Lesser-known Dutch Golden Age artist no less magnificient

A View of St. Bavo's Haarlem

One is staggered by the quality and quantity of work produced during the Dutch Golden Age of art.

Lasting roughly the entire 17th century, the epoch produced such luminaries as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Franz Hals, Jan Steen and Pieter de Hooch.

A testament to the excellence of work created during this period is the fact that many gifted individuals have largely been neglected – except by those inside the art world – because of the glut of talented painters from the era.

Among these was Gerrit Berckheyde, a Haarlem painter who was one of the early Dutch specialists in townscapes.

I came across Berckheyde this past weekend while at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. His 1666 work, A View of St. Bavo’s, Haarlem, is a strikingly detailed effort that shows a Protestant church (and former Catholic cathedral) on the central market square in the Dutch city of Haarlem.

A View of St. Bavo’s is a work one can study endlessly. It possesses many intricate features: the cobblestones in front of the church; the cracks in the structure’s brick walls, and the mortar used to repair those cracks, particularly around and between the windows; and the slate tiles on the church roof, to name just a few.

The image at the top of this post doesn’t do justice to the crisp clarity evident in Berckheyde’s work. Of course, the details are so exacting that many are only visible in person or through a high-definition photograph.

Berckheyde, born in 1638, studied under his brother, Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde. During the 1650s the two brothers took an extended trip along the Rhine River to Germany, visiting Cologne, Bonn, Mannheim and Heidelberg. While in the latter city, they worked for Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine, where they were both awarded a gold medal for their efforts.

The Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal near the Bloemmarkt, by Gerrit Berckheyde, ca. 1675.

The Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal near the Bloemmarkt, by Gerrit Berckheyde, ca. 1675.

Despite their success in Heidelberg, the pair ultimately returned to Haarlem, an old Dutch city near Amsterdam in the heart of the tulip-growing region of Holland. In 1660 the younger Berckheyde became a member of the Haarlem guild of painters and was active there until his death in 1698.

While Gerrit Berckheyde was known for his townscapes, he also painted landscapes, church interiors and shop interiors. However, it was through the painting of the townscapes of Haarlem, Amsterdam and The Hague that he made his reputation.

The Dutch Republic of the 17th century was the most prosperous nation in Europe. With such prosperity came wealth and the opportunity for merchants and others to spend said affluence on the better things in life, such as art.

It has been estimated that between five million and 10 million works of art were produced during the century of the Golden Age of Dutch art, according to the website The Essential Vermeer. “Works of art, ranging from simple prints and copies to originals hung in almost all Dutch homes,” it noted.

However, with the Reformation the Dutch Republic embraced Dutch Calvinism, which prohibited religious painting in churches.

While biblical subjects were acceptable in private homes, relatively few were produced. As a result, artists embraced a wide variety of other categories, including scenes of peasant life, landscapes, townscapes, maritime paintings, flower paintings and still lifes.

Architecture, particularly churches, was a popular subject for Dutch artists, with painters focusing on both exteriors and interiors.

Gerrit Berckheyde was known for specializing in lightly populated views of main city streets, squares and major public buildings, but he also crafted interiors, as well. St. Bavo’s Church was the subject of several of his efforts.

As Berckheyde made repetitions of several of his works it’s difficult to determine just how many of his paintings survive.

(Top: A View of St. Bavo’s, Haarlem, by Gerrit Berckheyde, 1660, currently on display at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.)

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