Belgium – Antwerp Picture Gallery – Hall Of The Ancient Master

THE chief object of interest at Antwerp, even more important than the Cathedral itself, is the Picture Gallery, regally housed in a magnificent Museum at the south end of the town. The building alone might make Trafalgar Square blush, if Trafalgar Square had a blush left in it. To this collection you should devote at least two or three mornings.

The Antwerp Gallery contains in its palatial rooms a large number of Flemish pictures, many of them collected from the suppressed Churches and Monasteries of the city. (Re-member that they were painted for such situations, not to be seen in Museums.) You will here have an opportunity of observing a few good pictures of the early Flemish School, and especially of improving your slight acquaintance with Roger van der Weyden, one of whose loveliest works is preserved in the gallery. You will also see at least one admiral le example of Quentin Matsys, as well as several fine works of the Transitional School between the early and the later Flemish periods.

But the special glory of the Antwerp Museum is its great collection of Rubenses. It is at Antwerp alone, indeed, that you can begin to grasp the greatness of Rubens, as you may grasp it afterward at Munich and Vienna. I do not say you will love him : I will not pretend to love him myself : but you may at least understand him. This, then, is the proper place in which to consider briefly the position of Rubens in Flemish Art.

From the days of the Van Eycks to those of Gerard and David, painting in the Low Countries had followed a strictly national line of development. Its growth was organic and internal. With Quentin Matsys, and still more with Bernard van Orley, Pourbus, and the rest, the influence of the Italian Renaissance I had begun to interfere with the native current of art in the Low Countries. It was Rubens who finally transformed Flemish painting by adopting to a certain extent the grandiose style of the later Italian and especially the Venetian Masters, at the same time that he transfused it with local feeling and with the private mark of his own superabundant and vigorous individuality.

Rubens was an Antwerp man, by descent and education, though accidentally born at Siegen in Nassau. His father was an Antwerp justice of an important family, exiled for sup-posed Calvinistic leanings, and disgraced for an intrigue with a royal lady, Anna of Saxony, the eccentric wife of William of Orange. A gentleman by birth and breeding, Peter Paul Rubens painted throughout life in the spirit of a generous, luxurious aristocrat. His master was Otto van Veen, Court Painter to the Dukes of Parma, and himself an Italianized Flemish artist, whose work is amply represented in the Museum. Early in life, Rubens travelled in Italy, where he imbibed to a great extent the prevailing tone of Italian art, as represented by Titian, Veronese, and to a less extent, Tintoretto, as well as by Domenichino and the later Roman School of painters. To these influences we must add the subtler effect of the general spirit of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the age when voyages to America and to India, and the sudden opening of the Atlantic sea-board,! had caused in men’s minds a great ferment of opinion and given rise to a new outburst of activity and struggle. Romance was rife. The world was turned upside down. It was the day of Spanish supremacy, the day when the gold and silver of the Indies poured in vast sums into Madrid and the Low Countries. The Mediterranean had given way to the Atlantic, Venice to Antwerp. In England, this age gave us the rich and varied Elizabethan, literature; in the Low Countries, it gave is the highly analogous and profusely lavish art of the School of Rubens.

Rubens lived his life throughout on a big scale. He travelled much. He was statesman and diplomatist as well as painter. He moved from Paris to London, from Madrid to Mantua. All these things give a tone to his art. He is large, spacious, airy, voluptuous. He has a bold self-confidence, a prodigal freedom, an easy opulence. He delights in colossal figures, in regal costume, in court dresses and feathers, — the romance and pageantry of the royal world he lived in. Space seems to swell and soar on his canvas. Vast marble halls with huge pillars and lofty steps are the architectural background in which his soul delights. His outlines are too flowing to be curbed into stiff correctness. His sturdy Flemish nature, again, comes out in the full and fleshy figures, the florid cheeks, and the abundant fair hair of his female characters. All scenes alike, however sacred, are for him just opportunities for the display of sensuous personal charm, enlivened by rich costume or wealthy accessories. Yet in his large romantic way he is doing for cosmopolitan mercantile Antwerp in the seventeenth century what Van Eyck and Memling did for cosmopolitan Ghent and Bruges in the fifteenth.

One more peculiarity of his art must be mentioned. The early painters, as we saw in the St. Ursula casket, had little sense of real dramatic life and movement. Rubens had learned to admire this quality in his Venetian masters, and he bettered their instruction with Flemish force and with the stir and bustle of a big seaport town in an epoch of development. His pictures are full, not merely of life, but of strain, stress, turmoil. It is more than animation — it is noise, it is tumult. He often forgets the sacredness of a scene by emphasizing too much the muscular action and the violent movement of those who participate in it. This is particularly noticeable in the Descent from the Cross in the Cathedral, and still more in the famous Coup de Lance at the Museum.

