Little is known about Steenwijk, a Flemish architectural painter who collaborated with major Antwerp artists such as Frans Francken II and Jan Breughel I, among others. He also worked as a court painter in England and the Netherlands. By 1617, Steenwijk was living in London, where he painted architectural elements in portraits by Anthony van Dyck and Daniel Mytens the Elder, while in 1645 he was working in the court in The Hague.
These two circular works by Steenwijck represent a church during the day and the vaults below at night. The first scene depicts a richly decorated church resembling Antwerp Cathedral with a long nave. Despite the work's small scale, Steenwijck employed dramatic perspective in order to create a lofty, deep space enhanced by a complex vaulted ceiling and a combination of blue and yellow tones of the floor tiles. Parishioners and priests dot the scene, their presence enhancing the optical effect of depth.
The second painting is in many ways the inverse of its companion. The setting is below, rather than above ground and the ceiling is low rather than lofty. The scene takes place at night, the only light coming from torches that cast dramatic shadows and create a small tonal range for the scene, producing an overall sense of mystery. Steenwijk used this format repeatedly for depicting the Liberation of Saint Peter, told in Acts 12:1-11, in which an angel frees Peter after he has been imprisoned by King Herod. In the present work, the artist leaves this element of the story to the imagination, including only sleeping soldiers, bundled in cloaks, their faces obscured by their hats. Such scenes by Steenwijck were highly popular, as can be seen from the many varieties of such works that he produced. He painted approximately 70 paintings of the Liberation of Saint Peter, a similar example of which can be found in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Together, the two works show the variety of architectural space, light, and texture that Steenwijck was able to achieve using identical supports and small-scale circular format.