The interest in the Society of Jesus has exploded in the last few decades. Jesuit art and religious culture have been the subjects of a remarkable number of books, exhibition catalogues, and specialized essays. Their local and global impacts are marvelously explored in these two quite different publications. The exhibition Baroque Influencers was held jointly in the Saint Charles Borromeo Church, the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library, and the Snijders&Rockox House in Antwerp between 22 April and 16 July 2023. The beautifully illustrated volume edited by Pierre Delsaerdt and Esther Van Thielen, while not strictly an exhibition catalogue, explains the thesis and basic themes of the show. Mia Mochizuki’s newest book provides a fascinating methodological and bibliographic primer to Jesuit art, especially the role of print culture on the global stage.
Delsaerdt and Van Thielen introduce the book’s goals as they explain why the Jesuits were attracted to Antwerp, the largest and most economically vibrant city in the Southern Netherlands, and how the Society labored to revitalized Catholicism especially after 1585. Guido Marnef’s informative essay (“The Jesuits – Galvanisers of the Catholic Reformation in 17th-century Antwerp”) traces the Society’s history in the city from the acquisition of their first building, the House of Aachen, in 1574 to their expulsion in May 1578 to their return from exile in 1585. Marnef notes (p. 19) that in 1585, 45% of the residents identified as Catholic, 26% as Calvinist, 15% as Lutherans, and 2% as Anabaptists. He details the Society’s efforts to strengthen Catholicism. Franciscus Costerus delivered popular sermons and he established a new Marian sodality. This confraternity’s influence was soon evident as its members successfully campaigned to replace the over-life-size statue of Silvius Brabo, the legendary founder of Antwerp, on the city hall façade with Philip de Vos’s Virgin and Child in 1587. The Society’s original school, founded in 1575, moved to the Hof van Liere in 1607 to accommodate the growing number of students. The Jesuits established a professed house, a convict (or residential house), Saint Ignatius Church (now St. Charles Borromeo), and a two-story sodality building around three sides of a large urban square, today’s Conscienceplein. As the activities of the Jesuits grew, their staff expanded from 25 in 1601 to 171 in 1663. Marnef details the growth of the various Jesuit sodalities as well as the role the Society played as confessors to women known as spiritual daughters.
From the mid-sixteenth century, Antwerp emerged as one of Europe’s foremost book and print publishing centers. Joris Van Grieken discusses how the city’s financial capital benefited ambitious publishers and supported a concentration of highly talented printmakers, who often worked from designs by Maarten de Vos, Rubens, and other leading masters. Pierre Delsaerdt briefly recounts the history and impact of Jerónimo Nadal’s Annotationes et meditationes published in Antwerp in 1595. Hubert Meeus looks at Jesuit educational practices, including school plays, as well as the proliferation of popular religious books, such as those by Joannes David, and the singing of songs with spiritual texts.
Steven Van Impe and Tine Van Osselaer trace the popularity of the plague saint Rosalia of Naples in Antwerp following the arrival of some of her bone relics in 1627. Anthony van Dyck created several paintings of her including one for the altar of the chapel of the Sodality of Unmarried Men, of which he was a member. The authors also stress the patronage of several wealthy spiritual daughters. The four Houtappel sisters and their cousin funded the Chapel of Our Lady in St. Ignatius Church.
Several essays discuss Peter Paul Rubens’s relationship with the Jesuits. Hildegard Van de Velde examines the artist’s contributions to the architecture, sculpture, and painting of St. Ignatius Church. Nils Büttner and Bert Watteeuw trace Rubens’s lifelong ties with the Jesuits, possibly beginning with his early education at their famous school in Cologne as well as his paintings for the Jesuit churches in Mantua and Genoa. Upon returning to Antwerp, Rubens joined the Sodalitas Latina major. He authored title pages for numerous Jesuit publications. In a separate text, Büttner and Watteeuw consider the grisailles and modelli that Rubens prepared for ceiling paintings in the aisles and galleries of the Jesuit church. The 39 paintings made after his designs were destroyed by fire on July 18, 1718. Ria Fabri and Piet Lombaerde investigate the Jesuit complex around the modern Conscienceplein. Father François d’Aguilon, lay brother and architect Pieter Huyssens, and Rubens each contributed significantly to the making of St. Ignatius Church. They emphasize Rubens’s sketches of angels for the building’s exterior and interior decoration. There is an interesting section about d’Aguilón’s fascination with natural and directed light, specifically its movement throughout the interior during the day as well as the inclusion of a hidden window tucked above the altar in the Chapel of Our Lady.
Guido Marnef (“The People of Antwerp”) as well as Desaerdt and Marnef (“Other Faiths”) explore Jesuit outreach to the community, including to Protestants, through their catechisms, devotional texts, prints, and public spectacles. Much of the Society’s religious literature published in Antwerp reached a broad audience within and beyond Europe.
Marc Van Vaeck and Johan Verberckmoes discuss the emblems in the Imago primi saeculi Societatis Iesu (Antwerp, 1640), published by the Flemish-Belgian province, to celebrate the centennial of the Society of Jesus. Although the engravings in this luxury book are well known, oil on canvas paintings of some of the emblems once hung temporarily on the base of the galleries in St. Ignatius Church during the festivities. Ten of these pictures are illustrated here.