The astonishing number of pictures which Ruben* has left may be accounted for in part by his incredible rapidity of execution — he dashed off a huge picture in a fortnight, — but in part also by the fact that he was largely assisted by a numerous body of pupils. Of these, Van Dyck was by far the most individual, the tenderest, the most refined : and not a few of his stately and touching master-pieces may here be studied.

The Dutch School is also represented by several excellent small pictures.

Of alien art, there are a few fine pieces by Early Italian artists.

The entrance door is under the great portico on the west front, facing the river. Open daily, nine or ten to four or five, one franc per person : free on Sundays. (Inquire hours of hotel porter.)

You pass from the vestibule, where sticks and umbrellas are left, into a hall and staircase of palatial dimensions, admirably deco-rated with fine modern paintings by N. De Keyser, of Antwerp, representing the Arts and Artists of the city, the influence upon them of Italian masters, and the recognition extended to their work in London, Paris, Rome, Bologna, Amsterdam, and Vienna. I do not describe these excellent pictures, as the inscriptions upon them sufficiently indicate their meaning, but they are well worth your careful attention.

The rooms are lettered (A, B, C, etc.) over the doorways. On reaching the top of the staircase, pass at once through Rooms J and I, and go straight into Room C, the Hall of the Ancient Masters, Flemish or foreign.

Right of the door,

224. Justus of Ghent : a bland old pope, probably St. Gregory, holding a monstrance, between two angels. In the background, a curious altar-piece, with the Annunciation, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi, Flight into Egypt, Presentation in the Temple, and Finding of Christ in the Temple. Above it, two female saints (or figures of Our Lady?). A good work, in an early dry manner.

463. Madonna and Child, by Van Orley : the landscape by Patinier. From a tomb in the Cathedral.

383. Van der Meire. Triptych from an altar; Centre, Way to Calvary, with St. Veronica offering her napkin, and brutal, stolid Flemish soldiers bearing the hammer, etc. In the background, the Flight into Egypt. The wings have been transposed. Left (should be right), the Finding of Christ in the Temple. Right (should be left), the Presentation in the Temple.

Above it, 380. Van den Broeck (1530-1601¬) : a Last Judgment. Interesting for comparison with previous examples. Renaissance nude.

557. Unknown. Dutch School of the early sixteenth century. The Tiburtine Sibyl showing the Emperor Augustus the apparition of the Virgin and Child on the Aventine. A page; his robe embroidered with his master’s initial A., holds the Emperor’s crown. Very Dutch architecture. (The Catalogue, I think erroneously, makes it the Madonna appearing to Constantine.)

560. Good hard early Dutch portrait.

42. An Adam and Eve, attributed to Cranach the Elder. Harsh northern nude.

527. Unknown. Resurrection, the Saviour, bearing the white pennant, with red cross, and sleeping Roman soldiers.

341. Good portrait by Susterman, alias Lambert Lombard.

Above these, Madonna, in the Byzantine style; with the usual Greek inscriptions.

521. School of Albert Durer : Mater Doloros, with the Seven Sorrows around her.

549. Good Flemish portrait of William I., Prince of Orange.

Above, 387, Van der Meire : an Entombment, with the usual figures, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea ; the Magdalen in the foreground with the box of ointment; the Mater Dolorosa supported by St. John (in red)'; and, behind, the two Maries. In the background, a Pietà — that is to say, the same group mourning over the Dead Saviour.

425. Van Hemessen : The Calling of Matthew from the receipt of custom. Harsh and uninteresting.

568. School of Quentin Matsys: Christ and St. Veronica. Probably part only of a Way to Calvary. The spiked club is frequent.

241. Quentin Matsys : a fine and celebrated * Head of the Saviour Blessing, with more expression than is usual in the Flemish type of this subject. Notice even here, how-ever, close adhesion to the original typical features.

242. Quentin Matsys : Companion Head of Our Lady, as Queen of Heaven. Full of charm and simplicity.

Between these, 4, Antonello da Messina (an Italian profoundly influenced by the School of Van Eyck, and the first to introduce the Flemish improvements in oil painting into Italy). Crucifixion, with St. John and Our Lady. This work should be carefully studied, as a connecting link between the art of Flanders and Italy. It is painted with the greatest precision and care, and bears marks everywhere of its double origin — Flemish minuteness, Italian nobility.

