Belgium – The Town Of Antwerp In General

Medieval Antwerp, now no more, lay within a narrow ring of walls in the neighborhood of the Cathedral. Its circumference formed a rough semicircle, whose base-line was the Schelde, while its outer walls may still be traced on a good map about the Rempart Ste. Catherine and the Rempart du Lombard. This oldest district still remains on the whole an intricate tangle of narrow and tortuous streets, with a few ancient buildings. Later Renaissance Antwerp stretched to the limit of the existing Avenues in their northern part, though the southern portion (from the Place Léopold on) extends beyond the boundary of the seventeenth century city, and occupies the site of the huge demolished Old Citadel, built by Alva. Antwerp, however, has undergone so many changes, and so few relics of the mediaeval age now survive, that I can hardly apply to its growth the historical method I have employed in other Belgian towns. It will be necessary here merely to point out the principal existing objects of interest, without connecting them into definite excursions.

The centre of mediaeval Antwerp was the Grand’ Place, which may be reached from the Place Verte, through the little triangular Marché aux Gants, in front of the main façade of the Cathedral. It was, however, so entirely modernized under the Spanish régime that it now possesses very little interest. The west side of the square is entirely occupied by the Hôtel-de-Ville, a poor Renaissance building, which looks very weak after the magnificent Gothic Town-Halls of Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, and Louvain. The façade is extremely plain, not to say domestic. The ground floor has an arcade in imitation of Italian rustica work, above which come two stories with Doric and Ionic columns (and Corinthian in the centre) ; the top floor being occupied by an open loggia, supporting the roof. In the centre, where we might expect a spire rises a false gable-end, architecturally meaningless. The niche in the gable is occupied by a statue of Our Lady with the Child (1585), the patroness of the city, flanked by allegorical figures of Wisdom and Justice.

The interior has been modernized : but it contains one fine hall, the Salle Leys, decorated with noble archaistic paintings by Baron Leys. It may be visited before nine, or after four in the evening (one franc to the concierge). In the Burgomaster’s Room is also a good Renaissance chimneypiece, from the Abbey of Tongerloo, with reliefs of the Marriage at Cana, the Brazen Serpent, and Abraham’s Sacrifice.

The square contains a few Guild Houses of the seventeenth century, the best of which is the Hall of the Archers, to the right of the Hôtel-de-Ville, a handsome and conspicuous building, lately surmounted by a gilt figure of St. George slaying the Dragon, in honour of the patron saint f the Archers. The older Guild Houses, however, were mostly destroyed by the Spaniards. The square, as it stands, being Renaissance or modern, cannot compare with the Grand’ Place in most other Belgian cities.

The centre of the Place is occupied by a bronze fountain, with a statue of Silvius Brabo, a mythical hero of mediæval invention, in-tended to account for the name Brabant. He is said to have cut off the hand of the giant Antigonus, who exacted a toll from all vessels entering the Schelde, under penalty of cutting off the hand of the skipper, a myth equally suggested by a false etymology of Antwerp from Hand Werpen (Hand throwing). The Hand of Antwerp, indeed, forms part of the city arms, and will meet you on the lamp-posts and elsewhere. It is, however, the ordinary Hand of Authority (Main de Justice), or of’ good luck, so common in the East, and recurring all over Europe, as on the shields of our own baronets. Such a hand, as an emblem of authority, was erected over the gate of many mediæval Teutonic cities.

One of the objects best worth visiting in Antwerp, after the Cathedral and the Picture-Gallery, is the Plantin-Moretus Museum, containing many memorials f a famous family of Renaissance printers, whose monuments we have already seen in the Cathedral. To reach it you turn from the Place Verte into the Rue des Peignes, almost opposite the south door of the Cathedral. The second turning to the right will lead you into the small Place du Vendredi, the most conspicuous building in which is the Museum.

