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Pieter Neefs the Younger

The Interior of a Gothic Church with Figures attending Mass

Pieter Neefs the Younger

Signed on the pillar, centre right: PEETER/ NEEFS
Oil on panel, 15 x 19 ins. (49.5 x 64.8 cm)



Victor Frederick William Cavendish-Bentinck, 9th Duke of Portland (1897-1990) (the picture had been in his family for at least one hundred years)
Thence by descent
Private Collection, United Kingdom, until 2014


The staffage is by Frans Francken the Younger (1581-1642)


In this church interior, Pieter Neefs has taken a view from a slightly elevated viewpoint, looking down the nave toward the high altar.  Daylight flooding through Gothic traceries on the left illuminates the intricate architecture and the series of Baroque altarpieces that embellish the side-chapels on either side of the nave.  Little groups of figures are scattered throughout the vast interior.  Some are strolling or conversing, others are at prayer, and some stand quietly in respectful silence while a Mass is being said.  People from all walks of life are represented here, from wealthy burghers to humble beggars.   

Towards the end of the sixteenth century, architectural painting emerged as a specialist genre in Antwerp.  Its development was much influenced by the engravings of Hans Vredeman de Vries, who introduced into northern Europe the rules of linear perspective devised by Italian Renaissance artists.  Certain Antwerp studios adopted architectural painting as a specialist activity, of which the most notable were those of the Hendrick van Steenwycks, father and son, and the Neefs family of painters.  Pieter Neefs the Elder may have been a pupil of the van Steenwycks, since their influence is very evident in his work.  His approach to paintings was, like theirs, essentially linear and the style of his buildings invariably Gothic.  Church interiors offered Neefs the opportunity to demonstrate his mastery of linear perspective, a skill that was much admired by connoisseurs of the day.  In the inventories of the period, works of this kind are often described as 'perspectives', which gives a clear indication of contemporary attitudes to such works.  

Although clearly an imaginary scene, like most of Pieter Neefs's church interiors, the building depicted here is loosely based on the interior of the cathedral at Antwerp (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk).  The artist has however introduced paintings and sculptural details of his own invention, as well as the rather unusual feature of an open Gothic arch on the left, through which a view of a city may be seen.  The perspective has been carefully constructed in order to accentuate the height and length of the nave, with the orthogonals converging on the distant high altar, creating a powerful sense of recession.  Notwithstanding its intimate scale, the painting conveys a powerful impression of the vast space inside a great Gothic building.   

Like other architectural painters of the period, Neefs frequently collaborated with specialist figure painters.  In this case, the staffage is by Frans Francken the Younger, one of the most versatile and accomplished painters of the day.  In contrast to the stillness of the architecture, his figures breathe life into the building and provide a carefully judged sense of scale. 


Born in Antwerp in 1620, Pieter Neefs the Younger was the son and pupil of Pieter Neefs the Elder (c. 1578 -  c. 1656-61).  By 1640 he was collaborating with his father but was apparently never enrolled as an independent master in the Guild of St. Luke.  Like his father he specialised in architectural subjects, particularly Gothic church interiors, and his works are difficult to distinguish from the elder Pieter Neefs.  He was still active in 1675, the year that appears on his last known dated paintingi.  The staffage in interiors by Pieter Neefs, the Elder and Younger, is generally executed by other artists, among them Jacob Peeters, David Teniers II, Sebastiaen Vrancx, Frans Francken II and Frans Francken III.


i  Vaduz, Samml. Liechtenstein. 

Pieter Neefs the Younger

1620 - Antwerp - after 1659

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