Few details are known of his life, but he was certainly in Alkmaar and joined the guild there in 1636. Six years later, he joined the Delft guild of St. Luke and subsequently married and had two daughters. Originally a figure painter of modest ability, in Delft around 1650 Emanuel de Witte turned to the new subject of local church interiors. He treated Gothic structures less in terms of solid forms or for their specific religious meaning rather than for the space, light and mood. A grave is being dug in the foreground. De Witte often included gravediggers in his church paintings, perhaps as an allusion to the transience of earthly life.
Late in 1691, De Witte disappeared and eleven weeks later his body was found in a frozen canal, a rope tied around his neck. It was thus generally assumed he had committed suicide. De Witte is now rightly acknowledged as one of the greatest of Dutch 17th century architectural painters.
The present painting combines elements from both the Oude and the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. The grave diggers in the foreground are a repeated compositional element found in other paintings.
– Sotheby’s New York, 29 Jan 2009, lot.no.126
– from a South American private collection
– via Douwes Fine Art to a private Dutch collection in 2010.
I. Manke, Emanuel de Witte, 1617 – 1692, Amsterdam 1963.