The Peter's Church (Pieterskerk) in Leiden revisited

All photo's below will enlarge by clicking on them.

Size and scale of Architecture


Have you ever wondered how accurate the 1653 Pieterskerk painting by Hendrick van Vliet is to the actual interior church architecture?

This year I revisited the church in Leiden, and took photo's for comparison.

Click pics to compare

So, the comparison shows that the artist fairly accurately captured the actual measurements of the building interior components, but how about the size of the people?

    I measured the height of a column base. The height of all column bases are identical. The top ridge of the base measured 6' 0". The second ridge measured just over 4' 10".
Therefore, if the Van Vliet painting was an actual photograph, the man and woman (?) in the painting would be some 3 ft high.


Ann (on the left) is 5' 3" high. That is probably the average height of people in Holland at the time of the painting.

Therefore, if we take that assumption, and if Van Vliet had recorded and painted everything accurately to size and scale, the painting would have looked like the one on the right.


Did Van Vliet have the skills to create a painting with everything accurate to size and scale? Absolutely. He first was a skilled portrait painter for some 20 years and then turned to painting interior views of actual churches. He obviously made the people smaller to create a more grandiose impression of the church.
Look here for another, earlier, painting he did of the Pieterskerk. Sizes of (most) people are a bit more realistic.

Church Burials

Affluent people could be buried in the church. It was a costly affair. 200 Guilders (US $12,000 in today's money) was not unusual. For that you had a grave and they would toll the church bells for 2 hours and hang your family crest (mourning plaque) on a pillar near the grave for a certain amount of time. Read more about church burials here.

The grave in the painting:
Did you ever notice the two skulls on the floor in front of the gravedigger in Van Vliet's painting?

I had hoped to see a beautiful carved stone (like this) in the same area as where the grave was dug in the painting, but found just beautiful polished slabs, without any names.


Restoration of the Church

Click here for a brief history of the church.

The walls of the church are built of red brick. However, in 1572, when the church became in the hands of the Protestants, those brick walls were covered with a thin layer of white plaster to make it look more pristine.
But over the past several years a lot of work has been carried out to return the church to its original beauty. Click the pics for more info.


Willem van Osnabrugge
June, 2012

Back to the Dutch Gallery