The Grote Markt is the focal point of the major part of Gerrit Berckheyde’s views of his native city. In the 17th century, the square stood at the heart of Haarlem’s religious, political and commercial life. In the present picture, the dominance of the Church of Saint Bavo is symptomatic of the prominent role played by the clergy in the lives of the general public, who are here depicted as prosperous and well-ordered, and thus encourages a metaphysical interpretation of the seemingly simple urban landscape.
The golden hue of Berckheyde’s palette reveals his debt to the Dutch Italianates of the 1640s and 1650s. He employs extreme contrasts of light and dark to create an illusion of solidity and depth and the present painting can be compared to The Grote Markt and St Bavo’s, Haarlem (Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste) in its use of tenebrism: rays of sunlight illuminate the northern side of the Cathedral and cast long shadows around the figures, lending both paintings a stage-like quality.