Research Paper: Pieter Jansz. Saenredam

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Pieter Jansz. Saenredam was a Dutch painter most commonly known for his involvement in producing paintings of church interiors during the seventeenth century. There is much controversy with regard to Saenredam's interest in religion, considering how his paintings tend to portray elements that have little to nothing to do with the original elements present in buildings he painted. In addition to expressing little to no interest in the religious aspect of his work, Saenredam also did not consult a professional architectural painter. The painter's background and life experiences in general makes his work intriguing, especially considering that it is actually difficult to address his paintings without concentrating on the architectural and religious aspects they contain.

Perspective before reality

Saenredam's work is certainly difficult to categorize by using a single style or by attempting to narrow the elements it puts across. While there were great deals of individuals who criticized him on account of how he chose to concentrate more on the feelings his paintings triggered than on the elements they contained, the reality is that he was most probably determined to discuss with regard to perspective rather than to simply replicate ideas he painted.

Saenredam produced pictures relating to a wide range of churches and cathedrals spread throughout the Netherlands. However, the two principal buildings he seemed obsessed with were the religious structures of Haarlem -- Saint Bavo and the Nieuwe Kerk.

When taking into account how the painter was inclined to express more interest in portraying traditional elements in his paintings, it would appear that he intended to focus on the past while he somewhat felt disappointed with the society contemporary to him. Yvo van Regteren Altena's opinion with regard to Saenredam's work provides more information concerning the dominating elements in the Dutch painter's works, as the contemporary analyst relates to them as being "a day of rest" during which people could recover from the past by finding pleasure in the visual delights of the present."

Saenredam thus seems to be more of an archeologist than a religious person when considering that his paintings relate more to the architectural aspect of churches than to the religious messages they put across.

Saenredam's works are inspired by his obsession with mathematical perspective, as his complex understanding of the subject enabled him to look at buildings from a point-of-view that differed from how the masses typically pictured such concepts. The fact that he used mathematics with the purpose of portraying interiors of churches and cathedrals led to a series of problems concerning the similarity between the actual perspective he wanted to display and the one he drew. "When he arrived at a construction drawing with which he was satisfied, he transferred it to a panel and began to paint, taking great care with the tactile appeal of plaster and stone and the luminosity of space."

Saenredam's works were most often criticized because they sometimes misrepresented reality. The Interior of the Grote Kerk at Haarlem (1636-7), for example, shows the painter's tendency to focus on ideas like light and space. He altered the actual appearance of the church by making the columns appear taller than they actually are, as this would make the structure look more imposing and more beautiful in general. As if he was determined to refrain from allowing any spiritual elements to pervade his works, Saenredam approached them from a material perspective. He practically looked at the architectural beauty of the buildings he wanted to paint and concentrated on imitating this respective beauty rather than to address the religious aspect involved in the discussion. "Art is what becomes the sacred space contained in this work -- sacred because it embodies individual thought and sensibility engaged with a world outside itself."

It is probable that Saenredam chose religious buildings as subjects for his paintings because he wanted to send a message that would be directly related to the Dutch Reformation. When looking closer at the whitewashed walls present in Saenredam's paintings, one can see that the painter used different types of color with the purpose of emphasizing that parts of the walls were either stained or discolored. This was most probably intended to relate to the idea that there is no spiritual message to be provided through this painting and that the wall itself has a material value. There is apparently no hidden message meant to be expressed through a church and it would be absurd for someone to search for perfection and for a way to improve his or her connection with the divine through this medium.

The Interior of the Grote Kerk at Haarlem is certainly characteristic to Saenredam's style. The work was among his first notable paintings and the way he altered the viewer's perspective later came to dominate his style. It was practically as if Saenredam wanted viewers to concentrate on the church as an individual character in the painting. The emptiness that the picture puts across is downright breathtaking and further contributes to emphasizing the painter's obsession with the shape of churches.

The columns in the painting almost put across the feeling that viewers are standing in front of an abstract work of art. Characteristic to his custom, Saenredam initially made a drawing of the church in 1636 and then proceeded to paint the Interior of the Grote Kerk at Haarlem in 1637. The painter likely considered that by making the columns appear taller than they actually were he would enable viewers to look at the church from a completely different point-of-view. This exemplifies his concern with providing viewers with the significance of the relationship between natural light and intricate interiors.

Saenredam is, to a certain degree, a leading member of the Dutch perspective movement. "The evidence provided by his paintings and drawings is extensive in itself."

What is impressive about his work is that it is the result of long hours and days of careful planning. He obviously wanted perspective to play a particularly important role in his paintings and he thus concentrated on analyzing all aspects of the structures he was about to paint before actually going through with the process.

The Dutch painter was unhesitant about using truthful architectural motifs, even with the fact that he sometimes introduced his own idea of particular buildings into his paintings. The cases in which he corrected proportions, such as the Interior of the Grote Kerk at Haarlem, were meant "to achieve greater clarity in his compositions or to emphasise the monumentality of his subjects." (SAENREDAM) The ideas he introduced into his works distinguished him from painters living contemporary to him and enabled the world as a whole to look at religious structures from a whole different position.

Saenredam's work in the context of iconoclasm

It is certainly intriguing to look at Saenredam's paintings and consider the nothingness they are meant to put across. The painter did not remove icons from all church paintings he created, but the fact that he left some of them does not mean that he actually makes it possible for viewers to feel the religious feeling present in these respective icons. "His church interiors are not opened by the eye of an imagined spectator, but by the experience of looking and the desire to make that experience visible."

Saenredam appreciated the concept of iconoclasm because it provided him with the opportunity to put across a complex message related to a wide range of topics, as he did not simply had to relate to religion. The Dutch painter likely enjoyed the fact that the reformation provided the opportunity for him to concentrate on less visible aspects of a church. Many structures went unnoticed when regarding their architectural appearance precisely because of how Catholicism introduced icons and objects of worship into these buildings. The serenity that these paintings put across enables viewers to gain a more complex understanding of the painter's position and interests when painting them.

Movement is rarely found in Saenredam's paintings, as he intended to display church interiors in a way that would trigger confusing feelings in individuals seeing them. However, as one becomes better-acquainted with the elements in one of his paintings, the respective person is likely to observe the transparency and the stillness they are intended to express. Many generations living previous to Saenredam found it difficult to address such ideas and this emphasizes the feelings he experienced while devising his works. "Awaking from nightmares of the past, Saenredam's generation of artists was free, these descriptions suggest, to explore the world around them."

Saenredam's ability to paint wood and whitewashed walls might seem pointless to some. However, when looking deeper into his connections with iconoclasm and his determination to portray churches from his personal point-of-view, matters become much more complex. It is precisely the nothingness in his paintings that puts across a controversial message. The fact that most of his works are shown with little to no people present in churches is intended to emphasize a denial that is much more specific than the fact that there are no… [END OF PREVIEW]

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