Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Jan and Pieter Jansz Saenredam

Interior of Saint Bavo, Haarlem, 1631, Pieter Jansz Saenredam
We're all familiar with the old saying, "Like father, like son." Very often, insofar as art is concerned, the saying is as valid as in any other context. Down through history, the sons (and on rare occasions, the daughters) of artists painted very much like their fathers simply because they were (initially at least) trained by their fathers. However, there's also what's come to be called "The exception which proves the rule." Sons have been known to rebel against their fathers. Down through the annuls of art history we find cases in which a whole generation rejected the art of the previous generation for little apparent reason other than artistic rebellion. It's hard to say why the art of the Dutch painter, Pieter Jansz Saenredam, was so radically different from that of his father, Jan Saenredam. If young Pieter was his father's pupil, then obviouslysomeone wasn't paying much attention in class. The painting of Interior of Saint Bavo, Haarlem (above), from 1631, is by the son, Pieter Jansz Saenredam, while the etched print, Venus and Mars with Cupid (below), is by the father, Jan Saenredam. The contrast could hardly be more startling.

Venus and Mars with Cupid, Jan Saenredam
Jupiter and Juno Seated,
Jan Saenredam
It would appear that the father was something of a "dirty old man" while the son was a staunch, Reformation Protestant. The key element in this generational dichotomy is the fact that both artists were a product of their times. Virtually none of Jan Saenredam's etched prints are original images. They are copies of paintings done by other artists. The paintings were blatantly erotic, often bordering on the obscene (sometimes well over the border). They were usually created for the boudoirs of wealthy collectors for their own "private enjoyment." Jan Saenredam's prints were created for the exact same purpose, but for those of lesser means, but no less erotically motivated. The Dutch art market during the 16th and 17th centuries was rife with such "under the counter" prints, a trade often more profitable than painting. Rembrandt, for instance, was known to have run a very lucrative trade in such images. In Jan Saenredam's case, it appears to have been his primary "stock in trade." Notice that in the print, Jupiter and Juno Seated (above, left), there is more than a little ambiguity as to whether it is Jupiter's right or left leg depicted. Only the heavily shadowed left knee on the far right suggests the print is not as obscene as it first appears.

The Town Hall of Haarlem, Pieter Jansz Saenredam
Pieter Jansz Saenredam by
Jacob van Campen
Pieter Jansz Saenredam was born in 1597 about the time the Iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation was reaching its peak. The fact that Pieter Saenredam left home in 1612 when he would have been fifteen years of age, speaks volumes as to his rebellious spirit. He moved permanently to Haarlem, where he became a pupil of Frans de Grebber. By 1614 he was elected a member of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke (a sort of artists labor union and fraternal organization). His painting of The Town Hall of Haarlem (above) is from sometime after this date. Pieter Saenredam's St, Mary's Square and Church at Utrecht (below) is from 1663, painted just two years before his death. Pieter was a contemporary of the painter-architects Jacob van Campen, Salomon de Bray, and Pieter Postwas all of whom undoubtedly influenced his art. The younger Saenredam was nothing if not the consummate draughtsman. For the most part his drawn and painted images are devoid of any human presence.

St, Mary's Square and Church at Utrecht, 1663, Pieter Jansz Saenredam
Interior of St. Iglesia of Santiago in
Utrecht, 1642, Pieter Jansz Saenredam
However, the majority of Pieter Saenredam's most recognized works are not of church exteriors, but the stripped-bare interiors of former Catholic churches co-opted by Protestants in the decades following the social and theological turbulence of the Reformation. Only the stately Gothic architecture remains. The churches appear austere. In many cased their previous painted and sculptured decorations had been attacked, stripped away, and destroyed by rioting mobs; though in most cases such "idolatrous" ornamentation was systematically removed by city officials to placate these mobs and prevent such desecration. Although Pieter Saenredam's interiors could only indirectly be considered religious works, his father's etchings often depicted scenes from the Bible Yet even then, they were not with out erotic overtone as seen in his Temptation of Man (below). Such images, often based upon paintings from the walls of churches, were precisely the type of artistic decoration the Reformation purists found most objectionable.

Temptation of Man, 1605, Jan Saenredam

No comments:

Post a Comment