GERRIT BERCKHEYDE (1638 - Haarlem - 1698)
View of the Dam with the New Town Hall, Amsterdam
Oil on canvas
45 x 60 cm/ 17 ¾ x 23 ⅝ inches
Signed lower right:
“G. Berck Heyde”
Painted circa 1675
Gerrit Berckheyde was one of the pioneers of Dutch cityscape painting and, although a life-long resident of Haarlem, made a specialty of views of Dam square in Amsterdam. The present painting is unpublished and constitutes a superior addition to Berckheyde’s repeated explorations of this theme. It depicts on the left the new Town Hall, designed by Jacob van Campen and completed by Daniel Stalpaert in 1665, which was the pride of Amsterdam, a classicist masterpiece, and the largest civic building yet constructed in Europe. Its classical façade recalled the grandly proportioned, public architecture of the Roman Republic. This august order, the building’s soaring cupola, and tympanum decorated with bronze sculpture by François and Pieter Hemony of Peace flanked by Prudence and Justice, served to evoke the virtues, wisdom, and high ethical standards that the citizens, who had paid for the massive project with their taxes, expected of their civic leaders. In the centre at the back rises the Nieuwe Kerk, a late Gothic cathedral dedicated to the Virgin and St Catherine, and at the right is the Waag, or Weigh House, built in 1565, the first monumental Renaissance building in Amsterdam, where imported goods were weighed and taxed.
Before it merchants and tradesmen converse, in the shadows of the Town Hall magistrates congregate, and two Orientals, a white horse drawing a heavy sledge, an elegant promenading
couple, and a women with a pannier on her head and a young boy cross the sunny square. The warm light suggests a summer day and the hour can be specified as 1:40 p.m. by the clock in the cupola. The Dam was Amsterdam’s main square and its primary market place. Thus with three prominent buildings in a single cityscape, Berckheyde has evoked the civic, religious and commercial life of the city.
In a poem celebrating the commemoration of the Town Hall in 1655, the poet, Joost van den Vondel (Inwijdinge van ‘t Stadhuis t’Amsterdam), likened this great living structure to a heart that supports the life of the city. It was hailed repeatedly as the Eighth Wonder of the World and became a tourist attraction even before it was completed, as a painting by Johannes Lingelbach of 1656 that adopts a similar point of view attests (see Amsterdam Historisch Museum, no. SA 3044). The new Town Hall replaced its medieval predecessor, which had burned down in 1652; paintings by Gerrit Lundens and Cornelis de Bie (Amsterdam Historisch Museum, nos. SB 4512, SA 3002) record the conflagration. The earliest dated painting of the Town Hall, made from Van Campen’s designs before the building was completed, is of 1663 by Jacob van der Ulft (Stuyvesant High School, New York City), and was originally paired with a copy by Van der Ulft after Pieter Saenredam’s painting of the Old Town Hall (Amsterdam Historisch Museum, no. SB 4503). (For discussion of the history of images of the Dam, see N. Middelkoop, “Visies op de werkelijkheid. Damgezichten in het Amsterdams Historisch Museum”, Amstelodamum Jaarboek, no. 93, (2001), pp. 153-171).
Berckheyde painted more than twenty views of the Dam and the new Town Hall (see Cynthia Lawrence, Gerrit Adriaensz. Berckheyde (1638 – 1698). Haarlem Cityscape Painter, Doornspijk, 1991, pp. 49-60). These range in date from 1668 (see Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, inv. 11) to 1697 (Sale New York, Sotheby’s, 24 January 2002, no. 232, ill.). Most depict the façade of the Town Hall frontally from the east, and sometimes offer a wide angle view including the Waag in the foreground, as for example in the Antwerp painting and a painting from c. 1670-75, in Gemäldegalerie, Dresden,inv. 1521. In other works the Weigh House is only partially visible at the right, as in two paintings of 1672 and 1673 in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, no. A34 and A1733 (on loan to the Amsterdam Historisch Museum), of 1680 in the Akademie, Vienna, of 1690 in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, of 1693 in the Rijksmuseum, no. C 101, and the undated work in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. Others, like the present work, depict the Dam from the south, as one would view it emerging from the narrow Kalverstraat, with the Town Hall appearing at an angle. The present painting is closest in design and conception to a painting dated 1674 in the Amsterdam Historisch Museum , inv. SA 2106, which Lawrence (1991, p. 58, pl. 57) characterizes as “Berckheyde’s most impressive depiction of the Dam from the Kalverstraat”; compare also the similarly designed painting dated 1694 in the Rijksmuseum, the painting of 1682 in the Rijksmuseum, Twenthe, inv. 82, and the undated work in the Louvre, Paris. Marieke de Winkel (private communication 2010), the authority on costumes, has dated the present work based on the attire of the staffage quite precisely to 1675. Other upright depictions of the Dam from the same viewpoint omit the Waag, showing only the Town Hall and the Nieuwe Kerk. One of these, in the Staatliches Museum, Schwerin, inv. G399, has been purported to be dated 1665, but the south entry of the church includes changes to the roof that were only completed in 1673/74 and the staffage figures also wear costumes from the mid-1670s.
