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Jan van der Heyden, 'View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam', probably 1660

Key facts
Full title View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam
Artist Jan van der Heyden
Artist dates 1637 - 1712
Date made probably 1660
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 90.7 × 114.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bought, 1990
Inventory number NG6526
Location Room 16
Collection Main Collection
View of the Westerkerk, Amsterdam
Jan van der Heyden

This is one of the best seventeenth-century examples of what today we might think of as a high-resolution image. The detail and brushwork are so fine that no matter how closely you look at, or zoom in on, the picture, it never quite seems to pixelate. Yet the painter has made a very strange mistake.

Look carefully at the figures and you will see that they do not have reflections. Take the two little girls, and the dog peeing against the post. We can see the image of the post reflecting back from the surface of the canal, but not the dog or the girls. Figures such as these were normally added after the rest of the painting was complete, so it seems that van der Heyden simply forgot to make the adjustment. He certainly considered the painting finished because it was delivered to his clients, the governors of the Westerkerk in Amsterdam – the church in the middle of the painting.

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