Beyond advising a visit, it is difficult to say much about this interesting old house and its contents. Those who are lovers f typography or of old engravings will find enough in it to occupy them for more than one morning. Such had better buy the admirable work, ” Le Muse Plantin-Moretus,” by M. Max Rooses, the conservator. On the other hand, the general sightseer will at least be pleased with the picturesque courtyard, draped in summer by the Mantling foliage and abundant clusters of a magnificent old vine, as well as with the spacious rooms, the carved oak doorways, balustrades, and staircases, the delicious galleries, the tiles and fireplaces, and the many admirable portraits by Rubens or others. Were it merely as a striking example of a Flemish domestic interior of the upper class during the Spanish period, this Museum would well deserve attention. Read the following notes before starting.

The house of Plantin was established by Christopher Plantin of Tours (born 1514), who came to Antwerp in 1549, and established himself as a printer in 1555. He was made Archetypographer to the King by Philip II., and the business was carried on in this building by himself, his son-in-law, Moretus, and his descendants, from 1579 till 1875. It was Plantin’s daughter, Martina, who married John Moretus (see the Cathedral), and under the name of Plantin-Moretus the business was continued through many generations to our own day. The firm were essentially learned printers, setting up works in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, or even in Oriental types, and issuing editions of many important classical authors. I will not describe the various rooms, about which the reader can wander for himself at his own sweet will, but will merely mention that they contain admirable portraits of the Plantin and Moretus families, and of their famous editor, Justus Lipsius, by Rubens, and others. (The Lipsius is particularly interesting for comparison with the one at Florence in the Pitti.) The dwelling-rooms and reception-rooms of the family, with their fine early furniture, are now open to the visitor. So is the quaint little shop, facing the street, the composing-room and prof-readers’ room, the study occupied by Lipsius, and the library, with examples of many f the books printed by the firm. The original blocks of their wood-cuts and of their capital letters, with the plates of their engravings, are likewise shown, together with old and modern impressions. Do not suppose from this, however, that the place is only interesting to book-hunters or lovers of engravings. The pictures and decorations alone, — nay, the house itself, — will amply repay a visit.

A walk should be taken from the Place Verte, by the Vieux Marché au Blé, or through the Marché aux Gants, to the river-front and Port of the Schelde. (Follow the tram-line.) Here two handsome raised promenoirs or esplanades, open to the public, afford an excellent view over the river, the old town, and the shipping in the harbour.

The southernmost (and pleasantest) of these promenoirs ends near the Porte de l’Escaut, a somewhat insignificant gateway, designed by Rubens, and adorned with feeble sculpture by Arthus Quellin. It stood originally a little lower down the river, but has been removed, stone by stone, to its present situation. The quaint red building, with hexagonal turrets at the angles, visible from both esplanades, is the Vieille Boucherie, or Butchers’ Guild Hall, of 1503. It stands in a squalid quarter, but was once a fine edifice. Near the north end of this promenoir, a ferry-boat runs at frequent intervals to the Tête-de-Flandre on the opposite shore of the river. Here there is a Kursaal and a strong fort. It is worth while crossing on a fine day in order to gain a general view of the quays and the town. The northernmost promenoir is approached by an archway under the castellated building known as the Steen. This is a portion of the old Castle of Antwerp, originally belonging to the Margraves and the Dukes f Brabant, but made over by Charles V. to the burghers of Antwerp. The Inquisition held its sittings in this castle. It is now, though much restored and quite modern-looking (except the portal), almost the only remaining relic of Mediæval Antwerp, outside the Cathedral. It contains a small Museum of Antiquities (unimportant; open daily, ten to four: one franc : Sunday and Thursday free). Unless you have plenty of time you need not visit it.

A little way beyond the north end of the northern promenoir a tangled street leads to the Church of St. Paul, which will be described hereafter. Continuing along the Quays in this direction you arrive at last at the Docks. The large Modern castellated building in front of you is the Pilotage, round which sea-captains congregate in clusters. Turning along the dirty quay to the right, you reach shortly on the left the site of the Maison Hanséatique, which was the entrepôt in Antwerp f the Hanseatic League. But it was burnt down a few years since, and its place is now occupied by mean sheds and warehouses. All this quarter is given over to the most unsightly and malodorous realities of modern seafaring life and commerce.

