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The Cover
March 9, 2011

Interior of the Buurkerk, Utrecht

JAMA. 2011;305(10):973. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.253

On a chilly day in 1636, the Dutch painter Pieter Jansz Saenredam (1597-1665) stepped out of a busy street and into the Buurkerk, a parish church in the city of Utrecht. Saenredam and his assistant were spending a few months in the city, sketching and measuring the dimensions of church interiors. He would later take the sketches and measurements back to his studio and construct architectural drawings from eye level, as contrasted with the bird's eye views of other church painters. Some of the churches in Utrecht were reserved for formal religious ceremonies, but the Buurkerk was a community church where ordinary folk were welcome to gather informally to pray, hear sermons, or just visit with one another. As Saenredam was sketching, the Buurkerk was probably filled with the hustle and bustle of children playing, adults in conversation, and forlorn people with disabilities hoping for a handout, as seen in church paintings by his contemporary Emanuel de Witte. Saenredam ignored them all, focusing his attention on the structure of the building and checking to see that his assistant had accurately measured the dimensions of every architectural feature within reach. For the dimensions of features that were out of reach, such as the height of the columns, Saenredam had access to building surveys. He came back to the Buurkerk day after day until he was satisfied with his work, and then it was on to the next church. At the end of his 4-month tour, Saenredam had the makings of more than 30 portraits of seven churches: the Mariakerk, the Buurkerk, St Jacobskerk, St Pieterskerk, the Domkerk, St Janskerk, and St Catharinakerk. It would take him many years to complete them.