14_A Church Interior by Pieter_Neeffs & Frans Francken

A Church Interior with Elegant Figures Strolling and Figures Attending MassPieter Neefs the Elder & Frans Francken the Younger, painted between 1599 & 1642

Pieter Neefs (1578?-1656?)was the son of an Antwerp cloth merchant and innkeeper. The year of his birth is uncertain, being placed between 1578 and 1590. He became a specialist in church and architectural interiors, a subject that was little practiced in Flanders at this time. A well-known device of his was to depict church interiors at night, lit only by a few light sources and thus very atmospheric. Often the churches are imaginary, at least in part, being loosely based on real buildings but with added elements. In the style of the time, the perspective is a key part of the composition of the picture, being drawn in rigid lines and diminishing all the way to the back of the building. In this particular painting, if you zoom in you can see that the figures were painted in over the lines of the paving stones. In fact, some or all of the figures are painted by a different hand – that of Frans Francken the Younger (1581-1642). He was a talented Antwerp-based painter mainly of small historical and biblical scenes for cabinets. He was frequently asked to paint in figures for fellow-painters who specialized in architectural or other subjects.

Pieter Neefs was successful commercially, yet appeared to have financial difficulties, perhaps because he had a family of six (five children and a wife), plus servants to support. Two of Neefs’ sons also became painters and their works are sometimes hard to distinguish from those of their father.


Pieter Neefs the Elder (fl. 1609–1656) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wrap Up Your Painting

  • What caught your eye immediately about the painting?
  • How did you describe the character of the built environment to yourself?
  • How did the air smell, in your imagination?
  • Did you think the person you focused on was affluent or not? How could you tell?
  • In what way, if any, did this guided noticing activity add to your original impressions of the painting?
  • How do you feel now you’ve completed this activity? If you enjoyed it, why not add more Look at Paintings audio guides to your week? And don’t forget, you can take these guides with you to your local gallery and try them whilst standing in front of ‘real life’ art