Antwerp is somewhat ill provided with drives or country walks. The prettiest of its public gardens is the little Park, which may be reached from the Avenue des Arts by either of the three main Avenues eastward, adorned respectively with statues of Quentin Matsys, Leys, and Jordaens. The Park is a small but ingeniously laid out triangular area, occupying the site of an old bastion, with a pleasing sheet of ornamental water (originally the moat), crossed by a bridge, and backed up by the twin spires of the modern Church of St. Joseph. Around it lies the chief residential quarter of nineteenth century Antwerp. This is a cool stroll in the afternoon, for one tired of sightseeing. (Ask your hotel porter when and where the band plays daily.) Further on in the same direction is the pretty little public garden known as the Pépinière, and lying in a pleasant open quarter. A band plays here also.

The Zoological Garden, just behind the Gare de l’Est (admission one franc), is well worth a visit if you are making a stay. It is particularly well stocked with birds and animals, and has a rather pretty alpine rock-garden. On Sunday afternoons, a good band plays here from three to six, and all Antwerp goes to listen to it.

A round of the Avenues may best be made in an open tram. The northern portion, leading from the Entrepôt and the Goods Station as far as the Place de la Commune, has few objects of interest. In the Place de la Commune you pass, on the right, the handsome and ornate Flemish Theatre; while, on the left, the Rue Carnot leads to the Zoological Garden, and to the uninteresting industrial suburb of Borgerhout. Beyond this comes a Covered Market, on the left, and then the Place Teniers, with a statue of Teniers. Here the Avenue de Keyser leads to the main Railway Station (Gare de l’Est) . Further on, the Avenue Marie-Thérèse, with a statue f Matsys, runs to the Park. So, a little later, do the Avenue Louise-Marie, with a statue of Leys, and the Avenue Marie-Henriette, with a statue of Jordaens. The handsome building, with domed and rounded turrets, on your right, just beyond the last-named Avenue, is the Banque Nationale, intended to contain the public treasure f Belgium in case of war, Here the Chaussée de Malines leads off, southeasterly, to the uninteresting suburb of Berchem. The heavy new building on the left, a little further south, looking like a French mediæval château, is the Palais de Justice.

From this point the Avenue du Sud runs through an unfinished district, occupying the site of the old Citadel (Alva’s) past the Museum and the Palais de l’ Industrie, to the desolate Place du Sud, with the South Rail-way Station. You can return by tram along the Quays to the Hôtel-de-Ville and the Cathedral.

If you have plenty of time to spare, you may devote a day to the Rococo Churches. Most of the Antwerp churches, other. than the Cathedral, are late Gothic or Renaissance buildings, disfigured by all the flyaway marble decorations so strangely admired during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Few of them deserve a visit, save for a picture or two of Rubens still preserved on their altars. There are one or two, however, usually gone through by tourists, and of these I shall give some brief account, for the benefit of those who care for such things, though I do not think you need trouble about them, unless you have plenty of time, and are specially attracted by the later School of Antwerp.

The most important of these rococo churches is St. Jacques, the principal doorway of which opens into the Longue Rue Neuve. The pleasantest way to reach it, how ever, is to go from the Place Verte through the Marché aux Souliers, following the tramway to the Place de Meir. This broad street (one of the few open ones in Antwerp), lined roque Renaissance mansions of some pretensions, has been formed by filling up an old canal. The most imposing building on the right,; marked by two angels holding an oval with the letter L (the king’s initial), is the Royal Palace. A little further on, upon the same 1 side of the street, is the House of Rubens’s Parents, with his bust above, and an inscription on its pediment signifying the fact in the Latin tongue. To reach St. Jacques you need not go quite as far down the street as these two buildings. Turn to your left at the Bourse, a handsome modern edifice, standing at the end of what looks like a blind alley. The road runs through it, and it is practically used s a public thoroughfare. The building itself s recent — 1869—72 — but it occupies the site of a late-Gothic Exchange of 1531, erected by Dominic van Waghemakere. The present Bourse resembles its predecessor somewhat in style, but is much larger, has an in-congruous Moorish tinge, and is provided with a nondescript glass-and-iron roof. Turn to the right at the end of the lane, and continue down the Longue Rue Neuve, which leads you toward St. Jacques, a late-Gothic church, never quite completed. The entrance is not by the façade, but on the south side, in the Longue Rue Neuve. (Visitors admitted from noon till four in the afternoon, one franc per person. Knock at the door, and the sacristan will open.)

