In the footsteps of Herman Saftleven: Utrecht's city rampart drawings

Herman Saftleven, De Utrechtse stadswal bij het Paardenveld, tussen 1660 en 1665, collectie Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten, Brussel

The latest RKD Study is dedicated to more than 175 drawings Herman Saftleven (1609-1685) made of Utrecht's city ramparts. The digital publication describes all city wall drawings in detail and places them in context. The RKD Study is part of a larger RKD project on artist Saftleven, supported by the Friends of the RKD.

Herman Saftleven in Utrecht 

Rotterdam-born Herman Saftleven was a versatile artist. He became particularly known for his paintings of hilly river landscapes. Around 1632, he settled in Utrecht, where he produced many drawings in addition to paintings. Equipped with drawing paper and black chalk, he often wandered along Utrecht’s ramparts and the Stadsbuitengracht ring canal to make images of his city. Over the course of some thirty years, he drew more than 175 drawings of the city walls, as well as views along them, or taken from the ramparts. No other city in the Netherlands has such an extensive series of seventeenth-century drawings related to a city wall as Utrecht. 

Herman Saftleven, De Utrechtse stadswal bij het Paardenveld, tussen 1660 en 1665, collectie Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten, Brussel
Herman Saftleven, The ramparts of Utrecht near Paardenveld, between 1660 and 1665, collection Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels

RKD Study 

Laurens Schoemaker, curator Historical Topography at the RKD, has been researching Herman Saftleven's work for years. He identified all the wall towers, gates and sections of wall that Saftleven pictured in his city wall drawings, and the positions from which he drew. In late 2022, he wrote the booklet Wandelen over de Utrechtse stadswal. Tekeningen van toen en foto’s van nu (A stroll along Utrecht’s city walls. Old drawings and new photographs), a publication of the RKD with a city walk based on a selection of drawings. With the arrival of the RKD Study, all Utrecht city wall drawings by Herman Saftleven have been described and topographically clarified. By way of introduction, Schoemaker wrote two chapters on the artist and the role of Utrecht motifs among Saftleven and other topographical artists. Then follows the catalogue of all drawings with city motifs and a topographical overview. Architecture historian Frans Kipp wrote a contribution, in which he discusses the city wall drawings as an important historical source for building history research.

Cornelis van Hardenbergh, Gezicht vanaf de wal met de Servaastoren en rechts daarachter het pand van de Fundatie van de Vrijvrouwe van Renswoude, 1816 gedateerd, collectie Het Utrechts Archief
Cornelis van Hardenbergh, View from the rampart with the Servaas tower and behind it to the right the premises of the Foundation of the Lady of Renswoude, 1816, collection Het Utrechts Archief

Cornelis van Hardenbergh

The final chapter of the RKD Study, written by RKD curator Jeroen Kapelle, deals with the Utrecht artist Cornelis van Hardenbergh (1755-1843). Like Saftleven, this draughtsman had a great fondness for Utrecht's city walls, which were in a ruinous state in the early nineteenth century. Van Hardenbergh was sensitive to this romantic image and made many drawings and prints of the city defenses shortly before they were demolished. Nowadays, Cornelis van Hardenbergh is no longer a well-known name, but hopefully this publication will change that. The Utrecht Archives shows drawings by Cornelis van Hardenbergh and other nineteenth-century artists at the exhibition ‘The Illustrated City’ until 14 July.