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Oil painting - Interior of Antwerp Cathedral
  • Interior of Antwerp Cathedral
    Neefs, Pieter the elder
  • Enlarge image

Interior of Antwerp Cathedral

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Antwerp (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    mid 17th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Neefs, Pieter the elder (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on oak panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by George Mitchell

  • Museum number:

    354-1878

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Pieter Neefs (1578?-1656/61) was born in Antwerp and probably trained with Hendrick van Steenwijk the Elder (ca.1550-1603) or Younger (ca. 1580-1649). In 1609, he became a master in the Antwerp Guild of St Luke and specialised in the depiction of highly detailed churches' interiors, which figures were sometimes painted by other artists such as Frans Francken II. His sons Lodewijck (1617-1649?) and Peeter II (1620-after 1675) seem to have been employed in his workshop and imitated their father's work.

This painting is a good example of the many imitations and replicas of the famous church interiors painters, Pieter Neefs the Elder and sons, identifiable as such for its mediocre quality. This paintings relates to at least two similar compositions by Neefs, father and son, showing the catholic cathedral of Antwerp in which a crowd of people is involved in different activities such as preying, meeting or begging… This trend illustrates that churches in the Netherlands played an important role in everyday life and was an integrant part of the daily activities.

Physical description

Interior of the Antwerp cathedral with a view of the central nave and its succession of altars looking towards the central choir; some figures are kneeling in front of one of the altars and others including beggars, children and dogs are wandering around.

Place of Origin

Antwerp (probably, painted)

Date

mid 17th century (painted)

Artist/maker

Neefs, Pieter the elder (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on oak panel

Dimensions

Height: 13 cm estimate, Width: 17 cm estimate, :

Object history note

Bequeathed by George Mitchell, 1878

Historical significance: The depiction of the interior of the catholic Antwerp cathedral, Our Lady of Antwerp, was the favourite subject of Pieter Neefs the Elder and his son, who produced a large number of versions that differ only in details. The present painting relates to almost identical compositions by Pieter Neefs the Younger in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, dated 1620 and another version in the Wallace Collection, London signed Pieter Neefs the Elder and dated 1648 (P152).
The 15th-century Gothic church offered many pictorial interests to the artist. Structured upon seven naves, the construction started in 1352 and the whole architecture looks totally gothic in style, however, in the central nave, a succession of altars made of ebony, white and pink marbles and a number of tabernacles on the pillars bear essential baroque characteristics. This combination of style increased by the crowd in early 17th-century costumes offers a wide range of variations for the painter. However, the depiction of this rich interior does not reach the high degree of refinement the Neefs family was famous for. The Gothic features for instance are not as neatly rendered as in the versions of the Gemäldegalerie and the Wallace Collection.
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. In this respect, the kneeling flock in the central nave at mid-distance shows a scene of catholic devotion that was integrant part of the life in Antwerp however the city was strongly influenced by the Reformation's ideas.

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 Antwerp Cathedral', follower of Pieter Neefs the Elder, mid 17th century

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. 247.

Materials

Oil paint; Oak

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Antwerp Cathedral

Categories

Paintings

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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