Friday, January 22, 2010

Koninklijk Museum Voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen Part 1

Today, I had the opportunity to visit the Koninklijk Museum Voor Schone Kunsten (Royal Mseum of Fine Arts) in Antwerp, Belgium. I went in with the intention of beginning my analysis of Art History, but was taken aback by the most vast and impressive art collection I have ever seen (Ringling Museum, though you are near and dear to my heart, you have fallen to a very close second). Hardly making a dent in its expansive collection, I wandered through rooms filled with some of the most prolific works in all of Art History. Starting from the beginning, I made my way through rooms filled with works from the 14th - 16th century and capped off my visit with works from the dawn of the Modern Era (17th century).

I took some notes as I went along, of pieces that stood out to me as being great sources of inspiration, as well as ones that I felt made visual and aesthetic statements far beyond their time.

Jean Fouquet
(1420 - 1481)
"Madonna omringd door serafijnen en cherubijnen"

"Madonna Surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim"
1451 - 1452
This piece is one that should be recognizable to anyone who has taken a Humanities course. So delicately and lovingly painted, its form and flawless volume quickly envelope the viewer within the iconic scene. However, what stands out to me the most are the bizarrely colored cherubs and seraphs that surround the Madonna. In bold primary color, these red and blue angels look like something that belongs in a far more contemporary setting. This piece is a fantastic example of the decadence of the late Middle Ages. Upon further inspection, the ornate and meticulous detail of the Virgin's jewels and gilded crown hint toward and influence from Flemish paintings of the era. This depiction of the Virgin and Child, typically a far more modest and dainty scene, commands the viewer attention with unabashed boldness. Truly overwhelming in person.

Maerten de Vos
(1537 - 1603)
"De bekoring van de H. Antonius"
"The Temptation of Antony Abbot of Egypt"
This piece struck me, do to its fanciful and bizarre imagery. It is easy to see that many modern artist and illustrators today draw tremendous amount of inspiration from these visions of demons and spirits, as they torment the poor Saint. Compositionally, this piece intrigued me, due it its obvious use of dynamic shapes as well as eye path, moving the viewer on a whirlwind trip. The monumental figures dwarf the viewer, leaving one awe struck. This picture, does not do the rich and lavish color of the painting any justice whatsoever; heavily influenced by the Venetian color palette during his journey to Italy. Maerten de Vos was a prominent painter and draftsman in Antwerp throughout the 16th century. This is one of many examples of his work to be found at the Koninklijk.
Frans Hals I
(1580 - 1666)
"Stephanus Geraerdts: Alderman of Haarlem"
I was truly thrilled to see a Frans Hals painting in person. His work, especially in this painting, contains the most unique brushstrokes that can only be attributed to his hand. Its easy to see that painters such as John Singer Sargent and N.C. Wyeth could have drawn inspiration from these quick, yet selective an accurate strokes. Hals color, however, I feel pales in comparison to some of his contemporaries, such as Rembrant Van Rijn and Judith Leyster. Regardless, he is a timeless, captivating painter whose influence is undoubtedly far reaching.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this museum was that they do extensive research and restoration to pieces within their collection. I was fortunate to see restoration artists working to repair 3 large panels from a large alterpiece from a church in Najera, Spain. The works are monumental in size, and some of the panels had to be transposed onto new canvas stretchers (a very delicate and intricate process.) It was amazing to watch as the special chemicals would lift away centuries worth of dust and grime, allowing the true color to flourish from underneath. The museum has a whole section called Conservation Street, dedicated to restoring their timeless and priceless works.

(As I progress through this course, I think it will be interesting to not only do anaylsis of pieces I find intriguing and inspirational, as I have here, but to switch from Contemporary to Historical, every other post; as well as throwing in direct comparisons to modern and historical pieces every now and again)

Stay tuned for more ramblings!


  1. Interesting, Laura. I especially liked your comments about the Fouquet Madonna... What riches you're seeing!

  2. Laura, any more museum or gallery visits? Let me know .. hope all is going well..