Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp

Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp

Lange Kievitstraat 111-113 bus 100

2018 Antwerp


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The painters' chamber of the Saint Luke Guild

The collection of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp has a long pre-history that goes back to the collection of the Saint Luke Guild in the 15th Century. In the 17th Century, the guild members continue the tradition of gifting works to the guild and to display them in the meeting hall. From 1530 until 1662, the guild rents a hall in the guild house of the Kolveniers on the Grote Markt (main square) in Antwerp.

In the painters' chamber, works of art are exhibited, though meetings are also held there, and paintings are auctioned by a knaap or courier. Abraham Grapheus (or Abraham de Graef) is one such guild knaap. When the painter Cornelis de Vos becomes Dean in 1620, he gifts a portrait of Grapheus. Grapheus poses with various types of trophy cups and is bedecked with a series of silver platters or breuken fastened on a decorative chain. It is notable that the first 17th-century work that is taken up in the collection deals with artists and the practice of artists.

Also, the basis for the exceptionally rich collection of Rubens in the museum lies in the painters' chamber. Some ten years later than de Vos, Peter Paul Rubens gifts The Holy Family with the Parrot on the occasion of being named Dean. Though the work existed before being Dean of the guild, he adjusts the measurements, adds the figure of Joseph and reworks the whole work.

The Academy in the Merchant Exchange 

The Academy signals a great consequent step in the expansion of the 17th-century collection. In 1663, Philip IV grants the right to establish an academy within the Saint Luke Guild following the examples of Rome and Paris. Former Dean David Teniers II sees herein the way in which to bring new élan to the artists' life. The Antwerp city management makes places in the merchant exchange available and the Saint Luke Guild moves the collection of the painters' chamber to a hall in the eastern wing of the gallery. The painters and sculptors are asked to make works available and there is also a dais where the rhetoric chambers ‘De Violieren' and the ‘De Olijftak,' with whom the Saint Luke Guild was associated, could perform.

Jacob Jordaens I and Theodor Boeijermans make three pieces for the ceiling of this new painters' chamber that are still kept in the collection. Jordaens' Pegasus and Industry and Trade Promote the Flowering of Art and Boeijermans' Antwerp, Nourishing the Painters allow it to be seen how the inspiration of painting and poetry are united and leads to the flourishing of the arts in Antwerp. Dirck van Delen (in collaboration with Boeijermans) complements this programme with the Allegory of the Arts, in which poetry and painting sit lovingly next to each other.

Artus Quellinus I gifts a white marble image of Luis de Benavides Carillo, Marquis of Caracena, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands as thanks for his support.

In the course of the century, two more governors receive a bust. In 1675, Lodewijk Willemsens makes one of Juan Domingo de Zuñiga y Fonseca, Earl of Monterey, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, and in 1694, Willem Kerrickx completes the bust of Maximilian II Emmanuel, Elector of Bavaria, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands. They are also of importance in the history of the Academy. In the new 19th-century museum building, they receive a place of honour at the entrance and later in the grand stair foyer of the Keyserzaal. 
In the antechamber of the painters' chamber portraits of the guild leaders are displayed and edifying paintings on the instruction of art, such as The Study of Art in Rome by Anton Goubau from 1662. During the 18th Century, this tradition is continued and the instructors and guild members further add to the collection.

The French period 

The French period represents an enormous growth of the collection of works from the Southern Netherlands, inter alia, and in this period the collection of the Academy is expanded into a museum.

On 23 July 1794, a French Republican regiment occupies Antwerp. The portrait painter Jacques-Luc Barbier (1769-1860), Lieutenant in the French revolutionary army, is charged with carrying out the deportment of the art collection to Paris. Three dispatches ensue and the second one in October 1794 contains, among others, works from the painters' chamber and the Academy, which are closed. 
The French leadership wants to sell the remaining works of art from churches and cloisters on the public market. Willem Jacob Herreyns (1743-1827), director of the Antwerp Academy, tries to recoup the works that are in France and protect the works of art that remain from being sold. He seeks the help of Simon Pierre Dargonne (1749-1839), a Frenchman who had long since lived in Antwerp and who is responsible for the management of culture and education in the city. After two years, in 1796, Dargonne succeeds in starting up the instruction of art again.

A special committee is established to select works of art in churches, cloisters and abbeys from the province of Antwerp, which are deemed to be important enough to be preserved. This movement has to do with works that play an important role in the education of young artists. More than 300 paintings are saved and are placed in the former cloister of the Discalced Carmelites: the museum of the ‘Ecole Centrale'. After 1804, the name changes to ‘Académie de Peinture, Sculpture et Architecture de la Ville d'Anvers' and therein a museum is established in the cloister's church. By royal decree, the Academy and museum were given over to the city on 5 May 1810.

