Hendrick van Steenwyck the Elder
Interior of Aachen Cathedral
Hendrick van Steenwyck the Elder, Flemish, Interior of Aachen Cathedral, 1575, Oil on panel; 50.8 x 69.5 cm (20 x 27 3/8 inches), Gift of Drs. Arnold-Peter C. and Yvonne S. Weiss 2000.25
This quiet interior depicts the symbolic center of the Holy Roman Empire in the 16th century—the Palatine Chapel at Aachen Cathedral, which housed the remains of the Empire’s founder, Charlemagne, who reigned from 768–814. In this view of 1575, van Steenwyck accurately describes the space within the Palatine Chapel, a structure whose domed octagonal core was ringed by an aisle and upper gallery, the whole set inside a sixteen-sided exterior shell. Completed around 800, the church was expanded in the early fifteenth century by the addition of the Glass Chapel. In this view, the clear fenestration of the Gothic structure may be glimpsed through the sober rotunda of the original chapel. The artist rendered the chapel faithfully, carefully plotting the space with light and shadow and dotting it with small figures in order to convey a sense of scale. Van Steenwyck was the first known artist to specialize in architectural painting, a genre that came to be associated with Netherlandish artists after 1600. This composition exists in more than one copy, which may be explained by Van Steenwyck’s probable patrons: civic governments and princely courts who wished to associate themselves with the Holy Roman Empire.