Van der Heyden’s townscape evokes the long-past age of chivalry, when towns were rare safehavens in a Europe full of turmoil. The sandy road in the foreground leading up to the city-gate invites the beholder to enter this mysterious town that breathes history, and explore its secrets.
Panoramic views with an entire city seen from a distance occupy a small but important place in Van der Heyden’s preserved output. The earliest mark a turning point in the artist’s development from a painter of landscapes to a specialist of city-views.5 Highly comparable to our painting are undated but most likely early panoramic views in the collection of Viscount Gage (Firle Place), two in the Hermitage (St. Petersburg).6 Our painting also shares with many presumed early works the almost obsessed interest with the rendering of dense patterns of mortared masonry of brick buildings.7
Van der Heyden’s paintings are usually difficult to date more precisely with other means than going by the figures’ dress. Here it is the dress of the horseman, especially his hat and jabot, that gives away an approximate date between 1665 and 1670. It was in these years that Van der Heyden painted ‘the majority and best of his works’, according to Van der Heyden’s biographer, Arnold Houbraken.8 In our painting we observe Van der Heyden’s finest qualities, such as the sensitively rendered sky and the meticulous finish.
It is unknown with whom Jan van der Heyden trained. He probably enjoyed some drawing lessons in the Amsterdam studio of his eldest brother Joris, who made and sold mirrors. Painting occupied relatively little of Van der Heyden’s time, but he did pursue it throughout his life and he his paintings were avidly collected during his lifetime even across the borders. He owed his prosperity largely to his success as an inventor, engineer and municipal official. He designed and installed a comprehensive street lighting scheme for Amsterdam, which remained in service from 1669 until well into the nineteenth century and was adopted throughout the Netherlands and abroad. In 1672, together with his brother, he invented a horse-driven fire engine with pumpdriven hoses, which increased the efficiency of fire fighting. He died a wealthy man with a collection of over seventy paintings. Chiefly known as a specialist of city views, Van der Heyden also made some peculiar still life pictures.
1 He often took liberties in rendering the building’s details See for views on Cologne featuring this church, Wagner, op. cit. (see literature), nrs. 53-55, p. 80.
2 And the artist used this same motif in paintings that are topographically more accurate. For instance Wagner, ibid., nrs. 45-52, pp. 77-78. Seee for Van der Heyden’s portrayals of Cologne and the reception of Cologne by Dutch seventeenth-century travellers: J. Bikker, ‘Cologne, the “German Rome,” in Views by Berckheyde and van der Heyden and the Journals of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Tourists’, Simiolus 32 (2006), pp. 273-290.
3 Helga Wagner already suggested Lingelbach as the author of the figures, op. cit., p. 102.
4 For Hofstede de Groot and Sutton’s quotes see: P.C. Sutton (ed.), Jan van der Heyden (1637- 1712), exh. cat. Greenwich (Bruce Museum); Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum) 2006-07, p. 57.
5 Apart from a few early portrait drawings on parchment Van der Heyden seems to have started his career with painting wooded landscapes in oil on glass (verre eglomisé). For a recent discussion of Van der Heyden’s glass painting in the Rijksmuseum, see Taco Dibbits’ entry in Sutton, op. cit., nr. 1, p. 106.
6 Wagner, op. cit., nrs. 153-157, p. 102.
7 For an assessment of Van der Heyden’s early works, see: Sutton, op. cit., pp. 34-36. Compare also Wagner, ibid., pp. 54-59.
8 See: A. Houbraken, De groote schouburg der nederlandsche konstschilders en schilderessen, vols., Amsterdam 1718-21, vol. 3 (1721), p. 82 (‘Overzulks zyn zyne meeste en voorname werken gemaakt, tusschen de jaren 1660 en 70.’).