Compare also Berckheyde’s very similarly conceived, upright-format paintings in the Fitzwilliam
Museum, Cambridge, cat. 44 and the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main, inv. 1051.
The other great pioneer of cityscape painting was Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712), who depicted the Dam from virtually the same angle in the Kalverstraat in two paintings dated 1667 (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, inv. 1890, n. 1211) and 1668 (Louvre, Paris, inv. 1337). In his painting now in the Uffizi, Van der Heyden applied a strict geometric perspective that creates visual distortions in the painting, for example in the elongated cupola, which required that a viewing device be attached to the frame (now unfortunately lost), thus situating the spectator to view the image with one eye from a fixed point, which corrects the distortions. As the present work attests, Berckheyde was a highly accomplished master of perspective, both linear and atmospheric, but did not share Van der Heyden’s interest in optical experiments. Although he was not averse to manipulating his imagery to expressive effects (for example, Berckheyde often exaggerates the height of the Dom’s cupola), his images of Dutch cities are consistently more topographically correct than those of Van der Heyden, who seems to have been primarily interested in the evocation of an urban scene rather than the record of a specific place. It surely is not inconsequential that van der Heyden had extra-artistic careers as an inventor of the streetlamp and the fire pump, ventures which made him rich and unburdened him of the need to sell his art to make a living; much of his oeuvre was in his own possession at his death. Berckheyde, on the other hand, seems to have keenly appreciated the value, aesthetic, patriotic and personally financial, of accurate paintings of recognizable, indeed famous city views, whether in his native Haarlem, The Hague, or Amsterdam. While we have little information about Berckheyde’s clientele, he probably painted these images for his fellow Dutch citizens, who took great pride in their newly liberated country, or for foreign tourists, who might desire to take away a souvenir of the marvels of Dutch urban miracle. (In this context, it should be noted that Berckheyde took much greater liberties with his views of German cities, presumably because his Dutch patrons were less familiar with the sites.) The appeal for an export market of city views is clear; van der Heyden’s Uffizi painting was acquired by Cosimo de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, on 5 January 1668, the very day on which he and his entourage were received at the Town Hall. When his agents tried to acquire another painting from the artist/inventor in 1672, he had only two to show him and demanded such a high price, that the deal was never consummated. The new market for images of the Dam was undoubtedly taken up by Berckheyde, who as we have seen depicted the subject repeatedly over a more than a thirty-year career. He must have made drawings and studies in Amsterdam, although none has survived, but he probably painted these works back in his studio in Haarlem; the painting in Antwerp, for example, is signed and inscribed “gerrit Berck-Heijde.f/ Haerlem. 1668”.
Berckheyde clearly appreciated the market for this art and the response of his audience to his images of the Dam seems to have returned the favor adoringly. The Haarlem poet Pieter Rixtel wrote two panegyrics in his Mengel-rymen (Haarlem, 1669, p. 44) “On the town hall of Amsterdam painted by the famous painter Gerrit Berckheyde of Haarlem”.
The first poem is a lengthy appreciation of Saenredam’s version of the old Town Hall as well as other paintings of the Dam and in obligatory fashion describes the new Town Hall as the Eighth Wonder, praising Berckheyde’s image effusively:
“Berckheyde, swevende op de Wieken
Van ‘t snel gerught, braveert de Grieken,
Appel en Zeuxis, door ‘t Penceel,
En schept ‘t Leven op ‘t Paneel.
Ik sal nu, levende in zyn Verven,
De Tyd ten spyt, noyt kunnen sterven,
Maar op zyn Doek so ver nogh vlien
Dat my Uytheemsche Ryken sien … .]
[Berckheyde, riding the wings of fleet rumor,
Brave the Greeks, Apelles and Zeuxis, with his brush,
On the panel creating life
Now I, living in his hues,
Defying time, can never die,
But on his canvas shall soar so high
That distant realms will see me …. .]”
The second poem is shorter and to the point:
“The eighth wonder of the world, built of stone, stands on the banks of the River Y. But the ninth is the painting of the eighth.”
Pieter van Rixtel (1643 – 1673) was a fellow member of the Haarlem Rhetoricians’ Chamber, De Wijngaardranken (The Grape Vines), with Gerrit and his brother Job Berckheyde (see biography below). Job even succeeded Van Rixtel as factor (chief poet) of the society in 1673. A far greater poet, Vondel also wrote a poem about Gerrit’s painting, The Bend in the Herengracht at the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat in Amsterdam in 1672.