Herryns tries to get the masterpieces back from Paris. Ultimately he is successful in bringing back two works of Rubens to Antwerp: The Holy Family with the Parrot from the painters' chamber and the painting that had hung above Rubens' tomb in the Saint Jacob's Church. Both paintings are exhibited in the spaces of the ‘Ecole Centrale'. The former remains in the KMSKA collection, and the latter goes to the Saint Jacob's Church.

After repeated, and sometimes nearly successful, attempts, it is not until 1815 that the paintings come back to Antwerp. And then, as much as possible, all of the works are brought back to their original location.

After 1815

The events during the French period are determining for the assembly of the collection and in particular for the 17th-century works from the Southern Netherlands. First of all, the works that make up a portion of the holdings of the Saint Luke Guild and Academy are complemented with the works that were brought back by Herreyns from the churches and cloisters from Antwerp and environs. Some hundred or so 17th-century altarpieces, portraits and the like are given over to the museum.

This acquisition deals with the works (inv. nr. 164, 165, 166, 167) by Philip Fruytiers from the Friars Minor Church and altarpieces from other Antwerp cloister churches such as the Marriage of Mary by Gerard Seghers, made for the Discalced (inv. nr. 508, 509, 512). 
The sale of the altarpiece from the Saint Luke Guild (inv. nr. 88), coming from the Cathedral, is also thwarted and it is taken up into the collection. This also is so with the altarpieces of other trade guilds such as the minters, by Maerten de Vos and the bricklayers by Frans (II) Francken and the altar of the marksmen.

The emphasis lays on the religious history pieces from churches and cloister churches from Antwerp and Mechelen, but there are also portraits from institutions such as Jordaens' The Sisters of the Hospital from the Saint Elisabeth Gasthuis. 
Saint Ignatius Surrounded by a Garland of flowers, a collaboration from Jan van Balen, Cornelis Schut I and Daniël Seghers is a piece from the Charles Borromeo's Church and from Jan Cossiers there are two works (inv. nr. 37, inv. nr. 40) from the church of the "profeshuis" of the Jesuits.

From the Bishop's Palace, with 11 works in the collection, come a few genre pieces: Garden Festival in Diesdelle by Denis van Alsloot, the Smoker by Jan Cossiers and Winter Pleasures by Sebastiaan Vrancx.

Two Greyhounds by Joannes Fijt comes from the Commanderie Pitsenburg of the German Order in Mechelen, just as does the Bird Concert, attributed to Paul de Vos.

The real masterpieces come to the collection after the restitution in 1815. There are nineteen of them: the Last Supper by Jordaens, two by Cornelis de Vos, five from Anthony van Dyck and eleven by Rubens: the two sketches with the Arch of the Mint and the design for the Triumphal Chariot of Kallo.

With regards to the churches: Christ on the Cross, (So-called Le coup de lance, commission by Nicolaas Rockox for the Friars Minor Church); a small version of the Descent from the Cross (Studio of Rubens, inv. nr. 315) also from the Friars Minor Church; the main altar from the church of the Saint Michael's Abbey: The Adoration of the MagiThe Last Communion of Saint Francis of Assisi, ordered by the Charles family in 1619. And finally, the epitaphs of The Holy Trinity and the two triptychs: Epitaph of Jan Michielsen and his Wife Maria Maes and Epitaph of Nicolaas Rockox his wife Adriana Perez.

In addition to the best of the twenty or so portraits that were acquired at the end of the 18th Century, there are still important pieces that come along: from Anthony van Dyck, the portrait of Cesare Alessandro Scaglia (copy after the original in the National Gallery in London) and The Lamentation over the dead Christ, that was made upon commission by Scaglia for the Chapel of Sorrows in the Friars Minor cloister. In addition, The Holy Family with the Parrot by Rubens and Abraham Grapheus return to Antwerp along with Cornelis de Vos's The Citizens of Antwerp bring back to Saint Norbert the Monstrance and other Sacred Vessels that they had hidden from Tankelin.

In 1815, the museum had 122 paintings and 3 sculptures by the most prominent Baroque Masters in the Southern Netherlands. It is surprising that the founder of the Academy, David Teniers II, is not represented. This was rectified by the gift of The city Valenciennes by King Willem II, purchased at the auction of the collection of Edmond Bourke. In 1840, at the auction of Schamp van Aveschoot in Ghent, Tavern Scene by Teniers was also bought. Eleven more paintings follow (the last one in 1996). Along with the growing importance for Teniers, the art of genre painting receives more attention with works by Joos van Craesbeeck and Adriaen Brouwer, among others.

The first purchase of the museum is Elijah Fed by the Raven by Gaspar De Crayer, purchased in 1826 from an estate.

