Bathed in an atmospheric light that is characteristic of de Witte, even the dog in the foreground seems to be listening to the preacher on the pulpit. The city of Amsterdam employed people to keep dogs out of churches, but judging from how common they are in seventeenth-century paintings of church interiors, this was not always successful.
Light is also a key feature of the stained glass in the lower row of windows. The scene on the bottom half shows the Four Evangelists – Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – seated around a table with their attributes. An angel approaches them; above its wings, clouds open to reveal a heavenly golden glow that is enhanced by the natural light coming through the window.
The small organ mounted on the wall to the right of the stained glass was in reality placed on the other side of the nave of the Oude Kerk, but de Witte has included it here to make the view more interesting.
This painting could be considered a companion piece to another by Emanuel de Witte: The Interior of the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, during a Sermon. It shows the same section of Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk (Saint Nicholas Church) but seen from the opposite position, in the north aisle instead of the south.
Such paintings are not necessarily completely accurate depictions of church interiors. With some artistic license, details were added or moved to make the view more interesting. For instance, the small organ that de Witte painted in the other picture has here been transposed to the opposite side of the church, showing some insight into the artist’s working process. De Witte painted many churches while working in Alkmaar, Delft, Rotterdam, and lastly Amsterdam, where this painting originated.
The atmospheric light is eye catching, and gives the church an air of tranquillity. Two rows of windows are visible, and all the interesting stained-glass details are in the lower one. Three roundels crown the central window – the middle one shows a ship, the other two heraldic symbols. The ship might be a reference to Amsterdam’s position as a mercantile centre: the source of the city’s wealth was trade by sea and canal. The central roundel in the right window displays Amsterdam’s coat of arms, a red shield and a black pale with three silver Saint Andrew’s Crosses. An elaborate stained-glass scene makes up the lower half of the middle window. Here, the Four Evangelists – Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – are seated around a table, surrounded by their attributes. An angel approaches them from the left, and above its wings clouds open up to reveal a heavenly golden glow. De Witte painted the light effects with great mastery, clearly thinking about how light looks when it passes through stained glass.
The light that falls on the foreground group has come through the windows across the nave. A dog – it looks like either a Drentsche Patrijshond (Dutch Partridge Dog) or a Kooikerhondje – bathes in the light, and even it seems to pay attention to the preacher, who addresses his audience from the pulpit on the column (highlighting the importance of the sermon in the Dutch Reformed Church). The city employed so-called ‘hondenslagers’ or ‘hondenmeppers' to hunt down stray dogs and to make sure that the animals stayed out of churches, as their barking would distract from the preacher sharing God’s word. The congregation here, however, seems anything but distracted, either attentively listening or reading from the Bible.
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