Pieter NEEFS I
Antwerp, c. 1578/90–Antwerp, between 1656 and 1661
Flemish painter and draughtsman
The surname of Pieter Neefs I can be spelled as Neeffs, Neefs, and Nefs, and his first name as both Peeter and Pieter. His works and those of his eponymous son Pieter Neefs II (1620–75/85) are difficult to tell stylistically apart; however the costumes which tend to depict contemporary dress can be dated rather precisely. Pieter Neefs I specialized in painting church interiors, and was enrolled as a member of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke by 1609. Neefs’ works are very similar in style to those of Van Steenwijck father and son, but it is not known whether he was taught by Hendrick van Steenwijck I (c. 1550–1603) or merely influenced by him, as he was by the works of Hendrick van Steenwijck II (1580–1640).1 He has been thought to have been born in Antwerp in 1578, just after two of his brothers, born in 1576 and 1577, but Maillet in 2012 suggested a date of birth around 1590, which would make study with Van Steenwijck II a possibility.2 The attribution to Neefs of an Interior of a Gothic Church in Dresden with the date 1605, which had since Jantzen in 1910 been considered to be his earliest known work, was questioned by Fusenig in 2005.3 Neefs is last recorded alive on 26 February 1656; in 1661 Cornelis de Bie refers to him under the deceased artists in his Gulden cabinet.4
The church interior as an independent genre emerged in Antwerp in the later 16th century under the influence of the perspectival prints of Hans Vredeman de Vries (1525/6–1609)5 and the paintings of the Van Steenwijcks. Pieter Neefs I and other Antwerp painters then produced large numbers of such pictures. But Vredeman de Vries’s son and successor, Paul Vredeman de Vries (1567–1616/17), left Antwerp to work in Prague and from 1599 in Amsterdam, and in 1617 the younger Van Steenwijck moved to London, leaving Pieter I the only painter of church interiors in Antwerp. After 1617 it seems that Neefs standardized his compositions and commercialized his studio. By 1640 his son, Pieter II, was working with him. The younger Neefs is never listed as an independent master in the Guild of St Luke. Sometimes the father signed as ‘Den Avden Neeffs’ (the elder Neeffs).6 The son’s last known dated painting is of 1675. The figures in both artists’ paintings were provided by Frans Francken II (1581–1642) and Frans Francken III (1607–67) and Bonaventura Peeters I (1614–52). Scenes were probably painted to be held in stock, though it is possible that a patron might say he wanted the interior of a specific church, with a mass, a baptism, a funeral, or some such activity. Only very rarely would a patron order the depiction of a specific event (see DPG141, Related works, no. 3b).
Jantzen 1910/1979, pp. 40–47; Martin 1970, pp. 98–103; Baudouin 1996; Fusenig 2005; Maillet 2012, pp. 109–15 (Neefs I), 115–16 (Neefs II), and 283–351 (Neefs I and II); RKDartists&, no. 59042: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/artists/59042 (Neefs I; 20 Feb. 2018).
DPG141 – Interior of a Gothic Church
c. 1630; oak panel, 54.4 x 85.7 cm
Signed on step, bottom left: PEETER NEEffS
On the back in an 18th- or 19th-century hand: Peint par Le Sieur…
?Desenfans sale, Christie’s, 13 May 1785 (Lugt 3882), lot 62 (‘P. Neeffs; Old Franks – The inside of a church’), bt Foxall £9.9;7 ?Desenfans sale, Christie’s, 14 May 1785 (Lugt 3882), lot 39 (‘P. Neefs; Old Franks – A church), sold, £17.6;8 ?Desenfans private sale, 8 April ff. 1786 (Lugt 4022), lot 304 (‘Steenwyck – The Inside of a Church, £20’); not the Neefs An Interior of a Church by Candle Light at Skinner and Dyke, 24 Feb. 1795 (Lugt 5281), lot 35, sold or bt in;9 Bourgeois Bequest, 1811; Britton 1813, p. 18, no. 178 (‘Closet in Upper Room: West / no. 12, Inside of a church with several figures P[anel] De Neefs’; 2'4" x 3'5").
