‘Needled Spires Point the True North…’

Michael Fitzjames, View of Maitland from the Riverbank (With Apologies to Jan Vermeer and View of Delft), 2006

It may have been painted 340 years later and on the other side of the world, but Michael Fitzjames (1948-) has channelled the spirit of the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer’s famous View of Delft (1663) in View of Maitland from the riverbank (2006).  Like Vermeer, Fitzjames has split his canvas into three horizontal bands of river, land and cloudy sky. And the similarities do not end there.

Vermeer’s view of the prosperous town of Delft was punctuated by the centrally placed spires of its old and new churches; both markers of civic pride and a reminder of the anchoring role of the church in townspeople’s lives.  Fitzjames’ view of the city of Maitland also features a church spire – the tower of St John the Baptist, the first Catholic cathedral in the region.  It was built in 1846 with contributions from not only the Catholic community, but also Jewish and Protestant people from across the colony. The construction of a church is a significant milestone in the formation of any community, the creation of a cathedral even more so.

In his view of the river, Fitzjames has depicted the church belltower at the edge of town, overshadowed by the red rooves and brick walls of the commercial centre. When he painted it in 2006, the church had been closed for many years after falling masonry made it a danger to parishioners. Ten years later, in 2016, the church reasserted its relevance to the City of Maitland when it was restored to its former glory and dedicated as St John’s Chapel. At its dedication ceremony, the bell rang in celebration, the choir lifted its voice in song and a poem, Tower view, Maitland, lauded

‘…the climate of aspiration where,

Needled spires point the true north and roofs

Crown rising stone like hands at prayer.’