Emanuel de Witte (Dutch, Alkmaar ca. 1616–1692 Amsterdam)
Oil on wood
19 x 13 5/8 in. (48.3 x 34.6 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Virgilia and Walter C. Klein, The Walter C. Klein Foundation, Edwin Weisl Jr., and Frank E. Richardson Gifts, and Bequest of Theodore Rousseau and Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, by exchange, 2001
De Witte's earliest architectural views, like this one, borrow compositional ideas from his fellow Delft artist Gerard Houckgeest (ca. 1600–1661) but treat the Gothic church interior less in terms of solid forms than of space, light, and mood. In stressing these intangible qualities De Witte suggests a spiritual environment and also anticipates the optical approach of Johannes Vermeer.
This well-preserved painting on panel is one of the three or four finest architectural pictures that De Witte made during his years in Delft. He had been in the city since about 1641, but turned from figure paintings to the subject of church interiors only in 1650, when he was about thirty-four years old. This was a direct response to the carefully observed views of Delft's Nieuwe Kerk and Oude Kerk that the experienced perspectivist Gerard Houckgeest (ca. 1600–1661) began painting in 1650. De Witte moved to Amsterdam at some unknown date between the spring of 1651 and 1653, when he painted his first views of Amsterdam churches and the courtyard of the Amsterdam Beurs (Exchange). He also continued to paint views of Delft church interiors during his four decades of activity in Amsterdam.
The view was recorded from the south aisle in the Oude Kerk, looking to the northeast. To the left is the pavement of the nave, which, near the man conversing with a woman and child, turns in to the large space of the north transept arm. The archway in the upper left corner of the composition is part of the east wall of the north transept, and it frames the broad Mariakoor (Mary's Choir), which is covered by wood vaulting and aligned parallel to the slightly deeper but much taller main choir of the church. The doorway on the left in the choir screen leads into the Mariakoor, and the grander doorway on the right, surmounted by a pediment and an obelisk, is the central entrance to the main choir. The two choirs are separated by an arcade, two columns and one archway of which are visible here in the right background, beyond the columns in the foreground. In the left background, the bright space framed by two archways is the Joriskapel (Saint George's Chapel), where in 1658 the large tomb of Admiral Maerten Tromp was installed against the bare white wall. Despite the general impression of fidelity to the site, De Witte has eliminated some major elements from the corresponding view in the Oude Kerk itself, has modified others, and has altered the overall effect of space. His painting of 1651 in the Wallace Collection, London, is a more faithful depiction of the church.
The epitaph, the various grave boards, and especially the freshly dug grave remind one that everyday life is fleeting, while the church itself, meaning the faith for which it stands, promises life after death. The image as a whole, originally displayed in a private home, implies belief in the local church as a way to salvation.
Since its acquisition by the Museum in 2001, the panel has been subjected to technical examination. Infrared reflectograms reveal a few perspective lines and, more surprisingly, a network of vertical and horizontal lines. Such a grid system was usually emplyed to transfer a design from another surface, such as a preparatory drawing. No other preparatory material by De Witte is known, and he appears to have developed (and frequently revised) his designs directly on the support. X-radiographs of this work provide a likely explanation. These show the bust-length image of a woman that fills virtually the entire composition. De Witte probably painted this figure out when he decided to reuse the panel, but the recycling may have encouraged him to add a step to his customary process. The x-radiograph also shows a man standing to the left, slightly deeper in space than the nearest column. The artist also shortened the flagstaff, so that the pennant floats more comfortably within the pattern of archways in the background. There is no evidence that the panel itself has been more than very slightly trimmed.
The last digit of the date in the lower right corner is indecipherable, although the fragment that survives appears to have a rounded rather than a straight or angular shape. The most plausible reading of the date would be 1650 or 1652, given that the picture is clearly of the early 1650s.
[2011; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): E.De.Witte A[nno] 165[?]