Cat. 1817, p. 11, no. 179 (‘CENTRE ROOM – South Side; Interior of a Cathedral; P. Neefs’); Haydon 1817, p. 388, no. 179;10 Cat. 1820, p. 11, no. 179; Cat. 1830, no. 79; ?Hazlitt 1824, p. 33, no. 52;11 Jameson 1842, ii, p. 455, no. 79;12 Hazlitt 1843, p. 26, no. 94;13 Kugler 1846, p. 346 (note by E. Head);14 Denning 1858, no. 79; Denning 1859, no. 79 (‘not one of his finest works’); Lejeune, ii, 1864, p. 345 (under Plusieurs [?] beaux intérieurs d’église (Several [?] beautiful church interiors); Sparkes 1876, pp. 106–7, no. 79 (Neeffs); Richter & Sparkes 1880, p. 104, no. 79 (Neeffs and Francken);15 Richter & Sparkes 1892, p. 36, no. 141; Richter & Sparkes 1905, pp. 35–6, no. 141; Jantzen 1910/1979, p. 228, no. 268;16 Cook 1914, p. 85; Cook 1926, p. 80; Cat. 1953, p. 30; Bernt 1970, fig. 833 (Neeffs I); Murray 1980a, p. 87; Murray 1980b, p. 20; Mai & Vlieghe 1992, p. 379, under no. 55.1 (E. Mai); Beresford 1998, p. 168; Maillet 2012, p. 285, no. M-0645 (Neefs I, c. 1630); Jonker & Bergvelt 2016, pp. 138–9; RKD, no 288399: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/288399 (March 24, 2018).
London 1999b (no cat. no.; ill.; c. 1630s).
Two-member oak panel with horizontal grain. The paint is thinly applied and the figures are transparent in many cases; retouchings and underdrawing (including the perspectival lines) are visible in places. The painting is in good condition. The panel has a slight horizontal warp. There is a knot in the upper right corner, and the original join is stepped on the reverse. Fine raised craquelure in the centre left and lower right. Some abrasion and tiny losses and scores in the surface. Some visible retouching. Previous recorded treatment: 1952–3, cleaned, Dr Hell.
1a) Pieter Neefs I, with figures attributed to David Teniers II, Interior of a Gothic Cathedral with Figures, signed P. NEEffS and monogram DT, panel, 44.5 x 67.6 cm. Present whereabouts unknown (Christie’s, 4 July 2012, sale 5677, lot 128) .17
1b) Pieter Neefs I, Interior of a Gothic Church, signed Peeter Neeffs, canvas, 48.9 x 64.1 cm. Private collection .18
1c) Pieter Neefs I, Interior of a Gothic Church with a Mass (inspired by the Cathedral of Antwerp and St Walburga), panel, 44.5 x 67.9 cm. Present whereabouts unknown (Christie’s, New York, 11 Jan. 1989, lot 85 (ex. coll. R. C. Graham and Victor Spark).19
1d) Hendrick van Steenwijck I, Gothic Church with Christening Procession, signed, dated and inscribed Henrick VAN.STeNWYCK 1.5.86, TECUM HABITA and I.M., panel, 31.5 x 47 cm. KMSKB, Brusssels, 6683 .20
2) Pieter Neefs I (?) and Frans Francken II, Interior of St Walburga, Antwerp, signed D ffranck, panel, 33 x 48 cm. Prado, Madrid, 1524.21
3a) Pieter Neefs II and Bonaventura Peeters, Interior of a Gothic Church by Candlelight, signed PEETER / NEEffs and monogrammed BP, c. 1646–52, panel, 40.6 x 53.7 cm. Städel Museum, Frankfurt, 503 .22
3b) Pieter Neefs II and Bonaventura Peeters, Interior of Antwerp Cathedral (with Archduke Leopold Wilhelm), signed PEETER NEEFFS and DOM BONAVENTURA PETRI FECIT, c. 1646–50, oak panel, 50 x 70 cm. KHM, Vienna, 1693.23
As is common in Neefs’ œuvre, DPG141 depicts the interior of a church with Gothic vaulting. Until now it has been associated with the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. That was begun in 1352, and its nave vault was finally completed in 1613–14.24 It was a popular subject with Antwerp painters. The nave there has moulded piers without capitals, however, and the cylindrical columns here look more like those of St Walburga; but DPG141 does not feature the distinctive raised choir of that church, so it seems to be a combination of the two interiors (for St Walburga see under Rubens DPG40A, B, Related works, nos 12a, 12b, Fig.).25 Maillet thought there was one picture by Pieter Neefs I that depicted St Walburga’s with its raised choir (Related works, no. 2), but that is not certain.26
The paintings by the Neefs are (like those of the Van Steenwijcks) deceptively documentary. In all of the very many versions of the interior of the cathedral painted by father and son the architecture and decoration are treated with great freedom: they tend to exaggerate the height and length of the nave, they vary the architectural details, and they invent paintings and sculptures to furnish the church. Further variations are introduced by the painters of the figures.
