Brusati, Spencer, and Saenredam (for 10 July)

Brusati’s article mostly talks about perspective in 17th-century Dutch art, and the experience of viewing these perspective pieces, in response to mostly intentional technique from the artists. She centers her survey on several artists active in the Netherlands at the time and uses them as jumping-off points to discuss the specifics of their mastery of illusion—from Brusati, we hear much about horizons, viewpoint, use of the camera obscura, and so on.

Spencer’s article, on the other hand, takes us to Denmark to show us where a few of these Dutch perspective pieces landed—specifically, we see Dutch perspective boxes on display in the collection of the Danish monarchy. Spencer does mention some of the more technical aspects of these perspective pieces, but the bulk of her piece revolves around the symbolism in and, separately, of the artworks, as symbols of Danish power and of the complicated diplomatic relationship between Denmark and the Netherlands at the time. Basically, the two articles diverge after the art has been completed; Brusati still talks about the completed perspective pieces as works blurring the line between art and science, and Spencer talks about how the developing Danish monarchy used these pieces and that art-science convergence.

On the Rijksmuseum website, I found a piece from a painter Brusati spends some time on in her article: Pieter Saenredam’s Interior of the Sint-Odulphuskerk in Assendelft (1649, oil on panel, h 49.6cm × w 75cm).

From Brusati, we know that Saenredam was an architecture fan that relied on geometry and the real measurements of the buildings he was depicting; we also know that he wasn’t afraid to mess with reality a little and put the “art” in “artificial perspective”. My viewing of this painting was influenced by this new knowledge of Saenredam’s mastery (and manipulation) of architecture painting, and by Brusati’s passages about the obsession with depicting light held by these 17th-century Dutch artists. In the church in this piece, we can see that the lines from the tiles on the floor converge in the back to give us depth, and we can also see from the shadows that the light is coming in from the windows on the left side.

What I wonder most is what exactly our vantage point is in this painting. We can see a gravestone set in the tiles on the bottom edge (according to the Rijksmuseum website, it is the grave of the painter’s father), but the fact that we can see that low means that if we were really in this church, we’d basically have to be lying on our stomachs looking up to see everything packed in. I think that low-to-high really gives us the full sense of the scale of this building and this room, and this imposing feeling makes me think about Saenredam’s thoughts on the church must have been.


4 thoughts on “Brusati, Spencer, and Saenredam (for 10 July)

  1. What does Brusati argue specifically about artists’ use of “horizons, viewpoint,” and “the camera obscura”? And how do those engage the viewer? Her method is interesting, I think, working from an extremely close technical analysis of the perspectives being used in order to then infer both how a view might be encouraged to interact with the painting (“look down here, no over here, now from here, what’s around that corner?”) and therefore further infer this action as intended by the painter. Given your take on the Saenredam example, I’m curious about what you think of Brusati’s little leaps of interpretation: do you find yourself as a viewer engaging in looking in the way Brusati suggests? Do you think Saenredam in this case wanted you (yes YOU) to do this? I get some hint of this with the lying on the stomach comment–and I agree fully! I think you’ve started to explain the weirdness or unreality I sense in this pinging (who has ever seen a church from that angle?). Cheney’s point about showing off his skills might be worth exploring more as well; this painting to me seems almost to break down into geometric shapes, overlapping, etc.; there’s almost an abstract formalism going on there that’s no longer just about depicting this specific church.

    I think developing further exactly this kind of detail will really help you develop your ideas in your paper. You seem drawn to these technical/formal elements; perhaps it’s worth focusing more on those, drawing out why you think they might be important–what do they do to the viewer (including yourself)? What kind of innovations in form are most interesting to you?


  2. Joseph,

    Brusati did indeed focus on the technical aspects of the relevant art. To be honest, I found much of it difficult to follow. I don’t know exactly why this is (perhaps the combination of geometry and artistic terminology). I like how you point out the usefulness of the lines in the tile to depict depth. That’s something that went completely over my head but you’re right that it does make the scene seem larger. The lighting is very interesting (it seems a bit unrealistic to me). It can’t imagine natural light making such a big building that bright even on a hot summer day.


    1. Also, I’d be interested to read more about the vantage point of that painting in your paper. It does seem that you’d have to pretty close to the ground to have such a view… I do notice the people in the painting are all sitting. Perhaps he was following suit and trying to make us feel like we’re actually part of the scene depicted.


  3. Hi Joeseph! You do an excellent job summarizing both articles in a succinct, cogent manner — that’s something I personally struggle with and so I just want to let you know I think you did great! Additionally, I think you make an interesting point about Saenredam’s vantage point in this painting -that the viewer would have to be lying on the ground to get this point of view in reality. I wonder what the artist’s intent was when painting this, do you think he meant to make the church look massive or the people small? Or do you think his painting this was to specifically show off his skills in perspective?


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