Gerrit Berckheyde painted numerous views of St. Bavo's between 1665 and 1696. The magnificent building featured in his work for various reasons; most importantly, however, Haarlem was Berckheyde's native city and also an important commercial town during the Netherlands' great period of expansion, and the monumental architecture of St. Bavo embodied the town's wealth and its religious identity. Many of Berckheyde's Haarlem paintings were based on Samuel Ampzing's Beschrijving ende Lof der Stad Haerlem of 1628, a topographical history that contains etchings of Haarlem's prominent features. Berckheyde's dependance on these prints is reflected in his paintings, certain conventions in his staffage deriving from them. The staffage in this painting is by Anthonie Palamedesz., called Stevers (1601-1673).
The present lot closely resembles the Grote markt with St. Bavo's, Haarlem (oil on canvas; 69.5 x 90.5 cm.), signed and dated 1696 (Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum); the soft yellow light and the sharp contrasts and silhouetted façades appear in both paintings. The monumental expression of the church is further enhanced by the vast square of the Grote markt, depicted relatively empty on this occasion. Considering the similarities between the two paintings, the present lot may be dated to circa 1696. After 1674, Berckheyde changed his compositions to a different view of St. Bavo's, his angle shifting to the far west of the Grote Markt, thereby including the porch of Haarlem's Town Hall.
Lawrence observed that: 'It has been suggested that Berckheyde may have occasionally paired representations of the Amsterdam Town Hall with other symbols of national and civic pride, producing pendant "portraits" of it with paintings of St. Bavo's in Haarlem' (op. cit., p. 35).