Saenredam's paintings are almost always church interiors in which the luminous and balanced treatment of the architecture has the elegance of an abstract design. In this painting Saenredam not only gives an apparently accurate portrayal of the details of the Cathedral of Saint John, but also creates a unified feeling of spaciousness and light. The town of 's–Hertogenbosch, near the Dutch–Flemish border, became part of the United Provinces, a group of northern Dutch states that were Protestant and seceded from the Catholic south in 1629, only three years before Saenredam visited it. Thus the cathedral, unlike other Dutch churches, still retained the decorations associated with Catholic ceremony, notably the elaborate black and white baroque altar with its statues of the Virgin and Child and Saint John, and the altar’s memorial tablets to the Catholic Habsburg rulers Philip II and Albert of Austria.
Saenredam subtly changed the proportions of columns and arches to enhance our sense of a soaring architecture. Abraham Bloemaert’s Adoration of the Shepherds, depicted on the high altar in Saenredam’s painting, was a work Saenredam had seen elsewhere and inserted in lieu of the altarpiece that had been stripped from the Saint John cathedral during the Reformation. In Saenredam's preparatory drawing of the apse one sees that a curtain actually hung over the altar at that time. Saenredam's portrayal of 1646 is thus an imaginative reconstruction of the church.