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

Saint Andrew’s Church

The martyrdom of St Andrew

Painting, Otto Van Veen, 1594-1599; the modello is in the treasury.

When the church was repaired after the Iconoclast Fury most attention was given to the new high altar in the central nave. As was common in Counterreformation the patron saint was amply (437 x 287 cm) represented as a heroic martyr. In 1594 the contract was signed by Otto Van Veen, the painter who was held in high esteem in Antwerp then, and who got P.P. Rubens as an apprentice in that same year. The agreement was based on a detailed modello by Van Veen. Since 2006 this modello has been again property of the church council. We advise you to compare the big painting with the modello, which is now displayed in the treasury. This modello shows vivid details and colours in a sharp contrast with the final work, which was glued, overpainted and reframed,  which caused a strong reduction in quality. This is a pity, certainly when you realize that the young Rubens as an apprentice and later on as a partner more than likely helped achieving it.

The two parts of the predella are two versions of the story of the calling of the patron saint. On the left Andrew and Peter – after the synoptic gospels – leave their nets behind to follow Jesus (Mth. 4:15-20). Their gazes are dramatic, representing their fascination. On the right Andrew – after John 1:35-40 – follows Jesus with another pupil.

According to tradition, Andrew was an apostle in present Turkey and Greece and died a martyr around 66 in Patras. The scene can be confusing: the Roman proconsul is not commanding Andrew’s crucifiction, but his freeing from the cross. Under the pressure of the masses he withdraws the first command. So the soldiers are not raising the cross, but releasing Andrew. Alas, it is too late: Andrew succumbs, surrounded by an aureole of divine light, sign of God’s presence. It seems that, anticipating the joy of meeting God, he does not feel the pain of the torture any longer. Symbolically angels hand over the divine reward to Andrew, so that the elevated cross of martyr becomes something of a trophy.

When 40 years later Rubens resumed this theme for a Flemish chapel in Madrid, he succeeded in augmenting the level of drama by adding dynamism to the composition. Also notice how Van Veen’s painting can be compared with Rubens’s masterpiece The Raising of the Cross in Antwerp Cathedral. Not only is the composition identical, also the same figures appear, such as the sorrowful mother in the foreground and the dog. Van Veen’s pup has grown up and became a threatening tetrapod.