Review and State-of-the-Art Survey
The exhibitions of Flemish Baroque sculpture and decorative arts associated with the 400th anniversary of Rubens’s birth in 1977 marked a welcome resurgence of interest in the area, which, it was hoped, would encourage new research in a field that has seen little activity during the past half century (De beeldhouwkunst in de eeuw van Rubens in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden en de prinsbisdom Luik. Museum voor Oude Kunst, Brussels, July 15 – October 2, 1977; Kunstwerken uit de eeuw van Rubens in Antwerpse kerken en kloosters, Sint-Jacobskerk, Antwerp, April 29 – September 18, 1977). Some twenty years later these expectations have been fulfilled in the exhibition and catalogue that marked the anniversary of the death of Lucas Faydherbe (1617-1697), a Mechelen architect, sculptor and painter whose life and career are summarized in Sandra Van Riet’s introductory essay, “Lucas Faydherbe (1617-1697). ‘Constich Beldt-Snijder van Mechelen’.” The richness and diversity of Faydherbe’s oeuvre provides both challenges and opportunities for the scholar. Primarily associated by many with Rubens, whose workshop he directed during the later years of the master’s life, Faydherbe was not only a painter, but also a printmaker, sculptor and architect.
Faydherbe’s career as a sculptor is developed by Van Riet and Iris Kockelbergh in an essay that presents significant new archival material: it includes a survey of his monumental and small-scale works (including the statue of the Mater Dolorosa included in the program of Rubens’s funerary chapel in Sint-Jacobs, Antwerp); programs for funerary monuments and commemorative memorials; altarpieces; terracottas; and ivories. Of considerable interest are the summaries of the careers and oeuvres of Faydherbe’s contemporaries (Jacques Voorspoel, Rombout Pauwels and Jan van der Steen), and students (Jean van Delen, Nicolaas van der Veken, Frans Boeckstuyns, Frans Langhemans), which for the most part go considerably beyond the biographical sketches presented in De beeldhouwkunst in de eeuw van Rubens (Brussels 1977). Together with the essay by Jaak Jansen, a contributor to the Brussels exhibition catalogue, on Faydherbe’s predecessors (his father, Hendrik Faydherbe; stepfather, Maximiliaan Labbé; uncle Antoon Faydherbe; and aunt, Maria Faydherbe), these artists establish Mechelen as an important sculpture centre during the seventeenth century. Van Riet’s and Kockelsbergh’s essay is placed in perspective by Hans Vlieghe’s preceding overview (“Oude en Nieuwe functies, oude en nieuwe vormen: beeldhouwwerk in Faydherbes tijd”) of the formal and iconographic changes in Flemish sculpture during the period of Faydherbe’s career.
Faydherbe’s lesser-known role as an architect is considered in an essay (by Krista De Jonge, Annemie De Vos, Linda Van Langendonck, and Van Riet, with assistance from Johan Grootaers and Stéphanie Hergurth) which also surveys his role as a designer and sculptor of altars (whose diversity is indicated not only in the excellent photographs of these works in situ, but also in the “footprints” in the useful diagram on p. 114). These projects culminate in Faydherbe’s last and grandest undertaking _ the high altar for St. Rombouts-kathedral in Mechelen, whose program also included his own monument for Andreas Cruesen together with three other memorials. From his earliest architectural projects in Mechelen (The Begijnhofkerk), Brussels (the Sint-Ursulakapel, the mausoleum of the Thurn and Taxis family in Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ten Zavel) and Leuven (as consultant on structural problems in the crossing of Sint-Michaelskerk), Faydherbe devoted his later years to two projects in Mechelen, those of the former Norbertine church of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van Leliëndaal (completed 1670), and Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van Hanswijk te Mechelen (completed 1681), which included designs for the reliefs mounted beneath the cupola. The essays are followed by a catalogue, a useful chronology (arranged according to medium), a bibliography which together with the sources cited in the notes at the end of each essay, provide what is probably the most up-to-date bibliography on Flemish Baroque sculpture, and an index. The numerous photographs, black and white as well as colour, are of high quality, and are often printed in a larger format.
With this project, and those in line to follow, the K. U. Leuven has become the recognized centre for the study of Flemish Baroque sculpture. Van Riet, who has authored or co-authored several of the essays under review here, is currently writing a dissertation (mentor: Katlijne Van der Stighelen) on the iconography of the Post-Tridentine Flemish pulpit. She is also working on articles which consider the lost choir screen of Sint-Rombouts Cathedral in Mechelen, and the sculpture and furniture of the St. Laurentius Church in Lokeren. Another doctoral student, Valerie Herremans, is working under the direction of Guy Delmarcel on the Post-Tridentine iconography of church furniture commissioned for the Norbertine Order, a subject which also figures in Barbara Haeger’s research on St. Michael’s Abby in Antwerp. Herremans also has a forthcoming article in the Handelingen van de Koninklijk Kring voor Oudheidkunde van Mechelen on the Mechelen sculptor Pieter Valckx, the subject of her master’s thesis. Other recent master’s theses at Leuven, written under the guidance of Delmarcel, include Serge Landuyt, on the funeral sculpture of Artus Quellien the Younger (accepted 1998); and Katrijn de Boeck, on Theodoor Verhaegen (in progress).
HNA members might also want take note of the symposium held in Brussels (KMKG/MRAH) on February 25 of this year on Flemish Baroque sculpture in which Jansen, Van Riet, and Herremans presented papers, and Vlieghe chaired a roundtable discussion. Exhibitions in this area include 17th- and 18th-Century Terracottas. The Charles Van Herck Collection (see above).