The interior is of good late-Gothic architecture, terribly overloaded with Renaissance tombs and sprawling baroque marble deco-rations. The church was used as the Pantheon (or Westminster Abbey) for burials of distinguished Antwerp families under the Spanish domination; and they have left in every part of it their ugly and tasteless memorials.

Begin in the south aisle.

First chapel. Van Dyck : St. George and the Dragon : mediocre. Above, statue of St. George, to whom angels offer crowns of martyrdom. Good modern marble reliefs of Scenes from the Passion, continued in subsequent chapels.

At the end, Baptistery, with good font.

Second chapel, of St. Anthony., Temptation Of St. Anthony, by M. De Vos. Italian seventeenth century Madonna.

Third chapel, of St. Roch, the great plague-saint. It contains an altar-piece by E. Quellin, angels; tending St. Roch when stricken with the plague. Above, the saint with his staff and gourd, in marble, accompanied by the angel who visited him in the desert. On the window wall, relics of St. Roch, patron against the plague. Round this chapel and the succeeding ones are a series of pictures from the Life of St. Roch, by an unknown Flemish master, dated 1517. They represent St. Roch in prison; relieved by the dog; resting in the forest visited by the angel ; etc. (See Mrs. Jameson.) A tomb here has a good Virgin and Child.

Fourth chapel. Fine old tomb; also, continuation of the History of St. Roch.

Fifth chapel. More History of St. Roch. On the wall, relics of St. Catherine, who stands on the altar-piece with her sword and wheel balanced, as usual, by St. Barbara. The chapel is dedicated to St. Anna, who is seen above the altar, with Our Lady and the Infant.

Sixth chapel. Baptism of Christ, by Michael Coxcie, on the altar. Window wall, M. De Vos: Triptych : Centre, Martyrdom of St. James ; left, the daughter of the Canaanite; right, the daughter of Jairus. (The wings are by Francken.)

The south transept has Renaissance figures of the Apostles (continued in the north transept).

The choir is separated from the nave and transepts by an ugly Renaissance rood-screen.

The Chapel of the Host, in the south transept, is full of twisting and twirling Renaissance marble-work, well seconded by equally obtrusive modern works in the same spirit.

The ambulatory has a marble screen, separating it from the choir in the worst taste of the Renaissance, with many rococo tombs and sculptures of that period plastered against it.

First chapel, of the Trinity, has a Holy Trinity for altar-piece, by Van Balen.

The door to the left gives access to the choir, with an atrocious sculptured High Altar, and carved choir-stalls.

Second and third chapels, uninteresting.

The end chapel, behind the High Altar, is the burial-chapel of the Rubens family. The altar-piece, painted by Rubens for his family chapel, represents the Madonna and Child adored by St. Bonaventura; close by stands the Magdalen; to the left a hurrying St. George (reminiscent of the St. Sebastian by Veronese at Venice), and to the right, a very brown St. Jerome. The calm of the central picture, with its group of women, is interfered with by these two incongruous male figures. It is like parts of two compositions, joined meaninglessly together. Above are infant cherubs scattering flowers. One would say, Rubens had here thrown together a number of separate studies for which he had no particular use elsewhere. But the colour is most mellow.

Fifth chapel, of St. Carlo Borromeo (who practically replaced St. Roch in later cosmopolitan Catholicism as the chief plague-saint). The altar-piece, by Jordaens, represents the saint invoking the protection of Christ and Our Lady for the plague-stricken in the fore-ground. Painted for the town almoner.

Sixth chapel. Three good portraits.

Seventh chapel. Visitation, by Victor Wolfvoet.

