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New Getty Exhibition Offers Rare Opportunity to View Masterful Artist of Dutch Golden Age

The Sacred Spaces of Pieter Saenredam
April 16 - July 7, 2002
Exhibitions Pavilion, J. Paul Getty Museum

PRESS PREVIEW: Tuesday, April 16, 2002, 9-11 a.m.

March 20, 2002

Los Angeles--The Sacred Spaces of Pieter Saenredam, an exhibition focusing on the work of one of the most remarkable painters of 17th-century Holland, will be on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum from April 16 through July 7, 2002. Together with Rembrandt and Vermeer, Saenredam (1597–1665) is considered one of the masters of the Golden Age of Dutch art. Saenredam’s paintings and drawings are rarely seen in this country, and this is the first monographic international loan exhibition devoted to his work ever to be hosted in North America. This exhibition was originally created by the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, the Netherlands, and presented as Pieter Saenredam, The Utrecht Work: Paintings and Drawings by the 17th-century Master of Perspective from November 4, 2000 through February 4, 2001.

"The rare opportunity to present Saenredam’s sublime vision to an American audience proved irresistible to the Getty," said Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. "The exhibition is particularly appropriate for us as the Museum owns a painting and a major drawing by Saenredam, both showing views of the church of St. Bavo in Haarlem. When our colleagues at the Centraal Museum proposed reconstituting the Utrecht exhibition in Los Angeles, we were understandably delighted."

The Sacred Spaces of Pieter Saenredam examines a series of drawings and paintings Saenredam made of the churches of Utrecht during a stay beginning in the summer of 1636. His meticulously dated drawings have allowed art historians to closely trace his steps. In the case of this sojourn, which began on June 16 and ended on October 23, 1636, he rendered seven of the city’s extraordinary medieval churches in more than 30 drawings. He spent the greatest amount of time (the first six weeks) in the Mariakerk, and then turned to the parish churches of the Buurkerk and St. Jacobskerk. In August, he drew St. Pieterskerk; and in September and October depicted the Domkerk and St. Janskerk. Saenredam concluded his visit with St. Catharinakerk. ("Kerk" means church in Dutch.)

Saenredam then took these drawings back to his studio in Haarlem, and used them as the basis for paintings (made exclusively on panel), some of which were executed over a quarter century later. "Saenredam’s period in Utrecht was the most productive in his career," said Lee Hendrix, curator of drawings, J. Paul Getty Museum. "Through his quietly majestic ‘portraits’ of these seven churches and their interior spaces and architectural elements, Saenredam immortalized the history of his country, and his own role as a witness to its greatness."

The Artist and His Style

Pieter Saenredam was born in Assendelft in the province of Holland on June 9, 1597. In 1607, after the death of his father, the engraver Jan Saenredam, he moved to Haarlem where he lived until his death in 1665. Beginning in 1612, Saenredam trained with history and portrait painter Frans de Grebber, and stayed in his studio until 1622. From 1628, he devoted himself exclusively to architectural subjects. While painters before him had specialized in imaginary architecture, Saenredam was the first to specialize in existing buildings, especially churches.

Saenredam developed a distinctive working process that he practiced for most of his career. His production was small, as he worked in a painstaking, methodical manner. He began by making site drawings of churches that recorded measurements and forms with archaeological thoroughness. He also drew specific elements, such as elevations, columns, and capitals. Based on these, he made construction drawings in which he regularized spatial relationships and proportions according to the rules of perspective. In the final painting, Saenredam continued to make innumerable fine adjustments to architectural details, to create spaces of wondrous perfection and luminosity.

Exhibition Showcases Paintings and Drawings

The Sacred Spaces of Pieter Saenredam examines the strong relationship between Saenredam’s drawings and paintings. "He was an innovator in the field of architectural painting, breaking from traditional, fantastic views of church interiors to treat architecture as a realistic subject," said Scott Schaefer, curator of paintings, J. Paul Getty Museum. "Saenredam’s meticulous approach was unique in his time, with the poetry and perfection of his spaces unequalled by any of his successors."

Works in the exhibition include The nave and choir of St. Catharinakerk in Utrecht, 1655–1660, courtesy Upton House, The Bearsted Collection (The National Trust, UK), the only known painting of this church by Saenredam. Because of the extreme purity of the space and its luminous brilliance, this is one of the defining works of Saenredam’s oeuvre. Also featured is the earliest sketch of The nave and choir of St. Catharinakerk in Utrecht seen to the east, October 2, 1636, courtesy The Utrecht Archive, Utrecht. In this drawing, the church appears to have a special air of perfection, achieved by the merging of its soaring pointed Gothic vaulting, its radiant whitewashed interior, and its sparse furnishings. A spectacular view straight down the nave maximizes the effect of ethereal space.