Baroque Influencers provides an excellent introduction to the Society of Jesus’ early history and activities in this influential Brabantine city. Its tight focus on Antwerp contrasts with (but also complements) the global scope of Mia Mochizuki’s thought-provoking Jesuit Art. She opens with the obvious question – “What is Jesuit art?” While acknowledging the standard responses, Mochizuki urges her readers to think about the questions that the objects themselves raise about production, distribution, audience, intent, and reception as these items traveled around the world. She correctly credits the Society with the launching “of artistic workshops around the globe, [and] in the process setting up the first system of worldwide production for art” (p. 6). Mochizuki is interested in pictorial mobility. Using Portuguese trade routes, the Jesuits and their missionary activities spread rapidly outside of Europe. They carried with them books and Netherlandish prints that disseminated revered images and devotional aids. Such models proved helpful when, for instance, Giovanni Niccolò, the Naples-trained Jesuit artist, established a highly influential indigenous school of painting in Japan in1583 and later in Macau in 1614. She argues that the “singular achievement of the first Jesuits [was] the vision of an interconnected world, in its manifold forms, as a centerpiece for the Society’s identity” (p. 40).
Mochizuki divides her book into three main parts: introduction, sources, and contributions. She stresses, “There was no typical kind of Jesuit art: the category defies a set of artists, one country or region, and a sole period, style, or medium. If there is any commonality extant in the Jesuit relationship to art across such a dizzying array of objects, it is of hands traversing the life of the object: hands that make and operate, hands that carry and dispense, hands that gesture and flail” (p. 27). Her sections on context (1.2) and resources (1.3) offer excellent overviews of the basic literature, methodological approaches, and promising directions for studying Jesuit art beginning with Rudolf Wittkower’s Baroque Art: The Jesuit Contribution (1972). Part 2 (Sources) opens with a question – a “Jesuit Style?”. Scholars have come to recognize the diversity rather than any uniformity of Jesuit architecture and art. Mochizuki proposes instead that we consider their use of paper, specifically of portable books and inexpensive prints. She offers three detailed case studies of Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises (1548), Jerónimo Nadal’s Evangelicae historiae imagines (Antwerp, 1593), and the Imago primi saeculi Societatis Iesv (Antwerp, 1640). Ignatius’s manual for spiritual reflection instructed individuals how to communicate directly with God. It stressed self-determination, a way of proceeding, and an awareness of the “continued dynamic presence of God in all things” (p. 74). This foundational text shaped Jesuit formation and their ministry. Bartolomeo II Zanetti published an illustrated edition in Rome in 1609.
Mochizuki correctly describes Nadal’s Evangelicae historiae imagines as “the earliest pictorial application of the Spiritual Exercises” (p. 78). She recounts the lengthy history in bringing this carefully illustrated book to press. Engravings marked with letters, keyed to accompanying texts, sequentially direct one’s contemplation, facilitate the individual’s narrative and spiritual understanding, and promote one’s dialogue with God. Mochizuki claims this book was the “most popular print source to circulate among the Jesuit missions around the world” (p. 95) and, to demonstrate her point, she illustrates a Chinese copy of one of the engravings (fig. 2.19).
The Imago primi saeculi Societati Images Iesv was published in Antwerp by the Flemish province (Societas Flandro-Belgica) to commemorate the centennial of the founding of the Jesuits. It contains 127 emblems, several of which are discussed as metaphors for the Society and its missions later in Mochizuki’s book. She notes (p. 105) that Jesuit authors wrote more emblem books than all other Catholic religious orders combined.
Part 3 (Contributions) offers several fascinating examples of how certain images associated with or commissioned by the Jesuits spread across the globe through “authentic copies”. These are defined as replicas deriving through direct pictorial descent from their prototypes. The Salus Populi Romani Madonna is a famous Italo-Byzantine painting of the Virgin and Child attributed to St. Luke in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. There was a long-standing Jesuit veneration of this icon even before Pope Pius V permitted Francisco de Borja, the Society’s Superior General, to commission the first official replica of this painting in 1569. Next, Borja ordered new copies made and sent to powerful noble supporters of the Society in Europe, including notably at the Portuguese royal court. Painted and print replicas were shipped across the globe. These, in turn, inspired new extra-European variants. Mochizuki cites Simon Ditchfield who proposed that it was “the physical portability and ‘tradability’ of sacred objects that made Roman Catholicism’s emergence as a world religion tenable” (p. 142).
Mochizuki includes a final section (“The Subjective Image”) addressing portraits of saints-in-the-making before and during their canonization campaigns. Ignatius did not want to be portrayed during his life, so his secretary Juan Alfonso Polanco ordered a death mask that was the basis for all subsequent likenesses. Since Ignatius stressed Christ’s crucifixion in the Spiritual Exercises, he is often shown with a crucifix. Francis Xavier’s “authentic portrait” based on his remains in Goa inspired an engraving by Hieronymus Wierix that in turn was used by the Niccolò workshop in Japan (Figs. 3.24 and 3.26). Mochizuki concludes her book by asking “What if there was no Jesuit Art?” She stresses that Ignatius’ legacy was both verbal and visual. Function, including how art performs globally rather than style and iconography, offers a better gauge for understanding the Jesuit contributions to the history of art. While Wittkower and other scholars have privileged architecture and painting, Mochizuki argues one must also consider the significance of Jesuit prints in helping the Society to create “the world’s first systemic global art production” (p. 192). The broad circulation and replication of Jesuit art supported the Society of Jesus’s mission and worldview.
Although these two books are quite different in scope, they demonstrate the profound impact of the Jesuits and their art on post-Tridentine Catholicism on both the local and global stages. In this story, the role of Jesuit authors and the Antwerp-based artists played critical roles.
Jeffrey Chipps Smith
University of Texas, Austin