No ecclesiastical space in Antwerp is as exuberantly furnished as this chapel with its extraordinary wealth of marble, painting and sculpture: a baroque homage to Our Lady. The chapel was added immediately after the consecration of the church (1621-1625). Antwerp’s Jesuits were able to circumvent the ban on further ornamentation thanks to the patronage of the three Houtappel sisters, who lived their lives as the spiritual daughters of the Jesuit order.
The Archdukes donated the ornamental Statue of the Blessed Virgin made from the miraculous tree of Scherpenheuvel. Hendrik I van Balen painted the life of the young Virgin Mary on the predella. This unpainted marble support had never before been put to such fanciful use! On the central panels of The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Adoration of the Magi the veins of the ochre-brown marble illustrate rugged masses of rock.
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a copy after Peter Paul Rubens, is displayed between the altar’s two spiral Tuscan pillars. The original canvas of 1613, albeit commissioned for the Cathedral, found its home here a decade later, but was moved to Vienna after being purchased by the Empress Maria Theresa in 1776. Rubens’ painting and the Colyns-De Nole studio’s sculptures joined forces in this place to create a thematic union with each other. The Blessed Virgin, who is colourfully taken up to heaven, is simultaneously crowned by the powerful, white-marble hand of God the Father, who originally extended a gilded crown to her.
Rubens designed the ceiling relief in stucco, bearing the name of Mary and her symbolic honorary titles. The paintings along the walls bring further tribute to Our Lady. The patron saints of the Houtappel sisters and their cousin, Anna ’s Grevens, life-size and majestic carvings in white marble by the Colyns-De Nole studio, are alongside the three Roman martyrs Christina, Catharina, Suzanna, and St. Anne. She proudly shows a representation of her daughter, Mary, and grandson, Jesus: an extremely original depiction of the Virgin and Child with St. Anne.
Amid the wealth of white marble ornamentation, such as garlands and festoons, horns of plenty, sunflowers, shells and cartouches, stylised masks often smile at the observer, whether in marble on the consoles of the saints’ statues or in relief, or else on the wooden capitals of the confessionals.