Berckheyde occasionally juxtaposed modern structures with Amsterdam’s earlier Gothic and Renaissance buildings, such as the Nieuwe Kerk and Waag. (For earlier images of the latter, see the prints by Claes Jansz Visscher of 1611, and the paintings of 1656 by Lingelbach and of c. 1660 - 64 by Cornelis de Bie in Amsterdam Historisch Museum). But unlike Van der Heyden, he seems to have been drawn more to the city’s contemporary architecture, depicting, for example, the Round Lutheran Church, the Oudezijds Herenlogement, the Ashkenazic and Portugese Synagogues, the modern construction of mansions on the Bend in the Herengracht, and, of course, the Town Hall. Berckheyde not only portrayed it from the Dam but also from the southwest, depicting the back of the building on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal with the flower market in the foreground, in paintings of c. 1670-75 from the Carter collection in the Los Angeles County Museum and the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, inv. SA 7455. He also seems have created pendants of his images of the Town Hall to be paired with other symbols of civic and national pride, such as the Cathedral of St Bavo’s in Haarlem and the Stadholder’s quarter in The Hague. In addition to civic pride, The Town Hall could also be associated with resistance to the authority and interference of the church. The Nieuwe Kerk had been badly damaged by fire in 1645 and subsequently almost completely restored, its interior modernized in a classicist style. The plan was also to build a soaring tower that would rise higher than the cupola of the new Town Hall. Etchings and a gouache by Jacob van der Ulft in the Amsterdam City Archives as well as a painting by Cornelis de Bie in the Amsterdam Historische Museum depict the Dam
with the imagined tower. The high dome of the Town Hall was an abomination to the Calvinists of Amsterdam, who felt it was a symbol of the elevation of civic power over that of the church.
No fewer than five designs for the tower were proposed, but the burgomasters successfully prevented it from ever being built. Although there has been some speculation (see for example,
Gary Schwartz, in exh. cat. Vancouver, Vancouver Art Gallery, The Dutch World of Painting, 1986, p. 41, cat. 17) that the denominational sympathies of Berckheyde or his patrons can be deduced from the relative heights of the Town Hall and the Nieuwe Kerk in his depictions of the Dam, these in fact vary, and in several instances are virtually equal, so such theories seem excessively speculative.
The present painting has a distinguished provenance and was repeatedly praised for its thoughtful and refined execution by the authors of the early sales catalogues in which it appeared. Hendrik van Eyl Sluyter (1739-1814), also called Helsleuter, the earliest recorded owner of the present work, assembled one of the finest collections of Dutch paintings of his era in Amsterdam. It was dispersed in two sales in Paris in 1802 and in Amsterdam in 1814. Among the many masterpieces that he owned was Rembrandt’s Portrait of Herman Doomer and Jan Steen’s Dissolute Household, both now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Rembrandt’s St. John the Baptist Preaching; three paintings by Gabriel Metsu, the Sick Lady in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, The Music Lesson in the Louvre, and the Wallace Collection’s Sleeping Sportsman; Ter Borch’s Fiancé in the Petit Palais, Paris; Pieter de Hooch’s paintings in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; and formerly in the Baring collection (Bath House, London, destroyed by fire), three excellent paintings by Adriaen van de Velde (National Gallery, London, Buckingham Palace, Petit Palais, Paris) as well as Jan van der Heyden’s renowned painting of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam (Wallace Collection, London). Van Eyl Sluyter also owned numerous Dutch landscapes of first quality, and probably owned Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid (Frick Collection, New York). The cataloguer of the present work in 1802 described it as :
“Peint sur toile, haut de 16, lar. de 21 p. Le point de vue exact de l’Hôtel de ville, des maison et du poids qui entournent et garnissent la grande place du Dum (sic), à Amsterdam. Nombre de figures y sont répandues avec cette admirable intelligence et cette vérité qui contribute à l’effet de l’optique. Ce Tableau, curieux par la justesse de ses détails, et dans une parfaite harmonie de clair obsure, offre un ourvages de choix de cet habile peintre.”
