In the 17th century, Antwerp in Belgium was an art hub, thanks to the rise of the bourgeoisie, which led to an open market for artworks, and the rise of printing. Catch a glimpse of the Baroque art from Antwerp, offering a window into the innovation of those times and the riches, at the exhibition — Masterpieces from Antwerp. The artworks belong to Antwerp’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts and Plantin-Moretus Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Excerpts from an interview with curator, Dr Katharina Van Cauteren:
Still life, Oil on canvas by Frans Snijders
What are the highlights of the exhibition?
The two most important artists featured in the exhibition are Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641). Both of them should be considered the most influential painters of 17th-century Antwerp, even of Western Europe at the time. They not only worked for Antwerp patrons but also for the highest nobility in Italy, France, England and Spain and were both ennobled. We are bringing a large-scale portrait by Van Dyck, and no less than four paintings by Rubens. Rubens considered the young Van Dyck as ‘the best of his pupils’, and right he was. Especially his portraits, like his Portrait of a Nobleman on a Horse, make Van Dyck an unforgettable artist.
What makes these paintings seminal?
During the 17th century, the arts in Antwerp were flowering as never before. In addition to the Catholic Church and the nobility, a new market had arisen; that of the city’s increasingly rich middle classes. In order to meet the demand, artists started working for the open market. Panoramic landscapes, detailed still-lifes or picturesque scenes from the daily life: there was something for everyone’s taste. The art of printing flourished as well: woodcuts and engravings made images by renowned artists available to suit all purses. Moreover, prints were easily transported throughout the known world. No wonder that what happened in 17th century Antwerp affected the history of Western art for centuries, and still defines the way we are looking at images today.
Why did you decide to bring the exhibition to Mumbai?
Antwerp art from the 17th-century was all about emotion and inspiration, about touching and affecting viewers, either in an intellectual or emotional way. The large-scale paintings we are bringing to Mumbai were created to have precisely this kind of impact. On the other hand, the small, precious and detailed paintings were meant to visually seduce the audience, to fascinate and have one look for hours, always discerning new details. I hope these paintings give the visitors a chance to indulge themselves in one of the most interesting episodes from European art history, but more importantly, that just like 400 years ago, these paintings can still have the same effect and visually seduce their onlookers. We like to compare 17th-century Antwerp to Hollywood, since this was the place which dominated the world when it came to creating images. Thousands of prints and paintings were made and shipped all over the known world. With Mumbai, as present-day Bollywood, I am convinced that people will be able to understand how little has changed since the 17th century.
First time in India!
The paintings on display are being showcased for the first time in the country. Says Curator Dr Cauteren, “Since our paintings are age-old, they are precious and fragile. Therefore, we have to limit their movements and journeys. Before we allow them to travel, we have to take into consideration all kinds of physical and technical circumstances, like temperature, humidity, transport, safety and so on. Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya answered all of our requirements, giving the Indian audiences a chance to come and see our paintings.”