254. Memling : admirable cold-toned portrait of a member of the De Croy family. The hands, face, and robe, are all exquisitely painted.

Centre of the wall, 412, good early copy of Jan van Eyck’s altar-piece for Canon George van der Paelen, in the Academy at Bruges. If you have not been there, see page 121, Vol. I., for Particulars. Better preserved than the original perhaps a replica by the master himself.

519. Crucifixion, with Our Lady and St. John, on a gold background. Interesting only as a specime of the very wooden Dutch painting of the fourteenth century. Contrast it with the Van Eyck beneath it, if you wish to see the strides which that great painter took in his art.

397. Good hard portrait f Philippe le Bon’ of Burgundy, an uninteresting, narrow-souled personage, wearing the collar of the Golden Fleece, by Roger van der Weyden.

43. Cranach the Elder : Charity. A study of to nude, somewhat more graceful than is the wont of this painter.

264. Mostaert ( Jan, the Dutchman), tolerable hard portrait : same person reappears in 262.

179. Gossaert : a beautiful panel representing the Return from Calvary. The Mater Dolorosa is supported by St. John. On the left, the Magdalen with her pot f ointment; right, the other Maries. Very touching. Notice the Flemish love for these scenes of the Passion and Entombment.

198. Hans Holbein the Younger : admirable portrait of Erasmus. It lives. Full of vivacity and scholarly keenness, with the quick face of a bright intelligence, and the expressive hands of a thinker. The fur is masterly.

180. Gossaert : group f figures some-what strangely known as ” The Just Judges.” Probably a single surviving panel from an extensive work of the same character as the Adoration of the Lamb at Ghent.

263. Jan Mostaert : very fine portrait f a man in a large black hat and yellow doublet. Pendant to 264.

558. Holy Family. Dutch School. Early sixteenth century.

202. Lucas van Leyden : portraits. Characteristic, and well thrown out against the back ground.

566. School of Quentin Matsys : a genre piece, representing a gallant episode between a girl and an old man. Not readily comprehensible.

168. Triptych by Fyol, German School. Centre, the Adoration of the Magi. The Old King has removed his crown, as usual, and presented his gift. He is evidently a portrait : he wears a collar of the Golden Fleece, and is probably Philippe le Bon. Behind him, the Middle-aged King, kneeling; then the Young King, a Moor, with his offering. (The story of the Three Kings — Gaspar, Melchior, Balthasar — was largely evolved in the Cologne district, where their relics formed the main object f pious pilgrimage.) To the right, an undignified Joseph, with his staff, and the peculiar robe with which you are now, I hope, familiar. In the background, the family of the donor, looking in through a window. The wings have, I think, been misplaced. Left, The Circumcision ; right, Nativity : notice the ox and ass, and the costume of Joseph.

325. Schoreel: Crucifixion, with Our Lady, St. John, the Magdalen, and angels catching the Holy Blood. (A frequent episode.)

Above it, 570, School of Gossaert : Our Lady.

262. Jan Mostaert : The Prophecies of Our Lady. Above, she is represented as Queen of Heaven, in an oval glory of angels, recalling the Italian mandorla. Below, those who have prophesied of her : in the centre, Isaiah, with scroll, ” Behold, a Virgin shall conceive,” etc. : right and left, Micah and Zechariah. Further right and left, two Sibyls. The one to the right is the same person as 264.

567. School f Quentin Matsys : Favourite subject of the Miser.

25. More monstrosities by Bosch.

Beyond the door,

534. Unknown : Flemish School : Assumption of Our Lady. Above, the Trinity waiting to crown her.

123. Dunwege : German School. The Family of St. Anne, resembling in subject the Quentin Matsys at Brussels. Centre, St. Anne enthroned. Below her, Our Lady and the Divine Child. (Often Our Lady sits on St. Anne’s lap.) To the left, Joachim offers St. Anne and Our Lady cherries. (See ” Leg-ends of the Madonna.”) To the right, St. Joseph, with his staff and robe. On either side, the Maries, with their children, here legibly named, and their husbands. (From a church at Calcar.)

Above this, 523. Triptych : Madonna and Child, with donors and patron saints (Sebastian and Mary Magdalen). Note their symbols. On either side,

Van der Meire : 388: Mater Dolorosa ; her breast pierced with a sword : and 389 (attribution doubtful, according to Lafenestre), a donatrix with St. Catherine, holding the sword of her martyrdom.