The painting subsequently passed to Cardinal Fesch, uncle of Napoleon, who was one of the grandest and most famous art collectors of his era. His staggering collection numbered almost 16,000 paintings, ranging from the Italian Renaissance (including works by Fra Angelico, Bramantino, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Giorgione, Carpaccio and Crevelli) to the eighteenth century, and included very high quality Dutch paintings, including works by Meindert Hobbema, Adriaen van de Velde, Metsu, and Terborch that had previously been owned by Van Eyl Sluyter. Most of the Fesch collection is housed in the Musée Ajaccio in Corsica, but many of the finest works were sold in Rome in 1845 with the Berckheyde and now are housed in some of the greatest museums in the world, including, among others, the Vatican Museum, the National Gallery, London, National Gallery of Art, Washington, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and Art Gallery of Ontario. The cataloguer of the Fesch collection described the Berckheyde quite
precisely, praising its perspective and fidelity to the site:
“Le spectateur remarque d’abord à sa gauche la façade du magnifique hôtel de ville, et à sa droite la maison de poids public, où des négociants font peser leurs merchandises; en face, la place est fermée par une église et une range de maisons. Une multitude de petites figures, peintes avec goût, sont distribuées avec intelligence de maniére à faire valoir la perspective. Tous ceux qui connaissent Amsterdam se croiront sur la grande place de cette ville en voyant ce tableau qui en offer la plus fidèle image. C’est un des ouvrages les plus finis de maître; il sort du cabinet de Van Helsleuter d’Amsterdam. T.H. 1 p. 4p. – 1 p.9 p.6”.
The painting subsequently passed to Claudius Tarral, whose collection was sold by Christie’s in London in 1847. The preface to the catalogue explained, “This choice Collection was formed on the Continent, and includes some of the best specimens from Cardinal Fesch’s Gallery, at Rome. The pictures are all in fine preservation, and with one exception, have never before been in England. The proprietor, owing to domestic circumstances, is obliged to reside in Italy, and break up his establishment in Paris; for this reason he is now induced to part with his works of art.” The collection of 46 paintings included no less than 22 from the Fesch collection. It also included the Steen from the Metropolitan Museum as well as the “Allendale” Giorgione, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The cataloguer remarked of the present work: “Very clear and delicately finished. From the collections of Van Helsleuter and Cardinal Fesch, no. 63. On canvas, 1 ft. 5 in. by 1 ft. 10 in.” Finally, when the painting surfaced again in Paris in the sale of Monsieur and Madame Baude in 1997, it was illustrated on the cover of the catalogue.
“Van Helsleuter” (Hendrik van Eyl Sluyter [1739 - 1814]), Amsterdam
His sale, Paris (Paillet, Delaroche), 25 January 1802, no. 17, to Simon
Cardinal Joseph Fesch, Rome
His estate sale, Rome, 17ff March 1845, no. 63
Claudius Tarral, Paris
His sale, London (Christie), 11 June 1847, no. 27, to Wood
Mr. and Mrs. Baude, Paris
Sale Paris (Drouot Montaigne), 13 June 1997, no. 21, ill.
Acquired at the above sale by the previous owner
Private collection, France
Gerrit Adriaensz Berckheyde was baptized in the Reformed Church on June 6, 1638, the youngest son of the butcher, Adriaen Joppe from Katwijk aan de Rijn and Cornelia Gerritsdr Pancier from Haarlem. The family name is derived from the polder Berckheyden near Katwijk. Gerrit’s eight-year-older brother, Job (1630 – 1693), who painted city views, a few history paintings, genre scenes and portraits, probably taught him to paint. Neither brother ever married; according to Arnold Houbraken (1721), they lived with their unmarried sister, Aegie. Before becoming a member of the Guild of St Luke in 1660, Gerrit accompanied his brother on a journey along the Rhine in Germany. The Haarlem poet, Frans Snellinx, who wrote poems on painted portraits of the Berckheydes, referred to gold medals that the brothers received from the Elector Palatine at whose court in Heidelberg where they were employed for some period of time. The poem about Gerrit’s portrait reads as follows:
“This is Berckheyde, who can render from life so forcefully
The art of architecture, capturing its shape with great accuracy;
And who through the power of imagination depicts the appearance of people
Such that there is no difference between his work and reality.
Instead of the painter’s crown, the Palatine Court gave him
A gold breast ornament, the effigy of his son.”
Berckheyde appears on the list of Guild members (before 1702) assembled by Vincent Laurensz van der Vinne, and he served as a vinder (ward) in 1691/92 and 1695. In 1666 Gerrit and Job became members of the Haarlem rhetoricians’ chamber, De Wijngaardranken, and Gerrit later
held offices in the chamber in 1667 and 1676-81. A few views of Rome have led some writers to
assume that Gerrit travelled to Italy, but these works seem to be based on drawings and prints by Nicholaes Berchem, Lingelbach and other Dutch Italianate artists. Gerrit’s death on 10 June 1698 was mentioned on the back of a drawn portrait that has not been seen or recorded since the nineteenth century. According to Houbraken, Gerrit expired after leaving the garden of the Haarlem art lover, Alexander de Vos, when he fell into the Brouwersvaart canal and drowned. He was buried in Haarlem’s St Janskerk on 14 June 1698.
Peter C. Sutton, the Susan E. Lynch Executive Director, Bruce Museum