Utrecht’s greatest Gothic church is depicted in one of Saenredam’s most monumental drawings, The nave and choir of the Dom in Utrecht seen to the east, September 3, 1636, courtesy The Utrecht Archive, Utrecht. With numerous vertical lines he emphasized the staggering height of the nave, and added to the magnificence with gold "tapestries" painted on the piers, which had formed backdrops for the now removed statues of saints. In 1674, the nave collapsed in a hurricane, reducing the enormous space by half. This drawing is also an important document as the only reliable contemporary record of the church’s original appearance.

Another exhibition highlight is on loan from the Los Angeles collection of Mrs. Edward W. Carter. The north aisle of the Mariakerk in Utrecht seen to the east, 1651, is one of Saenredam’s rare church interiors devoid of figures. In this work, nothing detracts from the simplicity of the space and the subtle color nuances of the plaster and stone surfaces of the interior.

To elucidate the intense methodology behind Saenredam’s work, the Getty Museum is presenting a special section in the exhibition devoted to his working process. This will feature the Getty’s painting and drawing of the church the artist painted most frequently, St. Bavo in Haarlem, along with related drawings and a painting lent by other institutions.


In conjunction with the exhibition, the Getty will republish the English edition of the Centraal Museum’s exhibition catalogue, Pieter Saenredam, The Utrecht Work: Paintings and Drawings by the 17th-century Master of Perspective (hardcover $55). This comprehensive 304-page book is edited by Liesbeth M. Helmus, curator of fine arts prior to 1800 at the Centraal Museum, with portions written by Arie de Groot, Geraldine van Heemstra, Dr. Helmus, and Michiel C. Plomp. It includes 97 color illustrations, 27 black-and-white illustrations, and 12 drawings. The catalogue is available in the Museum bookstore, online at, or by calling 800-223-3431.

Related Events

All lectures, performances, and special events are free and are held in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium, unless otherwise noted. Seating reservations are required. For reservations and information, please call 310-440-7300 or visit Tickets are available at the Museum Information Desk or via phone.

Gallery Talks

Exhibitions Pavilion talks will be offered Tuesday through Sunday at 1:30 p.m. beginning April 23. No reservations required.

Point-of-View Talks

Sign up at the Information Desk in the Museum Entrance Hall beginning at 4:30 p.m. Talks are held at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the Museum galleries.

John Nava, a figurative painter who received the commission to design the 37 tapestries for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, discusses the exhibition.
Friday, May 10

John Ruble, FAIA, is a principal at the architectural firm of Moore Ruble Yudell. Among the churches in California he has designed are the Parish of Saint Matthew, Pacific Palisades; Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles; and First Church of Christ, Scientist, Glendale.
Friday, June 21


Gordon Getty Concerts – This ongoing series features music complementing current Museum exhibitions.

Piety and Passion: Music of the Dutch Golden Age – The acclaimed Baroque ensemble Musica Angelica, with music director Michael Eagan, performs music from 17th-century Holland. Selections by Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck (the "Orpheus of Amsterdam"), Jacob van Eyck, and Constantijn Huygens will be performed along with masterworks by Claudio Monteverdi, John Dowland, and contemporary French lutenists. Dutch musicologist Frank de Munnik will give a pre-concert lecture.
Tickets $20; Seniors/Students $15
Saturday, May 18, 7 p.m., lecture/8 p.m., concert


Saenredam’s Eyes: Seeing History in Perspectives – Celeste Brusati, professor of art history, University of Michigan, explores how Pieter Saenredam transformed seeing into a process of historical recollection and discovery. His captivating perspectives of public and religious buildings in the Dutch Republic show these sites to be as rich in historical and political significance as they are visually engaging. The exhibition The Sacred Spaces of Pieter Saenredam will be open until 9 p.m.
Thursday, May 23, 7 p.m.


To provide audiences with an introduction to Utrecht and Saenredam the artist, the Getty Museum has produced a special 10-minute film, Sacred Spaces: Pieter Saenredam and the Churches of Utrecht. The film is screened continuously during the exhibition in the Exhibitions Pavilion.

Also on view during the Saenredam presentation are two related exhibitions: The Geometry of Seeing: Perspective and the Dawn of Virtual Space, from April 16 through July 7, 2002 at the Getty Research Institute Exhibition Gallery, and Dutch Drawings of the Golden Age, from May 28 through August 25, 2002 at the Getty Museum.

Note to editors: color images available upon request.

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The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.