The north transept has the continuation of the Twelve Apostles, with two of the four Latin Fathers by the portal (the other two being at the opposite doorway). The chapel (of Our Lady) resembles that in the south transept, and is equally terrible.

North aisle : The second chapel has a fine triptych by M. De Vos, of the Glory of Our Lady. Centre, the Court of Heaven, where the prominent position of Our Lady is unusual, and marks an advanced phase of her cult. In the assemblage of saints below, St. Peter, St. John the Baptist, and many others, may be recognized by their symbols. The left wing has the Calling of Matthew; the right wing, St. Hubert, with the apparition of the crucifix between the horns of the stag. Beneath are good portraits of donors. The fine stained glass window of this chapel is noteworthy. It represents the Last Supper, with donors (1538).

The third chapel, of the Rockox family, has a good triptych, by Van Orley, of the Last Judgment. On the wings are portraits of the donor and family. Left wing, Adrian Rockox and sons, with his patron, St. Adrian (sword, anvil). Right wing, his wife, Catherine, with her daughters, and her patroness, St. Catherine.

Fourth chapel. Good triptych by Balen. Centre, Adoration of the Magi ; right and left, Annunciation and Visitation. On a tomb opposite, good portraits by Ryckaert.

Fifth chapel. Triptych, by M. De Vas : Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple. Left, The Pagans attempt in vain to burn the body of St. Mark; right, Martyrdom f St. Lucy.

Another church frequently visited by tourists is St. Paul, formerly belonging to a Dominican Monastery by its side, and situated in a dirty and malodorous district. Do not attempt to go to it direct. Reach it by the Quays, turning to the right near the end of the Northern Promenoir. Over the outer doorway of the court is a rococo relief of St. Dominic receiving the rosary from Our Lady. To the right, as you enter, is an astonishing and tawdry Calvary, built up with rock and slag against the wall of the transept. It has, above, a Crucifixion ; below, Entombment and Holy Sepulchre. All round are subsidiary scenes : St. Peter, with the crowing cock ; Christ and the Magdalen in the Garden; Angels to lead the way, etc. The church itself is an imposing late-Gothic building, uglified by unspeakable rococo additions. (Admission, from twelve till four. Knock at the door : one franc per person. But unless you are a great admirer of Rubens, the sum is ill-bestowed for seeing- one or two of his less important pictures.) In the north transept is Rubens’s * Scourging f Christ, covered : the only thing here really worth seeing. In the north aisle, one of his weakest Adoration of the Magi. On the altar of the Sacrament, a so-called ” Dispute on the Sacrament,” by Rubens : really, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, especially the Dominicans, represented by St. Thomas Aquinas, in devout contemplation of the Mystery of the Eucharist. The other pictures in the church are relatively uninteresting works of the School of Rubens ; the best is a Way to Calvary, by V Dyck.

If you want more Rubenses, you will find a Madonna, with a great group of Augustinian and primitive saints, in the Church of St. Augustine (Rue des Peignes), where there is also a good Ecstasy of St. Augustine, by Van Dyck; and in the Church of St. Anthony of Padua (Marché aux Chevaux), a picture, partly by Ruben, representing St. Anthony receiving the Child Jesus from the hands of the Virgin; butt do not recommend either excursion.

Antwerp is strongly fortified, and a moat, filled with water, runs round its existing enceinte. The Old Citadel to the south has been demolished (its site being now occupied by the Museum and the unfinished quarter in that direction), and a New Citadel erected in the north. The defensive works are among the fines in Europe.

If you are returning to England, vii Calais, stop on the way to see the noble Romanesque and Transitional Cathedral at Tournay. You can easily do this without loss of time by taking the first boat train from Brussels in the morning, stopping an hour or two at Tournay (break permitted with through tickets), and going on by the second train. You can register your luggage through to London, and have no more bother with it. You will then have seen everything of the first importance in Belgium, except Ypres. And Ypres is so in-accessible that I advise you to neglect it.

If you wish to see whither Flemish art went, you must go on to Holland. But if you wish to know whence Flemish art came, you must visit the Rhine Towns.