Antwerp, Churches and Tourism
Tourism Pastoral, Diocese of Antwerp (TOPA vzw)

Second NIGHT of the CHURCHES

Saturday August 10, 2013

14 Antwerp churches celebrate the 350th anniversary of the
Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Antwerp

Some ten years ago, a few monumental churches in Antwerp took part in the Night of the Museums. Because, on the one hand, the Museums wanted to underline their individuality and, on the other, security in mega-churches at night is not evident, the churches were no longer on view for Antwerp citizens on late summer evenings.
This year, the churches want to open their doors again during the Antwerp summer. Not coincidentally, a week after the Night of the Museums and during the Antwerp fairground week leading up to 15 August.

The church interior as we are used to see by day will not be seen during a nocturne. The colourful light of the sun through the stained-glass windows slowly fades away, but first it illuminates a few corners. Thanks to the setting sun, around 7.20 p.m. many churches bathe in a gleaming golden light. For those who come at the right time, this is a heavenly moment that will make you fall silent. Those who still like to admire stained-glass windows should come before 8 pm.

theme: the links with the Royal Academy of Fine Arts

The churches would like to highlight a common theme. In the run-up to the official celebration of 350 years of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the 14 participating churches will present the most remarkable works of art created by the Academy’s directors, teachers and students over the past 350 years. In each church there are continuous guided tours with appropriate background music and sometimes organ recitals.

Under the impetus of David II Teniers (‘the Younger’), the ‘Royal Academy’ was founded in Antwerp, reason enough to celebrate it now, 350 years later. Because for the Catholic Church art is a rewarding means of experiencing and transmitting faith, the churches of Antwerp have called upon countless artists who have been academically trained since 1663 for a variety of commissions.

Now that church building has come to a standstill, the churches regularly call upon the academy and its graduates, especially for restoration work of all kinds.

There are also more personal links. Until well into the 19th century, Antwerp’s academically trained artists regularly visited the parish and monastery churches, not only professionally, but also for their religious experience. Usually, traces of this can only be found in the baptismal, marriage and funeral registers, very exceptionally also in a funerary monument.
The artists’ association of the St. Luke’s Guild, which co-patronised the Academy, had its own chapel in Antwerp’s main church of Our Lady.

The fourth link between the churches and the Academy is more delicate. When churches and monasteries were closed down during the French government, the best works of art were selected from them as didactic examples for the trainee artists. This collection was housed in the former Friar Minors’ Convent in Mutsaertstraat, which now houses the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Antwerp. In 1816, some twenty top works by P.P. Rubens, among others, are added to the collection. They were looted from Antwerp churches, but returned from Paris after the French defeat in Waterloo. This collection later became the Royal Museum of Fine Arts.

In 14 churches, you can enjoy the most remarkable works of art created by the Academy’s directors, teachers and students over the past 350 years. Each church has its own angle on the theme.

Besides the numerous stained-glass windows by the glass artists Stalins-Janssens and the sculpture by de Boeck and van Wint, three works of art attract attention.

The altar of the Guild of St. Luke

After the Calvinist regime the altar of the St. Lucas chapel was restored. It was not until 1602 that Maarten de Vos was commissioned to create an altarpiece on the subject of ‘Saint Luke painting the Madonna’. Here, the patron saint serves as a professional model for the painters, both in terms of manual labour and intellectual training. De Vos, who was previously vice dean and chief dean of the guild, is already at an advanced age. He was only able to finish the middle panel before his death in 1603. The side panels are painted by Ambrosius Francken and Otto Van Veen. When a fashionable porch altar was erected in 1754, the two panels were moved to the Academy’s ‘painting room’ in the Handelsbeurs.

During the restoration of the church after the French Revolutionary regime, Academy director Herreyns receives the commission for the altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament. The painting The Supper at Emmaus (1808) still bears witness to this neo-classical art period.

The stained glass window “God glorified by the arts” (Jean-Baptiste Bethune, 1872)

A stained glass window donated by Philip IV, King of Spain, stood in this place from 1622 until it was destroyed by a storm at the beginning of the 19th century. On the occasion of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Guild of Saint Luke (1664) and the second centenary of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (1663), the ‘Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts of Antwerp’ decided to finance a stained glass window. This was done in order to honour not only the arts practised at the Academy, but also other disciplines, including the poetry and eloquence of the chambers of rhetoric that were traditionally part of the Guild of St. Luke. The largest neo-Gothic stained-glass window was ordered from Bethune, the most famous stained-glass artist of Bruges at the time, who already had a foot in the door through the placement of stained-glass windows in a number of street chapels.