Subjects of the altarpieces here include on the right the Madonna, the Descent from the Cross, Gethsemane (?), a bishop, and the Road to Calvary, and on the left the Holy Family. Many figures can be seen: on the left, a lady converses with a gentleman (whose costume can be dated to c. 1625–30); in the left foreground, a lady (whose costume can be dated to c. 1630) stands with a priest; and on the right loaves of bread are being dispensed to the poor and crippled – a scene that looks very much like one of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy (cf. DPG614, Studio of Teniers). Further in, three people kneel in prayer. The figures in such pictures are usually dressed in up-to-date costume, so it is likely that DPG141 was painted around 1630.27 The various people reflect the way in which churches then were not just sacred spaces, but also acted as gathering places, for romance, religion, or charity.
Jantzen (1910) pointed to the similarity with a picture by Neefs that was at auction in Berlin in 1908 (and again in London in 2012; Related works, no. 1a) . In both scenes the point of view is somewhat left of centre; but there are many differences, for instance in the figures, the pavement, and the altarpiece subjects. Mai (1992) refers to DPG141 in discussing a painting in a private collection, but there the point of view is right of centre (Related works, no. 1b) . There are not many pictures by the Neefs in which cylindrical columns are depicted (most show compound piers), with a viewpoint slightly left of centre.28 However there is at least one more, which was for sale in 1989 in New York (Related works, no. 1c). These church scenes by Neefs seem to go back to a composition by Hendrick van Steenwijck I dated 1586 (Related works, no. 1d)  in which a very similar church is depicted. The difference is that the church in the earlier picture is much darker and the altarpieces are closed, while the altarpieces in DPG141 are all open, creating a much more colourful and festive effect.
Occasionally the figure painters also signed a work, but not in DPG141. Until now the figures were assumed to be by Neefs’ usual collaborator, Frans Francken II, but they look very like the ones in a later painting with the monogram of Bonaventura Peeters (Related works, no. 3a) . That is by the younger Neefs, as is another interior to which Peeters contributed the figures (Related works, no. 3b). However Peeters was not born until 1614, so he may have been too young to have painted the figures in DPG141.
Pieter Neefs (I) and unknown Antwerp painter (figures)
Interior of a Gothic church
panel (oak), oil paint 54,4 x 85,7 cm
Dulwich (London), Dulwich Picture Gallery, inv./cat.nr. DPG141
Pieter Neefs (I) and attributed to David Teniers (II)
Interior of a Gothic church with figures
panel, oil paint 44,5 x 67,6 cm
lower right : P.NEEffS
Christie's (London (England)) 2012-07-03 - 2012-07-04, nr. 128
Pieter Neefs (I)
Interior of a Gothic Church
canvas, oil paint 48,9 x 64,1 cm
upper left : 'Peeter Neeffs'
Hendrik van Steenwijck (I)
Gothic Church with Christening Procession, dated 1586
panel, oil paint 31,5 x 47 cm
lower center : 'Henrick VAN.STeNWYCK 1.5.86'
Brussels, Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België, inv./cat.nr. 6683
Pieter Neefs (II) and Bonaventura Peeters (I)
Interior of a Gothic church, c. 1646-1652
panel, oil paint 40,6 x 53,7 cm
lower right : PEETER NEEffS
Frankfurt am Main, Städel Museum, inv./cat.nr. 503
1 For the Steenwijcks see Howarth 2009.
2 Maillet 2012, p. 109.
3 Are the letters P.NEFS on this picture meant as a signature and is 1605 the date of the picture, or are they both in some way part of the church interior? Moreover, if 1605 is the date, the picture was made four years before Neefs had become a master, which is rather unlikely. It also looks very much like pictures by Van Steenwijck II in Brussels and Cambrai (the latter dated 1613): see Fusenig 2005, pp. 143–5, figs 1–3. See also Marx 2005–6, ii (2006), p. 382, no. 1263 (P. Neefs I (?)).
