The present picture is the earlier of two known views of Gloucester by Vorsterman, the other is in the Gloucester City Museum. Relatively little is known of the artist who was born at Zalt-Bommel in 1643 and was a pupil of Herman Saftleven at Utrecht. He seems to have worked in England from circa 1675 until 1686, when he left England for Constantinople. He specialised in painting English cities, castles and country houses. Other examples of his works include a pair of views of Windsor Castle in the Royal Collection (O. Millar, Tudor, Stuart and Early Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, London, 1963, pp.417-8, nos.417 and 418) and he also painted a celebrated view of Althorp (private Collection; J. Harris, op.cit., p.67, no. 64).
This view would appear to have been taken from a vantage point between Over and Maisemore, not far back from the River Severn. Gloucester Cathedral dominates the city in the centre of the composition. In front and slightly to the left of the Cathedral can be seen the church of St. Mary de Lode, with a small spire, which was blown down in a storm in the early eighteenth century, probably the great storm of 1703. Just visible behind the Cathedral, to the right, is the thin spire of the church of St. John the Baptist on Northgate Street. To the right of this can be seen the church of St. Nicholas on Westgate Street, with its full spire, the top of which was removed in 1783. Third on the right from the Cathedral is the Holy Trinity tower, in the middle of Westgate Street, with the body of the church, which was taken down in 1699, visible beneath (the tower survived until the mid-eighteenth century when it was taken down under the Improvement Act of 1750). To the right of this is the tower of the church of St. Michael at the Cross. The fifth tower to the right of the Cathedral belongs to the church of St. Mary de Crypt on Southgate Street. The church of St. Mary de Grace, which was in the middle of Westgate Street between St. Nicholas and Holy Trinity, was taken down in the 1650s and is not visible in the picture.
The landscape surrounding the town is also shown with careful topographical detail. The Lower parting of the River Severn can be seen to the far right of the picture; the western arm of the river curves down towards the front of the picture, while the eastern arm curves away past the buildings of Llanthony Abbey, set apart from the city to the right of the picture and up towards the City Quay (which is not quite visible behind the trees to the right of the West Gate). The river then curves back and under the Westgate Bridge at the West Gate on the edge of the city, and is not seen in the rest of the picture although its line is marked roughly by the row of trees along the edge of the city.
The road in the foreground of the picture is the Over Causeway, which crosses the island formed by the parting of the two branches of the Severn, known as Alney Island, at Over Bridge. The boats shown on the river are the distinctive Severn trows, and the four men near the edge of Alney Island in the centre of the picture appear to be hauling the loaded trow in the river to the left of them. Also apparent in the foreground are the Alney brickworks, which had been established in the 1640s.
The hill to the right of the picture is Robinswood Hill, with the Cotswold escarpment behind it. The hill to the left is Chosen Hill, and the large house on its lower slopes is Zoons Court.
We are very grateful to Nicholas Kingsley of the Gloucester Record Office, for his help with this catalogue entry.