In her introduction to this novel and valuable anthology, Krista De Jonge, Professor of Architectural History at the Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, notes that the decade between Carolus Scribanius’s discussion of the ars architonica in Antverpia en Orgines Antverpiensis (1610) and Peter Paul Rubens’s thoughts on the emergence of classicism in hisPalazzi di Genova (1622) delineates a key period in the architectural history of the Spanish Netherlands. (Here one might add that this interval is nearly identical to that of the Twelve Years Truce, long cited by art historians in the context of the revival of Flemish religious history painting _ and with the renewal of ecclesiastical art more generally under the Habsburg archdukes, Albert and Isabella). De Jonge notes that while Scribanius, the rector of the Jesuit college in Antwerp, could proudly point to the city’s cathedral, townhall, bourse, Tapissierspand, Hansehuis, and the so-called Spanish citadel as the most significant survivors of the previous Golden Age, only ten years later Rubens stated with some pride that the architecture of his country had been revived according to the rules of the Ancients. It is of considerable significance that Rubens chose as examples of this new architectural trend the Jesuit churches in Antwerp and Brussels: as De Jonge indicates, each of these churches illustrates, in its own way, the development of
Flemish architecture during the first decades of the seventeenth century. However, it was not by accident that Rubens chose two ecclesiastical buildings as examples of the recent triumph of the Antique. Except for minor categories of architecture and sculpture (e.g., rood screens, altars, funeral monuments, portals or chapel interiors), the classical vocabulary had made no real impact on this area during the preceding century.
As one of the most prominent Counter Reformation strongholds against Protestant Northern Europe, the Spanish Netherlands, and Antwerp in particular, played a a significant role during the last decades of the sixteenth century as a laboratory where Post-Tridentine religious architecture could be developed. The background for these developments is laid out in greater detail in Marie Juliette Mariunus’ De contrareformatie te Antwerpen (1585-1676), kerkelijk level in een grootstad (Brussels, 1995), in which the impact of the introduction of the Counter Reformation on the religious life of the city is discussed in all its complexity; it was this period of renewal that, according to J.H. Plantegna (L’architecture religieuse dans l’ancien duché de Brabant depuis le règne des Archiducs jusqu’au gouvernement autrichien (1598-1713), 1926) was responsible for the unique qualities of a new Baroque style in the Spanish Netherlands, one which went beyond the superficialities expressed in Charles Borromeo’s Instructiones Fabricae et Suppellectilis Ecclesiasticae (1577). The possibilities that developed during this period were extensive. As Christoph Jobst has shown, the competing claims of the superiority of the centrally-planned church, as opposed to the three-aisle type, or to the hall church, were far from settled in the theoretical discussions of the period, while at the same time, the Gothic, stigmatized by Rubens as barbaric, continued to be expressed with some vitality. During the period of 1635-40, Rubens was involved in an exchange of letters on various theoretical questions with Constantijn Huygens, one of the foremost supporters of an architecture based on that of Palladio and Scamozzi. Furthermore, except for the first study under consideration, De Jonge and Annemie De Vos’s examination of the architectural policies of the archdukes, all of the works considered here draw attention to the role played by Italian examples in the creation of new ecclesiastical architecture. Thus, when all is considered, it is hardly surprising that the ecclesiastical buildings commissioned in the Spanish Netherlands during the first half of the century are characterized by an unusual diversity and originality.
This is certainly expressed in the essays under review, which include:
Krista De Jonge and Annemie De Vos, ‘Architectuur ten tijde van de aartshertogen: het hof achterna.’ A central work, whose methodology is of considerable significance for the study of architecture in this period more generally.
Joris Snaet, ‘De bouwprojecten voor de Antwerpse jezuïetenkerk.’ This detailed study of the plan of the church is supported by the two following essays on clock towers and oratoria; all three provide an overview of the complex theoretical discussions surrounding the design of new churches, thus throwing new light on on discussions of novel typologies in the first decades of the seventeenth century.
Bert Daelmans, Jamina Koninckx, Sofie Van Loo, ‘De verplaatsing van de kokkentorens in de 17de-eeuwse kerkarchitectuur.’
Philip De Mesmaecker, Liesbet Haghenbeek and Griet Van Opstal, ‘Oratoria in de jezuïetenkerken van de Zuidelijke Nederlanden. Een fenomeen eigen aan de Contrareformatie.’
Annemie De Vos, ‘Het augustijnenklooster van Brussel (1598-1796).’ This essay considers the policies of the archdukes regarding the importance of education in terms of the history of the Augustian cloister, and church, in Brussels; the continued commitment to the traditions established by the archdukes is considered in the following work as well.
Malvina Buonocore, Giovanna Cassaro and Nadia Wiondmolders, ‘De kerk van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ten-Troost te Vilvoorde.’ This essay considers, among other things, the continued role of local building traditions in the construction of a hexagonal pilgrimage church dating from the 1660s.
Inge Bertels, Kris Callens and Dirk Fredricx, ‘. . . omnia exedit ingenia Ingenium Marianum Archiducis. De Onze-Lieve-Vrouwkapel van de Sint-Michielskerk te Brussel.’ This essay provides a late example of the patronage of the archdukes.
Bert Daelemans, ‘Het Promptuarium Pictorum als spiegel van de ontwerppraktijk der Vlaamse jezuïetenarchitecten in de 17de eeuw.’ Vitruvian theory and Italian prototypes play a role in the background of the Jesuit architect of this period, as studies from the Promptuarium Pictorum indicate.