After 1841

After that, it is still for a time until after 1841 when the museum receives more funds to expand the collection. Primarily it proceeds with offerings and acquisition at auctions. Provisions are made to ensure that a work acquired is suitable as an example for a following generation of artists, the same criteria that Herreyns also used. The 17th Century receives a great deal of attention and from the middle of the 19th Century onwards, it is decided to diversify the collection. Genre pieces, landscapes, interiors and others are underrepresented and also new names are introduced, primarily the painters from the Northern Netherlands. In August of 1878, the collection of Geelhand de Labistrate is auctioned. The museum buys a landscape by Teniers, a still life by Pieter Gysels and a portrait of Helena Fourment by Danïel Mytens, later attributed to Jan Boeckhorst.

The legate of Baroness Adelaïde Van den Hecke-Baut de Rasmon consists in large part out of work from Holland of the 17th Century. However, amongst the 41 works, there is also a work by Rubens, portraits by Erasmus Quellinus II, Joannes Fijt, Gonzalez Cocques, Jordaens and landscapes by Pieter Bout and Lucas van Uden.

In 1880 the museum purchases a floral piece by Jan Brueghel I from Madame Pelgrims-Hanegraeff. Before then, there was no work by this painter, the blazon in collaboration with Hendrik van Balen I and others excepted.

In the following 50 years, six more works by Jan Brueghel I follow, primarily thanks to gifts or support by benefactors such as Oscar Nottebohm and by associations such as Artibus Patriae. This group of art lovers gift or provide the means for 18 works in the period 1866 through 1943.

Wildens' Landscape with Dancing Shepherds introduces a new aspect of landscape art with its large, dynamic composition. Also new in the collection are the four ‘little fights' by Sebastiaan Vrancx that are bought or gifted after 1909. The sole painting by Jan Siberechts is supplemented with four other paintings.

Minerva visits the Muses is an important acquisition in all respects, which was bequeathed by Madame Maria Selb-Van Humbeeck in 1925. Mythological presentations are for all intents and purposes scarce in the collection, but this rather large panel is an example of the collaboration amongst three painters who are each exceptional in their specialty: Hendrik van Balen I (figures), Joos de Momper II (landscape) and Jan Brueghel I (floral decoration).

In 1905, the signed Still Life with Fish by Clara Peeters is bought and four more works by Frans Snijders follow so that the still life collection also acquires diversity. The portrait collection increases with nearly thirty works such as Portrait of a Family by Cornelis de Vos.

In 1880, the first 17th-century sculpture is purchased: Caritas Romana, presented as Artus Quellinus I, later it was attributed to Jerôme Duquesnoy II. The three portrait busts were meanwhile supplemented with the busts of Emperor Rudolf II and Archduke Albert of Austria from the city hall, among others. The modest sculpture collection, only ten or so, has great names and Artus Quellinus I finishes the list with Aeneas, Carrying his Father Anchises, Escapes from Burning Troy (purchased in 1993). The terracotta collection, on loan from the Koning Boudewijn Institute since 2000, complement the limited sculpture collection.

Jordaens, Rubens and Van Dyck 

Extra efforts are made to introduce new names into the collection without devaluing the core, or great names of the collection. The growth of the work of Jordaens is spectacular with the fourteen works that were acquired after 1816, amongst which is the mythological painting Meleager and Atalante. The creative process is clearly made with the oil sketches such as Head Studies and Triumph of Frederik Hendrik. The drawing of The King Drinks is a sketch that was used to make an engraving of the painting.

The museum is also successful in purchasing oil sketches by Rubens or from his milieu, such as in 1977 Minerva and Hercules Chase Away Mars and Kitchen Maid, Butcher and Boy around a Table in 1999.

In 1875, Earl Philippe Arnold Louis Joseph Gillès van ‘s Gravenwezel bequeaths Rubens' portrait of Gaspard Gevartius and a year later the legate of Jozef De Bom follows with the monumental canvas The Baptism of ChristVenus Frigida and The Prodigal Son, purchased in 1881 and 1894, illustrate the multifaceted nature of the artist.

Four portraits by Anthony van Dyck are purchased, amongst which the Portrait of Marten Pepijn, which is bought at the auction of the collection of Edouard Pierre Rombaut Kums. And, finally in 1998, an oil sketch is acquired: a study for the altarpiece with Saint Augustine. 
With the loan in 1958 of the three altarpieces that Rubens (inv. nr. IB1958.001), Jordaens (inv. nr. IB1958.002) and van Dyck (inv. nr. 1B003) have made for the Saint Augustine Church in Antwerp, one has come full circle of where it all began.


Since 1815 until the end of the 19th Century, the Baroque collection increases with 53 paintings. In the 20th Century, another one hundred or so come along, of which the half between 1901 and 1914.

The Baroque in the Southern Netherlands is represented in the museum collection with nearly 300 paintings, drawings and sculptures.

Nanny Schrijvers

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