Pieter Saenredam, who is best known for his paintings of church interiors, had broad humanistic interests, ranging from the history and development of the Netherlands to the literature of antiquity. A prized source of information about Rome was a sketchbook of antiquities made in the 1530s by Maerten van Heemskerck (1498–1574), which Saenredam would eventually acquire.

This painting is based on one of the images in Heemskerck’s sketchbook. The ancient, circular chapel of Santa Maria della Febbre in the foreground was originally built as a mausoleum in the second century. After 1506 the chapel was converted into the sacristy of the new Saint Peter’s basilica, which was then under construction behind it. The massive piers of the crossing that would eventually support the famous dome designed by Michelangelo are clearly visible in Saenredam’s painting. When Saenredam painted the scene in 1629, the dome had already been completed, and the Egyptian obelisk in the foreground, quarried in the thirteenth century BC and taken to Rome in the first century AD, had been moved to a different location on Saint Peter’s Square, some 275 yards away.

Interestingly, Saenredam portrayed Saint Peter’s as though it were an abandoned ruin overgrown with weeds. He created a sense of depth in the landscape by overlapping layers of contrasting tone, moving from a dark foreground through the buildings’ pinkish yellow to the bright blues and greens of low-lying distant hills. It is probable that the cardinal in his horse-drawn carriage and the other figures in the landscape were painted by Saenredam’s colleague Pieter Post (1608–1669).


  • Title: Church of Santa Maria della Febbre, Rome
  • Creator: Pieter Jansz Saenredam
  • Date Created: 1629
  • Physical Dimensions: overall: 37.8 x 70.5 cm (14 7/8 x 27 3/4 in.) framed: 51.4 x 84.4 x 5.7 cm (20 1/4 x 33 1/4 x 2 1/4 in.)
  • Provenance: Friedrich, king of Prussia.[1] (sale, Frederik Muller and Co., Amsterdam, 25 November 1924, no. 60); Anton W.M. Mensing [1866-1936], Amsterdam;[2] (his estate sale, Frederik Muller and Co., Amsterdam, 15 November 1938, no. 96); (D.A. Hoogendijk, Amsterdam); J.A.G. Sandberg, Wassenaar, in 1950; private collection, The Netherlands; (D.A. Hoogendijk, Amsterdam), by 1953; (Frederick A. Stern, Inc., New York); sold 1954 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[3] gift 1961 to NGA. [1] This information is in the 1924 sale catalogue; it has not yet been determined which of the Prussian kings by this name owned the painting. There are two seals on the reverse of the panel, but neither has a legible imprint. [2] An annotated copy of the 1924 sale catalogue cites Huber as the buyer. If this is true, he may well have been acting as an agent for Mensing. [3] See The Kress Collection Digital Archive, https://kress.nga.gov/Detail/objects/530.
  • Medium: oil on panel

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