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Oil painting - Interior of a Cathedral: Night Scene
  • Interior of a Cathedral: Night Scene
    Neefs, Pieter the Younger, born 1620
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Interior of a Cathedral: Night Scene

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Antwerp (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1660 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Neefs, Pieter the Younger, born 1620 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on oak panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John M. Parsons

  • Museum number:

    558-1870

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Pieter Neefs (1620- after 1675) was born in Antwerp and collaborated with his father, the famous church interior painter Pieter Neefs the Elder (1578?-1656/61) prior to actually imitate his work. He was apparently never enrolled as an independent master in the Guild of St Luke.

This painting is a good example of Pieter Neefs the Younger's work that was very close in style and composition to his father's style. They both favoured to depict church interiors that enable them to show their perspective skills and the daily activities of their contemporaries. The attribution is based on the dating of the painting that relies upon the characters' costumes, fashionable during the 1660s.

Physical description

A cathedral interior by night with a number of figures: elegant gentlemen, beggars, priests and dogs; a group of gentleman kneel before a priest who celebrates a mass by an altar in the left hand-side aisle.

Place of Origin

Antwerp (painted)

Date

ca. 1660 (painted)

Artist/maker

Neefs, Pieter the Younger, born 1620 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on oak panel

Dimensions

Height: 44 cm approx., Width: 67.3 cm approx., :

Object history note

Bequeathed by John M. Parsons, 1870
John Meeson Parsons (1798-1870), art collector, was born in Newport, Shropshire. He later settled in London, and became a member of the stock exchange. His interest in railways led to his election as an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1839, and he was director or chairman of two railway companies between 1843 and 1848. Much of his time however was spent collecting pictures and works of art. In his will he offered his collection of mostly German and Dutch schools to the National Gallery (which selected only three works) and to the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington, later the Victoria and Albert Museum. The South Kensington Museum acquired ninety-two oil paintings and forty-seven watercolours. A number of engravings were also left to the British Museum.

Historical significance: Pieter Neefs and his son, Pieter Neefs the Younger belonged to this group of architectural painters such as Pieter Saenredam (1597-1665) and Emmanuel de Witte (ca.1617-1692), who favoured the depiction of church interiors as the main subject of their compositions.
Neefs was particularly attentive to the soft transition between light and shade, and painted a number of church interiors by night that allow him to play further with the contrast between light and darkness. In addition, his extreme attention to detail is revealed in the painstaking depiction of each decorative elements of the church such as the draughtboard floor in which are carved large tombstones and the richly ornamented altar on the left hand-side aisle, in which one can identify the white and pink marbles, the ebony of the frame and even the large altarpiece representing a Crucifixion.
The Gothic edifice, which is here unidentifiable, also enables the artist to show his perspective skills that he drew from architectural treatises. The scene represents a moment of catholic devotion, probably the Vespers' mass celebrated by a kneeling priest in a yellow soutane. The devoted people behind him wear garments that were in fashion during the 1660s and therefore suggest that the painting was executed in that time frame. A similar composition is in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes (P.46.1.25) and was previously attributed to Pieter Neefs the Younger (now reattributed to his father). It shows a slightly different edifice but a similar setting with the same altar surmounted by an altarpiece representing an identical Crucifixion.
Both Neefs father and son used to collaborate with other painters that would provide figures staffage for their compositions; in this case, the figures are in the style of Frans Franken II, a painter with whom they often worked.
Neefs' prolific output of church interiors reflects the evolution of the art market in the Netherlands where the burgomasters were more and more interested in the acquisition of paintings representing their daily activities and social range.

Historical context note

Architectural paintings, i.e. paintings in which a building or a group of buildings or ruins constitutes either the main subject of the composition or plays an important role in it, in the Netherlands began in the 16th century, especially in the virtuoso perspective views of such artists as Hans (1527-1606) and Paul Vredeman de Vries (1567-after 1630). Architectural paintings include views of church interiors, both real and imaginary; interior and exterior views of imaginary palaces and, occasionally, country estates as well as exterior views of important buildings, such as cathedrals, town halls and country houses. This genre painting particularly flourished during the 17th century when artists such as Pieter Saenredam (1597-1665), Emmanuel de Witte (ca.1617-1692), Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712) and Job (1630-1693) and Gerrit Berckheyde (1638-1698) produced detailed representations of actual and fantasy architecture as main subjects of their compositions. Pieter Saenredam is generally regarded as the artist whose depictions of actual church interiors established a new genre in Dutch painting even though important precedents occur in the work of other artists such as Hendrik van Steenwyck (ca.1550-1603). Saenredam's pictures however obtained the favours of the art market that enable him and contemporary artists such as Pieter Neefs the Elder (1578?-1656/61) and the Younger (ca. 1580-1649) to support a career largely devoted to this speciality.

Descriptive line

Oil Painting, 'Interior of a Cathedral: Night Scene', attributed to Pieter Neefs the Younger, ca. 1660

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800 London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 201, cat. no. 245.
A catalogue of the National Gallery of British Art at South Kensington with a supplement containing works by modern foreign artists and Old Masters, 1893, p. 188.

Materials

Oil paint; Oak

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Night; Priest; Cathedral; Figures

Categories

Paintings; Interiors

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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