One meets people from other cultures on nearly a daily basis, on the metro or on television. The ‘other' perhaps instills fear or incites the imagination. That was no different before. The exhibition De andere verbeeld / Verbeeld gevaar sheds light on the image formation of ‘Blacks', ‘Jews', ‘Turks', ‘heretics' and ‘Catholics' from Flemish and Netherlandish religious art from the period 1450-1750.
The exhibition, an initiative of Kerkwerk Multicultureel Samenleven vzw, was already to be seen in various locations and is housed in the Vleminckxkapel next to KADOC until 25 September. Who all is depicted? Why were they presented in such a manner? And, moreover, what do the paintings teach us about the way in which the ‘other' was viewed in that time. The point of the exhibition is to offer answers to such questions. Many of us are, after all, no longer trusting of the stories and symbols in religious art.
Take now, for example, the painting by Peter Van Lint from the Saint Jacob's Church in Antwerp. It shows how the Apostles Peter and Paul take their final leave of each other. Both were condemned to death. They die, however, in different ways: in the upper right of the painting, Peter is crucified, the punishment for ‘foreigners'; while lower left, we see how Paul-as a Roman citizen-is beheaded. What is striking, moreover, is the darker skin colour of the executioner.
The enemy is indeed more often the ‘other' (and vice versa), even if that does not correspond with the reality. The 17th-century painting, Beheading of Saint Dimpna is an example of this. The heathen Irish King Damon who wanted to marry his daughter Dimpna and ultimately murdered her, is depicted as an easterner. In the legend of the saint, there is, however, no explanation to be found. That the second Siege of Vienna (1683) by the Ottomans was only a few years before, does explain why the painter sought the ‘villain' in the East.
The painting, Triumph of the Truth over Heresy from the Ghent Our Lady and Saint Peter's Church, a copy of a work by Rubens, provides an overview of all possible enemies. Around the woman, the personification of the triumphant Catholic Church, are found the reformers Luther, Calvin and Zwingli and furthermore the 12th-century heretic Tanchelm. In addition, we see two more fleeing figures: a Muslim and a Jew. The latter is depicted with a dagger in one hand and a pierced, bleeding Eucharist wafer in the other. That indicates the anti-Semitic legend in which the Jews steal the wafers and pierce them with a dagger.
Such legends, (anachronistic) interpretations and stereotypical images shed light on the exhibition with an interesting pattern of the religious art from the Low Countries. Curious if it shall also influence your view of the ‘other'.
Exhibition De andere verbeeld / Verbeeld gevaar
August 11 - September 25
Vlamingenstraat 39 - 3000 Leuven
(News item September 5 2014)