In the Dutch still life, according to Roland Barthes, “There are objects wherever you look, on the tables, the walls, the floor: pitchers overturned, a clutter of baskets, a bunch of vegetables, a brace of game, milk pans, oyster shells, glasses, cradles. … Still-life painters like Van de Velde or Heda always render matter’s most superficial quality: sheen.”
Pieter Jansz Saenredam, “a minor master who may be as deserving of literary renown as Vermeer …, painted neither faces nor objects, but chiefly vacant church interiors … [which] calmly reject the Italian overpopulation of statues … [and] the horror vacui professed by other Dutch painters. Saenredam is in effect a painter of the absurd … To paint so lovingly these meaningless surfaces, and to paint nothing else – that is already a modern aesthetic of silence.”
A paradox according to Barthes, “Saenredam articulates by antithesis the nature of classical Dutch painting.” Barthes’ point is that, in the work of Capelle, Van de Venne, Ruysdael, et al, we see that “men inscribe themselves upon space, immediately covering it with familiar gestures, memories, customs, and intentions.”
Barthes, Roland. 1982. A Barthes Reader : Edited and with an Introduction by Susan Sontag. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd. [Comprises 29 selections from the writings of Barthes, preceded by Sontag’s Introduction.]
The citations given in this post come from ‘The World as Object’, which is the fourth of Sontag’s selections from the writings of Barthes.
‘The World as Object’ (1953), from Critical Essays. Translated by Richard Howard; copyright © 1972 by Northwestern University Press. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. Translated from the French Essais critiques, copyright © 1964 by Éditions du Seuil.
For a larger image of this painting, and of other works by Saenredam, see: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Pieter_Jansz._Saenredam
According to Wikipedia Commons, Interior of the Buurkerk at Utrecht (oil on panel, 58.1 × 50.8 cm) was painted in 1645, and is now to be found at Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.