The Antwerp Academy is prominently present in the St. Andrew’s Church with a contemporary creation by one of the most important fashion designers, Ann Demeulemeester, from 2001. But also discover the works of art of former students and directors of the Academy: the painter Verlat and the sculptors Gillis and Van Geel (pulpit). And let us tell you the story of Vincent van Gogh who found inspiration here.

The Antwerp Academy is present in the St. Anna Selbtritt Church with the stained glass windows in the organ case. These come from the previous, demolished neo-Gothic church, restored by Herman Wauters, a pupil of Professor Joris Van de Broek.

The polychromed Sint-Rochus statue was restored to its semi-original state in 2013 by Seppe Roels, a student of the Academy.

Around 1910, the Flemish artist Ernest Wante painted the remarkable Stations of the Cross, the mural painting Mary crowned Queen of Heaven and the side panels of the St. Anthony’s Retable. He is strongly inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite artists.

In this clearly baroque church (1614-1624), it is difficult to find artists who were connected with the Academy, except Jan Pieter I van Baurscheit who was responsible for the restoration after the fatal fire of 1718. Besides the woodcarvings of the panelling, confessionals, pulpit and portal, original design drawings are on display.

Also to be discovered: the grand altarpiece Our Lady of Carmel painted by Gustaaf Wappers (1840).

In spite of the prescribed vigilance for the menfolk, the Beguines welcomed academic artists into their house of prayer. Especially the glass artists Stalins and Janssens, and the sculptors De Boeck and van Wint and Jozef Peeters are the focus of attention in this intimate space.

The neo-Gothic St. Francis Church is a striking creation by the architect brothers Leonard and Hendrik Blomme (1896), who also designed the St. Willibrordus Church. Both were teachers at the Antwerp Academy.

The stained-glass artists Stalins-Janssens, pupils of the academy, are also present in this church.

The Saint-Fredegandus Church holds a special place among the churches of Antwerp, not so much because it is less centrally located but because it houses works of art by no fewer than five directors of the Antwerp Academy that span a period of more than a century:

  • The sculpture by Jan Pieter II van Baurscheit (1st half of the 18th century);
  • the grandiose painting The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Willem J. Herreyns (ca. 1780);
  • the painting The Entombment of Jan Pieter Ykens (1701);
  • the 2 smaller paintings, near the most important funeral monuments, by Matthias van Brée (1804) and Andries C. Lens (early 19th ).

For the inauguration in 1871 of the cycle of neo-Gothic wall paintings by Guffens and Swerts, Peter Benoit composed the oratorio Drama Christi.  During this nocturne, you will be able to discover both works of art or how image and music complement each other. Attention will also be paid to the painting process, the materials used and the cartoons of these remarkable murals. And all this will be framed by the themes of the paintings: the suffering, the struggling and the glorified Christ.

The focus is on the overall concept of interior and exterior architecture, statues, altars and church furniture realised by master builder J. Huygh, who taught at the Academy, and the further completion by his successor architect J. Smolderen, who trained there.

Architect Frans Van Dijk who built this basilica was a teacher at the Antwerp Academy. His backgrounds and foreign examples are fully explained on this evening with Van Dijk’s plans and a model made in 1983 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the parish.

Discover this ‘Sicilian’ basilica in Antwerp.

Tonight, St Paul’s Church promises to tell the truth about looted art and Napoleon Bonaparte.  The Antwerp Academy is omnipresent here with no less than 11 artists.

There is action in this church. Tonight the church is also immersed in an African atmosphere. After the end of the African Eucharist, you can continue to enjoy not only the music and the songs brought by the African choir, but also the church building and the works of art created under the impetus of the ‘Pilgrim Movement’. These included the most important artists who helped shape the church: architect Flor Van Reeth, art glazier Eugeen Yoors, sculptor Simon Goossens and architect and metal artist Rie Haan. All received their training at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.

The church counts renowned teachers and students of the Royal Academy among the artists who gave shape and colour to this neo-Gothic church, such as the architect duo Blomme, the art glaziers Stalins-Janssens and Eugeen Yoors and the sculptors de Boeck and van Wint and Jozef Peeters.