569. School f Gossaert, Way to Calvary, with the usual brutal soldiers.

47. Herri Met de Bles : Repose on the Flight into Egypt. Notice the sleeping St. Joseph, and the staff, basket, and gourd, which mark this subject.

539. Good unknown Flemish portrait. Beyond this, a frame containing five excel-lent small pictures.

243. Quentin Matsys : St. Mary Magdalen with her alabaster box. Sweet and simple. In reality, portrait of an amiable round-faced Flemish young lady, in the character of her patron saint. Her home forms the background.

526 and 538. Fine unknown portraits.

199. Exquisite and delicate miniature by Hans Holbein the Younger. (Lafenestre doubts the attribution.)

132. Fouquet, the old French painter, 1415-1485. Hard old French picture f a Madonna and Child, of the regal French type, with solid-looking red and blue cherubs. Said to be a portrait f Agnes Sorel, mistress of Charles VII. From the Cathedral of Melun.

Then, another case, containing six delicate works of the first importance.

396. Roger van der Weyden (more probably, School of Van Eyck) : Annunciation. The angel Gabriel, in an exquisitely painted bluish-white robe, has just entered. Our Lady kneels at her prie-dieu with her book. In the foreground, the Annunciation lily; be-hind, the bedchamber. The Dove ‘descends upon her head. This is one of the loveliest works in the collection.

253. Memling : Exquisite portrait of a Premonstratensian Canon.

Dierick Bouts : The Madonna and Child. An excellent specimen of his hard, careful manner.

2o3. Lucas of Leyden : David playing before Saul.

28. Bril, 1556-1626. Fine miniature specimen of later Flemish landscape, with the Prodigal Son in the foreground.

559. Unknown but admirable portrait of a man.

223. Justus van Ghent : Nativity, with Adoration of the Shepherds. A good picture, full Of interesting episodes.

Beyond these, another case, containing fine small’ works. A beautiful little * Madonna with the Fountain of Life (411) by Jan van Eyck, closely resembling a large one by Meister Wilhelm, in the Museum at Cologne. Two good unknown portraits. A splendid ** portrait of a medallist (5) by Antonello da Messina (sometimes attributed to Memling). A portrait (33) f Francis II. of France as a child, ‘by Clouet, f the old French School. A characteristic Albert Dürer (124), portrait of Frederick III. of Saxony : and a good Gossaert (182). These do not need description, but should be closely studied.

The place of honour on this wall is occupied by 393, a magnificent ** Seven Sacraments, usually attributed to Roger van der Weyden, though believed by some to be a work f his master, Robert Campin of Tour-nay. At any rate, it is a work full of Roger’s mystic spirit. In form, it is a triptych, but the main subjects are continued through on to the wings. The central panel represents the Sacrament f the Mass, typified in the foreground by a Crucifixion, taking place in the nave of an unknown Gothic church. At the foot of the cross are the fainting Madonna, supported by St. John (in red as usual) and a touching group of the three Maries. The robe of one to the left overflows into the next panel. In the background, the actual Mass is represented as being celebrated at the High Altar. The architecture of the church (with its triforium, clerestory, and apse, and its fine reredos and screen) is well worth notice. So are the figures of Our Lady, St. Peter, and St. John, on the decorative work of the screen and reredos. I believe the kneeling figure be-hind the officiating priest to be a portrait of the donor. The side panels represent the other sacraments, taking place in the aisles and lateral chapels of the same church. To the left, Baptism, Confirmation, Confession ; in the Confirmation, the children go away wearing the Sacred bandage. To the right, Holy Orders, Matrimony, Extreme Unction. Each of these groups should be carefully noted. The colours of the angels above are all symbolical : — white (innocence) for Baptism : yellow’ (initiation) for Confirmation : red (love[ or sin) for confession and absolution: green) (hope) for the Eucharist : purple (self-sacrifice) for Holy Orders : blue (fidelity) for Marriage: violet, almost black (death), for Extreme Unction. The picture is full of other episodes and mystical touches. In all this beautiful and touching composition, the Mary to the right of the Cross is perhaps the most lovely; portion. For a fine criticism, see Conway.

Beyond this, another frame with exquisite small works.

250. Quentin Matsys : Head of Christ, with the Crown of Thorns and Holy Blood; painful.

540. Admirable unknown miniature portrait.

544. Excellent little St. Helena.

542. A little donor, with his patron, St. John.

204, 205, 206. Good Lucas of Leyden, of the Four Evangelists ( John, missing). Luke, with the bull, painting; Matthew, with the angel, and Mark, with the lion, writing.

