Gerrit Berckheyde was both born and buried in Haarlem, and although he painted views of other cities, such as Amsterdam and The Hague, it is for his views of Haarlem that he is most celebrated. While there is little biographical detail prior to his joining the Guild of Saint Luke in 1660, he did travel in the 1650s with his brother, Job, up the Rhine through Cleve, Cologne and Bonn, to Mainz, Mannheim and as far as Heidelberg.
From the early 1660s, Berckheyde began painting views of the landmark civic and religious buildings within Haarlem's historic core as well as the imposing walls, bulwarks and gates that defined the city's edge, fuelled by local pride in Haarlem's heritage and its physical character. At a time when Dutch society was trying to build an identity and distinct national culture after years of revolutionary war, Berckheyde's paintings encapsulate the title of a book published by Samuel Ampzing in 1628 'Description and Praise of the city of Haarlem', which, in Cynthia Lawrence's words, 'extolled Haarlem's magnificent buildings, soaring towers and well kept buildings, as well as her virtue and glory' (op. cit., p. 29).
Central to the pride of Haarlem was the church of St. Bavo, which represented the moral and ethical values underpinning Haarlem society. As a former Catholic church converted to Calvinist services, its presence also alluded to the recent success of throwing off the yoke of Spain. Ampzing reveals the city's esteem for this landmark: 'Who ever saw more solid work hewn as if out of rock; So elegant too! Oh pearl of buildings! where to find its equal? Wherever you go, No tower exists like this on our church.'
The present painting belongs to a small group of rare works by Berckheyde depicting the city walls and skyline, rather than the city centre, and can be dated to circa 1670-71. Like A View of Haarlem with the Pinkmolen (Philadephia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson collection) and The Construction of the new Ramparts at Haarlem in 1671 (Paris, Frits Lugt Collection), this panel shows the city from the northwest, looking along the northern walls to the Kruispoort on the left. Haarlem's wealth of churches and spires are partly visible on the skyline, foremost among them St. Bavo, which stands out sharply against the sky rising up behind the fortifications. From left to right it is possible to discern the spire of St. Janskerk (the artist's burial place), the tip of the so-called Klokhuis, St. Bavo's and the tower of the Heilige Geesthuis (Holy Ghost Hospital).