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

Exhibitions - Archives

1999 - Anthony van Dyck, looked at differently

May 17 – September 30, 1999

‘registers and paintings, portraits and copies’
in Antwerp churches and monasteries

When mentioning Anthony Van Dyck, one usually thinks of his brilliant achievements as a portrait painter at the English Court. However, his short stays in his native city of Antwerp were always a trigger for orders for portraits of numerous prominent persons. His overall contribution here as a painter of religious pieces is equally unknown. Van Dyck’s relationship with the various monumental churches in Antwerp is greater than is usually suspected.

Therefore, TOPA organised an exhibition that ran from 17 May to 30 September 1999 as part of the Van Dyck 1999 project of Antwerp Open vzw.

The exhibition took place in the churches concerned, where all elements were illustrated, either by the works of art themselves or by 17th century engravings or photographic reproductions.

First, church archives contain some important biographical data about the Master: from baptism to testamentary dispositions. Was he not born in the shadow of the Cathedral?

For several of these churches, he produced one or more religious works, such as The Carrying of the Cross in the St. Paul’s Church, or the very well-known The Holy Rosalia and Blessed Herman Joseph for the Marian congregations of the Jesuits.

Furthermore, several portraits from his iconography depict persons who were closely connected with the social, cultural, scientific, and spiritual life around the Antwerp churches: bishop Malderus, the canons Aubertus Miraeus, Antoine de Tassis and Zeger van Hontsum, the organist Hendrik Liberti, the Jesuits Carolus Scribani, Jean-Charles della Faille de Leverghem and Jean-Baptiste de Bisthoven. Thus, the master has (forever) highlighted the special dynamics of Antwerp church life at that time.

Besides, attention was also paid to several copies by and copies after Van Dyck, both as regards portraits for epitaphs and religious pieces, especially for the Marian devotion.

Anthony van Dyck
and the Antwerp Monumental Churches

The Our Lady’s Cathedral has a special relationship with Anthony Van Dyck. His father Frans was serving master in the Venerable Guild and married Maria Cuypers there in February 1590. Their son Anthony was baptised there on 23 March 1599 (the baptismal register is kept in the City Archive). His very last religious order was for an altarpiece for the Guild of the Young Crossbow. Due to his premature death, this was executed by Cornelis Schut (Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, inv. 327). Several prominent persons who were closely involved with the cathedral had their portraits painted by the master: bishop Malderus, the canons Aubertus Miraeus, Antoine de Tassis and Zeger van Hontsum, and the organist Hendrik Liberti.

In the St. Andrew’s Church, the epitaph of the married couple Jan de Wael and Gertrudis de Jode could be admired until the 19th century. Although its painter is still unknown, the portraits of the couple on the shutters were copied after the very famous double portrait by Van Dyck (Munich). One of the 19th-century Stations of the Cross is also said to be inspired by Van Dyck’s The Carrying of the Cross.

Van Dyck was closely associated with the Antwerp Jesuits. For their church, the present St. Charles Borromeo’s Church, P.P. Rubens provided the 39 now disappeared ceiling paintings in 1621. For this, he was assisted by Van Dyck. In 1628, Van Dyck became a member of one of the Jesuit Marian congregations and for this occasion he painted one of his most beautiful works, The Holy Rosalia. For the same Sodality, shortly afterwards followed The Blessed Herman-Joseph (both in Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum). Several Jesuits who belonged to his circle of scholars were portrayed: Carolus Scribani, Jean-Charles della Faille and Jean-Baptiste de Bisthoven.

Van Dyck never received a commission for St. James’s Church, nevertheless one of the most beautiful churches in the city, especially known for the grave of P.P. Rubens. But it was in this church that, in 1660, his daughter Justina and her husband Sir John Stepney were rebaptised and remarried according to the Catholic rite.

As a result of the French Revolution, only The Carrying of the Cross for the Dominicans can still be seen on site in St Paul’s Church. That is why this work of art was the main attraction of the exhibition. The number of preserved sketches for this youthful work by Van Dyck is rather exceptional: ten in number. The last one, the final modello, is kept in the Antwerp Print Room.

All data were published in a valuable catalogue with colour illustrations and scientific contributions by several art historians.