transept and Choir Chapel of the Sint Janskerk, Utrecht compares more favourably with other works, where the paint is more thickly applied and the handling somewhat less fine; for example The Nave and Chapel of Saint Anthony, Sint Janskerk, Utrecht also in the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam. It may be that the presence of the current work encourages the revision of some previous attributions to Pieter Saenredam.
The painting may well have been in the collection of J. L. Strantwijk. In his sale of May 1780, a picture described as 'Being the Janskerk in Utrecht, with some people contemplating the square arms hanging on the walls, and the floor, walls, doors, windows and vaults are so naturally depicted that one could imagine looking at true nature.' The measurements given for the Strantwijk panel are 19½ x 16 in., equating to almost exactly the dimensions of the present work. The Greenwood sale of 1791 in London then provides a possible date for the entry of the painting into England as the sale catalogue states that the picture was 'lately imported from Holland'.
We are grateful to Liesbeth M. Helmus of the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, Jeroen Giltay of the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Gary Schwartz and Marten Jan Bok of the Universiteit van Amsterdam for their kind assistance in preparing this catalogue note.