537. Admirable unknown portrait. These little works again need no description, but close study.

Above them, 244. Quentin Matsys (?) . The Misers, one of the best known of this favourite subject.

Then, another frame of miniatures.

517, 518. Unknown Flemish fourteenth century Madonna and Child, with donor and wife.

541, 542. Tolerable portraits.

545. Fine portrait, of the Spanish period.

410. Van Eyck’s celebrated unfinished St. Barbara, holding her palm of martyrdom, and with her tower in the background. It should be closely studied, both as an indication of thé master’s method, and as a contemporary drawing illustrating the modes of mediæval building. For a careful criticism, see Conway.

Above these, Engelbrechtsen, 130. St. Hubert, attired as bishop, bearing his crozier and hunting-hom, and with the stag beside him, with the crucifix between its horns.

127. The same. St. Leonard releasing prisoners.

Then, another case f good small pictures.

A Fra Angelico. Interesting in the midst f these Flemish pictures. St. Romuald reproaching the Emperor Otho III. for the murder of Crescentius.

32 Petrus Christus (?) . A donor and his patron, St. Jerome.

64. A landscape by Patinir.

536. A Baptism of Christ, where note the conventional arrangement and the angel with the robe.

561. Triptych. Madonna and Child. St. Christopher, and St. George. Harsh and angular.

548. Mater Dolorosa, transpierced by the sword.

535. Good Flemish Madonna with angels.

207. Lucas of Leyden : Adoration of the Magi. You can now note for yourself the ox, ass, Joseph, position, age, and complexion of Kings, etc.

29. Attributed (doubtfully) to Dierick Bouts : St. Christopher wading, with the infant Christ. In the background, the hermit and lantern. (See Mrs. Jameson.)

176. Giotto : A St. Paul with the sword. Characteristic of early Florentine work.

257, 260. Simone Martini of Siena : Four panels. Extreme ends, Annunciation, closely resembling the figures in the Ufizzi at Florence : Annunciations are often thus divided into two portions. Centre, Crucifixion and Descent from the Cross. These exquisitely finished little works are full of the tender and delicate spirit of the early Sienese School. In the Crucifixion, notice particularly the Magdalen, and St. Longinus piercing the side of Christ. Our Lady in the Annunciation has the fretful down-drawn mouth inherited by early Italian art from its Byzantine teachers.

177. Giotto : St. Nicolas of Myra with the three golden balls, protecting a donor.

Above are three good portraits by Van Orley, and other works which need no description.

On easels at the end, 255. Attributed to Memling : ** Exquisite Madonna and Child in a church. Our Lady, arrayed as Queen of Heaven, with a pot of lilies before her, stands in the nave of a lovely early Gothic cathedral, with a later Decorated apse, and admirable rood-screen. Every detail of the tiles, the crown, the screen, and the robe, as well as Our Lady’s hair and hands, should be closely looked into. This is one f the loveliest pictures here. It i a very reduced copy from one by Jan van Eyck at Berlin : the church is that of the Abbey f the Dunes near Fumes. Its attribution to Memling has been disputed : Conway believes it to be by a follower. In any case, it is lovely.

256. Companion panel, of the donor, a Cistercian Abbot of the Dunes, in a sumptuous room, half bedchamber, half study, with a beautiful fireplace and fire. He kneels at his prayers, having deposited his mitre on a cushion beside him, and laid his crozier comfortably by the fireplace. Creature comforts are not neglected on the sideboard. Here also every decorative detail should be closely examined. These are two f the very finest works of the School of Memling. Probably the Abbot ad-mired Jan van Eyck’s Madonna, painted for a predecessor, and asked for a copy, with him-self in adoration on the other wing of the diptych.

At the back, on a revolving pivot, 530, 531. Christ blessing, and a Cistercian Canon in adoration. As usual, the outer panels are less brilliant in colouring than the inner. Notice the Alpha and Omega and the P. and F. (for Pater and Filius) on the curtain behind the Saviour. These works are by an inferior hand.

The other easel has a fine Lucas van Leyden : Adoration of the Magi, with fantastic elongated figures. Note the ruined temple. The other features will now be familiar. Lucas’s treatment is peculiar. To the left, St. George and the Dragon. The saint has broken his lance and attacks the fearsome beast with his sword. In the background, the Princess Cleodolind and landscape. To the right, the donor, in a rich furred robe, and behind him, St. Margaret with her dragon. At the back, wings, by the same, with a peculiar Annunciation (the wings being open, reversed in order). Between them has been unwisely inserted an Ecce Homo by Gossaert.