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Saenredam, Interior of Saint Bavo, Haarlem

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the Philadelphia Museum of Art in a gallery devoted to 17th century Dutch painting looking at a painting titled interior of Saint Bavo Harlem painted by Peterson Rodham who is known for his church interiors is very meticulous perspective this was a moment in Dutch art where artists often chose specialties somebody might be a flower painter somebody might paint seascapes or somebody might paint church interiors this helped in the marketing of their work you go to this artist because he paints this type of painting the Dutch Republic at this time was about the size of the state of Maine and one economic historian has estimated that 5 million paintings were produced in this area so even while there's a lot of interest in buying these types of works artists and there were a large number of them had to create their own identity they did this by aligning with a particular type of art in the city where this was painted was both an economic and a cultural center at this moment in 1631 Harlem was in many ways the cultural heart of the country Amsterdam which we think of more popularly wasn't a major engine yet Harlem doubled in the population during the first couple of decades of the 17th century the printing industry was located here a number of the most important artists were located here there's a rich cultural tradition and a lot of people really interested in art I feel as if I'm standing in the church in a way that is unusual in part because not only am I seeing deep into the church but I have a sense of my peripheral vision as well senator dum constructed the scene to make you feel as if you are in the space there's no impediment in the foreground to block your entrance you see down the space the horizon line it's quite low so you get the sense of being in the place today we're used to being in very large spaces but this space must have seemed monumental to someone in the 1630s you mentioned the word horizon line and in this particular painting that would be defined by our eye level or the eye level of the people depicted in this painting genre Dom carefully constructed his interior space using scientific linear perspective which was based on the idea the horizon line but also recession to a single point back in space in most perspectival studies the space that is depicted is narrower what the artist is done here though is to push the depicted space close to the edges of our peripheral vision senator tom has widened out the view and as realistic as it appears you could never actually achieve this viewpoint standing inside the church to get this widening of our viewpoints you would have to stand outside of the church saundra dom is very aware and attuned to what one can do with linear perspective so much so that he manipulates it to widen it out to give you this almost panoramic view which enhances your idea of what it would feel like to be in the church but you can't actually see this viewpoint perspective really is the star of this painting it's as if the artist is showing off his technical ability but also pushing linear perspective to its limits is a large-scale work and it would have been very difficult to execute even just to conceive of the perspective scheme it required knowledge of mathematics architecture science and it speaks not only to the artists skill but it also speaks to the sophistication of his audience of residents of Harlem at this moment it is meticulously painted you can't find a single brush stroke and that would have been appreciated by his audience this probably was not a commissioned work of art so he had to really show off to try and attract a sophisticated viewer and client but it's not just the perspective that's such a knockout look at the use of light look at the use of shadow look at the use of tone this is a white interior but there's not a trace of pure white in this painting using a restricted palette to show off what one can accomplish in a limited amount of tones and hues a variety of Gray's some yellows all to create the sense of atmosphere and a sense of the luminousness of all the life of the great Gothic windows allow into this interior and you get a real sense of a bright sunny day which is also a fascinating thing because most of the time in this area it's rainy and cold and gray so he's exaggerating this effect too when I look down toward the end of the church past where the altar would be I'm seeing very faint Haitians of stained-glass windows but they've been de-emphasized by the artist this was a largely Protestant country which had recently gone through all kinds of religious upheaval which included iconic lessons of going into churches going into locations and removing the religious imagery and Sano Dom here presents us with a really stripped-down Church there are some vestiges of representation as in the stained glass but there's no pulpit there's no pews there's very little interior decoration other than the architecture itself the one exception can be seen just to the right there's a small painting of the exterior of this church and that's an actual painting that in 1631 was hanging in the church and at the time was believed to be by the Harlem artists of an earlier generation guaranted scene Young's so he's putting himself in the great lineage of Harlem artists he's asserting his own ambition his own talent his own abilities in what is a grand magnificent painting and even includes his own name appearing as if it is a gravestone near that painting to let us know who exactly it was who painted this picture this is summer Tom's first painted version of this view but it's not the first image that he produced of it about three years earlier a very similar image appears in a printed book which was a history and description of the city of Harlem we might think of it as a guide book something that trumpeted what one could see what one could do as well as valorising this civic monument and so saundra Dom was commissioned to present an image of the interior for this very purpose which speaks to the civic pride in the building in the architecture but it was also Sonora Dom trying to work through how to do what was a new way of picturing and he followed that with a drawing and finally this painting but what I find most interesting about these three variations is that there are changes the earlier damage of concludes people and pews and makes it clear that a religious service is going on in the painting we have people but there's a different type of activity so he seems to be wanting to say different things in these two versions we have in the foreground three figures who are lavishly dressed these figures traditionally have understood to help viewers understand how monumental the space is but recently we have identified these and these are representations if not portraits of actual people so the figure in brown in the middle is frederick v who is known as the winter king of bohemia which is the modern-day czech republic to his right is his wife Elizabeth Stuart they have different garments than the others traditional Dutch garments and a black with the white collars which is what you see in all the other figures but he and the brown and she in particular in her rich blue garment stands out and they're accompanied by Johann cha-cha who was a member of the City Council a leading figure in the city of Harlem and so he's giving these visiting dignitaries who were living in exile nearby in The Hague a tour of this civic monument and look at the way he seems to lead them forward pointing out features of the church in in a sense it gives us the viewer a rule as we walk through this church that we might listen in to some of his comments shot her strides forward he's animated his pointing he's turning towards them that part that I love is that Frederick and Elizabeth are turning in as if listening to what he has to say these are in a sense mini portraits but the panel as a whole is a portrait as well it's not so much an interior in my mind as it is a portrait of the building [Music]