||Constantijn Huygens is know as the pioneering architect of the Dutch classicist revival, and his poems in praise of his collaborator, Jacob van Campen, laud him as the figure who has rid the Dutch cityscape of Gothic building style. However, Huygens’ collection of art included three paintings by Pieter Saenredam, famous in his own right for his depictions of Gothic architecture. Why then would Huygens own so many paintings by Saenredam, among them the largest known from his hand, a picture of the largest Gothic church in the country, Utrecht Cathedral?
The reason, I argue, is that Huygens’ institution of classicist architecture was accompanied by deep confessional anxiety. The introduction of classicism to the Republic coincided with an influx of wealth, luxury and worldly pride, arguably appearing as its sign. As Huygens tells us, his home on the Plein was subject to the charge of vanity. What I will argue in this essay, however, is that classicism recalled not only the decadence of Greece and Rome in its form, but Rome’s pagan idolatry as well. In the writings of Simon Stevin, Salomon de Bray and Huygens in turn, there was great ambivalence over Vitruvius and his pagan history of classical architecture. As I will argue, each author adopted his own strategy in coping with this so-called problem of paganism, and that the works of Saenredam were central to Huygens’ own approach.
I will begin by demonstrating that Saenredam’s perspectival technique was rooted in the principles of Vitruvian design, appearing, like Huygens’ homes, as a mark of the modernity of the Republic. However, I will ultimately argue that this technique classicized native Gothic churches, presenting them as a sacred history for Huygens’ architecture. In this way, Saenredam’s works redeemed Huygens’ classicist revival, ensuring that his homes would project an identity for the nation that was at once modern and pious.