The fish market takes place in the foreground of the painting, in the shadow of the Church of St Bavo. In the background the square and the town hall are bathed in bright sunlight. This strong contrast between light and shade – a characteristic feature of Gerrit Berckheyde’s cityscapes – ensures a onvincing effect of depth.
It was not by chance that the fish market was held by the walls of St Bavo; the shady side of the church was a good place to sell the perishable fish. The fish hall was built in 1603; it belonged to the city but was built on church land, which meant that the church shared in the income from the rental of the fish stalls. In 1796 the fish hall was replaced with a new one, built closer to the church, on the site of the former thieves’ cemetery. (Thieves were not, of course, buried in the church.) The new Fish Hall is still there; it is now used as an exhibition gallery for modern art.