The book was published on the occasion of the exhibition held at the Paleis voor Schone Kunsten, Brussels, October 24, 1997 – January 4, 1998. The Belgian branch of the Paris bank Paribas (now Artesia) is well-known for its connection to art: as collector and, through its subsidiary Fonds Mercator, as publisher of beautifully produced art books. In this catalogue, the two activities come together, as Fonds Mercator publishes a selection of the bank’s 3,000 works of art. Since its acquisition of the eighteenth-century Osterrieth mansion in Antwerp in 1954, the bank expanded its patronage to acquiring and preserving historic buildings. Paribas’s architectural patronage is discussed in a beautifully illustrated essay by Dirk De Meyer and Lionel Devlieger.
The collection consists of works from the area broadly defined, for lack of one political identity, as the Southern Netherlands. Included are all media: tapestries from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; Gothic wood carvings and sixteenth-century alabaster statues from Mechelen; paintings, books, maps and prints. Among the paintings, the most spectacular acquisitions are the late Rubens oil sketches for the two canvases of the Rape of the Sabines and the Reconciliation of Romans and Sabines, commissioned for Philip IV for the Alcazár and completed by the Rubens studio after his death (The Rape was painted by Caspar de Crayer). They burnt down in the beginning of the eighteenth century. The entries are written by Elizabeth McGrath whose discussion here precedes her sensitive treatment of this politically delicate subject in her Corpus Rubenianum volume (Rubens: Subjects from History, London 1997).
Books and prints are markedly topical in their selection:
Guicciardini’s Descrittione di tutti i Paesi Bassi, published by Christopher Plantin, Blaeu’s Atlas, Ortelius’s Theatrum, various ‘Blijde Inkomsten’, including Caspar Gevaerts’s edition of the Pompa Introitus Ferdinandi of 1642. These works are not itemised but discussed in an essay by Dirk Imhof, curator at the Plantin Moretus Museum. The rest of the catalogue is devoted to Belgian art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with one section (mostly prints) entirely given to James Ensor. _KLB