The biography of Emanuel de Witte (1617 - 1692)

Emanuel de Witte (1617 – 1691) was a Dutch perspective painter active in his native Alkmaar, then in Rotterdam (by 1639), Delft (by 1641), and Amsterdam (by 1652). He was especially concerned with atmosphere. His range was wide, including history paintings, genre scenes (notably of markets) and portraits, but after he settled in Amsterdam he concentrated on architectural paintings (primarily church interiors, both real and imaginary).

Emanuel was born in Alkmaar and joined the local Guild of St Luke in 1636. After a few years in Rotterdam, he moved to Delft and studied with Evert van Aelst.

In 1651 de Witte settled in Amsterdam; his first wife died in 1655. He then married a 23-year-old orphan, Lysbeth van der Plas, who exercised a bad influence on his probably 17 years old daughter. Both were accursed and interrogated for stealing four times from the neighbor. Pregnant Lysbeth had to leave the city for a period of six years; she lived outside the city wall and died, probably from the plague, in 1663.

Following the arrest of his wife and child for thievery, De Witte was forced to indenture himself to the Amsterdam notary and art dealer Joris de Wijs, surrendering all of his work in exchange for room, board, and 800 guilders annually.

Later de Witte broke the contract, was sued by the dealer, and forced to indenture himself further as a result. Several patrons provided De Witte with support, but these relations did not work out well. Records tell of his gambling habit and a fight. After an argument about the rent, De Witte hanged himself from a bridge on a very cold evening in 1692. The rope broke and De Witte drowned. Because the canal froze that night, his corpse was not found until eleven weeks later, in spring 1692.

His artistic career began in Delft, where he concentrated on historical subjects and portraits. After his move from Delft to Amsterdam in 1651 de Witte specialized more and more in representing church interiors, and he painted the old church in Amsterdam from almost every corner. De Witte depicted the interiors of such Amsterdam buildings as the Nieuwe Kerk (1677, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), the Oude Kerk (Museum of Fine Arts, Vienna), and the Portuguese Synagogue (1680, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).

De Witte was also a notable painter of scenes from everyday life such as The Fish Market (1672) and Interior with a Woman at the Virginals (both in the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam).