Wilhelm Schubert van Ehrenberg or Willem Schubart van Ehrenberg (1630-1676), entered the painters guild of St Luke in Antwerp, the city where he resided for most of his career, in 1662. He specialized in grand interior views – often collaborating with fellow painters, who would execute the figures populating his monumental architectures – and ‘gallery paintings’, detailed representations of picture galleries. His subjects varied from churches to palaces, and from the real to the fantastical. His brushstroke, always fine and luminous, expertly outlined these interiors with great accuracy, as the artist clearly delighted in the intricacy of baroque rooms and princely corridors.
The present canvas, “View of the interior of the Basilica of St. Peter’s, Rome”, signed and dated 1665, perfectly embodies van Ehrenberg’s painterly narrative, and exemplifies his tremendous skill as an artist. The central nave of St Peter’s Basilica, looking towards Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s famous Baldacchino, is rendered in its every detail, yet its sheer scale is heightened by the painter’s choice of viewpoint and by his dramatic depiction of light, with the foreground darker and the background diaphanously illuminated.
Although the letters lining the dome look small in this picture, they are actually 2 meters tall (6′6″). It says in Latin “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven…”