Samuel Sandars, London (by 1879); his daughter, Mrs. Thornton-Lawes, London (until 1931; sale, Christie's, London, June 12, 1931, no. 46, for £399 to Partridge); Dr. C. J. K. van Aalst, Hoevelaken, the Netherlands (by 1939; cat., 1939, p. 318, pl. 75); his grandson (until 1982; sold to Cramer Oude Kunst); [Cramer Oude Kunst, The Hague, from 1982]; [Galerie Hoogsteder, The Hague, until 1983; sold to Hornstein]; Mr. and Mrs. Michal Hornstein, Montreal (1983–2001; sold through Otto Naumann to MMA)
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," January 6–March 15, 1879, no. 89 (as "Interior of a Church," lent by Samuel Sandars, Esq.).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1908, no. 48 [see Manke 1963].
The Hague. Mauritshuis. "Terugzien in bewondering/A Collectors' Choice," February 19–March 9, 1982, no. 97 (as "Interieur van een gotische kerk").
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Vermeer's Masterpiece 'The Milkmaid'," September 9–November 29, 2009, no. 12.
Hans Jantzen. Das Niederländische Architekturbild. Leipzig, 1910, p. 175, no. 614, as "Kircheninneres," lent to the 1879 London exhibition.
J. W. von Moltke, ed. Dutch and Flemish Old Masters in the Collection of Dr. C. J. K. van Aalst, Huis-te-Hoevelaken, Holland. Verona, 1939, p. 318, pl. 75 [see Refs. Manke 1963 and Liedtke 2001, and Exh. The Hague 1982].
Ed. Trautscholdt inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 36, Leipzig, 1947, p. 124.
Ilse Manke. Emanuel de Witte, 1617–1692. Amsterdam, 1963, pp. 16, 31, 40, 82, no. 18, fig. 21, as "Delfter Oude Kerk"; reads the date as 1654.
Lyckle de Vries. "Gerard Houckgeest." Jahrbuch der Hamburger Kunstsammlungen 20 (1975), p. 54 n. 29, concurs with Manke [see Ref. 1963] that the date is 1654.
Walter A. Liedtke. Architectural Painting in Delft: Gerard Houckgeest, Hendrick van Vliet, Emanuel de Witte. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 1982, p. 83, 115, no. 244, fig. 75, prefers a reading of the date as 1650.
Daniëlle H. A. C. Lokin inDelft Masters, Vermeer's Contemporaries. Exh. cat., Prinsenhof, Delft. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1996, pp. 61, 86 n. 26, p. 224, fig. 45 (color), dates it 1650.
Walter Liedtke. A View of Delft: Vermeer and his Contemporaries. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 2000, p. 126, fig. 159, colorpl. 10, as in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Michal Hornstein, Montreal; dates it 1650 in the caption to the colorplate and 1650(?) in the caption to the figure.
Walter Liedtke et al. Vermeer and the Delft School. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2001, pp. 32, 83, 105, 137, 255, 258, 272, 342, 370, 432–34, 568 n. 59, no. 91, ill. (color), dates it about 1650–52.
Walter Liedtke in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2001–2002." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 60 (Fall 2002), p. 21, ill. (color), dates it 1650–52.
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 64–65, 71, figs. 79 (color), 82 (color, MMA Vermeer gallery photograph).
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 2, pp. 922, 964–70, no. 222, colorpl. 222, figs. 273–75 (overall, x-radiograph, and color detail).
Peter C. Sutton. Vermeer and the Delft Style. Exh. cat., Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. [Tokyo], 2008, p. 27, fig. 10.
Walter Liedtke. Vermeer: The Complete Paintings. Antwerp, 2008, p. 99, figs. 13 a–b (color, overall and detail).
Walter Liedtke. "The Milkmaid" by Johannes Vermeer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2009, pp. 20, 35, no. 12, colorpl. 12.
Karen Rosenberg. "A Humble Domestic Crosses the Sea." New York Times (September 11, 2009), p. C29.
Old Master & British Paintings. Christie's, London. July 3, 2012, p. 52, under no. 15.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 290, no. 242, ill. pp. 236, 290 (color).