If you're a fan of art before 1800, then this presentation is for you. With works from the time of Pieter Bruegel*, a magnificent silver cabinet and, of course, the Masters of the South, this display transports you straight back to the past. From Pieter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck to Theodoor van Thulden and Michaelina Wautier, from landscapes and portraits to allegories and still lifes: it is a feast for the eyes.
*Please note: Brueghel's works are temporarily unavailable due to preparations for the exhibition Brueghel: the family reunion.
Legacy of Bosch and Brueghel
Jheronimus Bosch (ca. 1450-1516) and Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1526-1569) are without a doubt two of the most important artists to come out of Brabant. Bosch is famous for depicting religious subjects, proverbs, and popular customs. His trademark were the monstrous and often humorous imaginary creatures that alluded to the last judgement.
In the early days, Bruegel's choice of subjects was heavily influenced by Bosch. As time went on, he developed his own style and the landscape became one of his favourite subjects. Brueghel's take on religious subjects was surprisingly modern; in one painting, he used the centre of Antwerp as a backdrop to a crucifixion.
APPRENTICES AND IMITATORS
The popularity of both Bosch and Bruegel is apparent from their many imitators - which was completely normal back then. In fact, copying was part of a painter's training and copies of famous paintings sold like hot cakes. How different things are these days, when painted replicas are considered inferior.
MASTERS OF THE SOUTH
Everyone is familiar with the famous Dutch masters of the 17th century: Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals. Yet there were plenty of big names in the south of the Netherlands, such as Pieter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, and Jacob Jordaens. In Antwerp, together with their apprentices, they worked on large, national commissions, including the one for the Huis ten Bosch palace. And let's not forget the three masters from the present-day province of North Brabant: Theodoor van Thulden, Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert, and Abraham van Diepenbeeck.
THE RISE OF HISTORY PAINTING
Economic prosperity in the 17th century allowed the art market to flourish. Art lovers had distinct preferences: paintings telling a story from history, the bible, or classic literature were the most sought-after by far. There was also a market for portraits, genre paintings, landscapes, and seascapes. Plus: the paintings were big. Very big!
Such was the popularity of art that artists were able to specialize, which accounts not only for the quality of 17th-century art, but also its diversity. Moreover, the high regard for history painting meant that both the artists and the public were familiar with the stories depicted, from sources such as printed books of works by the Greek and Roman writers, illustrated with woodcuts.
See: the silver cabinet
For the magpies among us: in between the 17th-century still lifes is a silver cabinet housing a spectacular display of silver from the 17th and 18th century. The secular and ecclesiastical silverware was made in cities such as Bergen op Zoom, Breda, and 's-Hertogenbosch. The secular silver was used by well-to-do Brabant residents, while the ecclesiastical silver – which includes candlesticks and chalices – served chiefly to celebrate Catholic mass.