4 De Bie 1662, p. 155, see https://www.dbnl.org/tekst/bie_001guld01_01/bie_001guld01_01_0084.php (Dec. 11, 2019).
5 Borggrefe, Lüpkes, Huvenne & Van Beneden 2002.
6 For instance on an Interior of Antwerp Cathedral, canvas, 50.8 x 64.8 cm (Christie’s, New York, 6 April 2006, lot 217; present whereabouts unknown, as Pieter Neefs II); RKD, no. 189248: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/189248 (Feb. 20, 2018).
7 GPID (4 Nov. 2014).
10 ‘Peter Neefs. Inside of a Cathedral, shewing the nave, two aisles, various chapels, in correct lineal and aërial perspective.’
11 ‘Interior of a Cathedral, by Sanadram [sic], is curious and fine. From one end of the perspective to the other – and back again – would make a morning’s walk.’ Jameson 1842, ii, p. 455, no. 79, quoting ‘From one end to the other and back again would make a morning’s walk’, considers that this refers not to the picture by Saenredam (DPG59), which hung in the first room, but to the Neefs, in the Centre Room. Indeed, the space suggested in the Neefs is much larger than that in DPG59. But would Hazlitt really mix up the pictures in two different rooms in the Dulwich Gallery?
12 See the preceding note.
13 Same text as in 1824.
14 ‘Pictures by Neefs and Steenwyck will be found […] in the Dulwich Gallery.’
15 ‘Very clear and transparent in tone, although somewhat monotonous in colour.’
16 wie Nr. 261 (as no. 261), i.e. Kirche mit der Teniers Staffage, Vk. Lepke 17.3.1908, Nr. 135, H. 45 x 68, Berlin (Church with Teniers staffage, Lepke sale, 17 March 1908, lot 135, 45 x 68 cm, Berlin). See Related works, no. 1a .
17 https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/paintings/pieter-neeffs-i-and-attributed-to-5586294-details.aspx?intobjectid=5586294 (July 8, 2020); RKD, no. 238095: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/238095 (Feb. 20, 2018); Jantzen 1910/1979, p. 228, no. 261.
18 Díaz Padrón & Padrón Mérida 1999, p. 160, no. 49 (private collection); Mai & Vlieghe 1992, pp. 378–9, no. 55.1 (E. Mai; Galerie K. J. Müllenmeister, Solingen).
19 Maillet 2012, p. 303, no. M-0756.
21 21 RKD, no. 18389: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/18389 (April 4, 2018); https://www.museodelprado.es/coleccion/galeria-on-line/galeria-on-line/obra/interior-de-una-iglesia-en-flandes/ (Nov. 14, 2014; Pieter Neefs I and Frans Francken III; a church in Flanders); Díaz Padrón 1996, i, pp. 780-81 (Pieter Neefs I and Frans Francken II; two other versions of this picture are mentioned); Maillet 2012, pp. 58 (fig.), 338 (fig.), no. M-0965 (St Walburga, Antwerp).
22 RKD, no. 249620: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/249620 (Feb. 20, 2018); Tieze 2009, i, pp. 310–15, no. 503 (Pieters Neefs II and Bonaventura Peeters); Sander & Brinkmann 1995, p. 43, fig. 64 (Pieter Neefs I). See for Bonaventura Peeters also Russell 1996a.
23 23 www.khm.at/de/object/c1e39d912d/ (Jan. 14, 2020); Ferino-Pagden, Prohaska & Schütz 1991, p. 86, no. 1693, pl. 475.
24 S. Grieten in Aerts 1993, p. 125.
25 Four images are reproduced in Maillet 2012, p. 58. The St Walburga was destroyed in the 19th century; depictions of it are discussed in Fusenig & Heinen 2016.
26 The altarpiece in this picture does not look like the outer wings folded shut of the Raising of the Cross by Rubens, which was there then (see under Rubens DPG40A, B, Related works, no. 1c; Fig.).
27 This information comes from Bianca du Mortier, curator of costume at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam: email to Ellinoor Bergvelt, 10 Nov. 2014 (DPG141 file). According to her, the lady with the priest probably held something in her right hand, which is now missing. Otherwise: could it be a gesture, indicating conversation?
28 See the overview of paintings by Pieter Neefs I and II in Maillet 2012, pp. 283–351.