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Fig. 60. Sketch For The Decoration Of The Centre Vault Of The Jesuit Church At Antwerf.
Drawing in the Albcrtina at Vienna.
( To page 7H.J
vast number of times, and the Munich Pinakothek possesses a replica, though in a much smaller size (Fig. 59).
The completion of the Church of the Jesuits at Antwerp in the year 1620 brought Rubens very extensive commissions. On the 20th March in that year he signed a contract with Father Jacobus Tirinus, the head of the Jesuit College at Antwerp, to the effect that he would undertake the entire pictorial decoration of the church. He had already been entrusted with altar-pieces for it: but it was now chiefly the painting of the ceiling, which had to be considered. For this purpose Rubens was directed to make
39 designs, to be executed by Van Dyck and some of his other pupils, and subsequently to be finally completed by the master himself.
Only in a very few instances has it been permitted to an artist to decorate pictorially architectural buildings designed by himself, and thus to arrive at a combination of the highest perfection. If there be such a thing as a Jesuit style in painting, Rubens certainly was its greatest master; for he thoroughly understood how to represent splendour and magnificence, though at the same time his genius never allowed itself to be lost in confused exaggeration. Several sketches, imperfect though they be, still give us an
idea of the grandeur of the interior ot this Jesuit church, the gilded marble decoration of which formed so exquisite a frame for Rubens' paintings, resplendent in glowing colour.
The Imperial Picture-Gallery at Vienna possesses two of these sketches; one by Sebastian Vrancx, who, like Rubens before him, was a pupil of Adam van Noort; the other, executed in 1665, by Anton Geringh. Another representation of the interior of this church by the same clever architectural painter is in the Munich Pinakothek. Unhappily the church was struck bylightning in 1718 and totally destroyed in the resulting conflagration. The building itself was however reconstructed on a much simpler scale, but the ceiling frescoes were totally lost. In the Plantin-Moretus Museum there are drawings by Jacob de Wit, and reproductions from the 36 paintings which adorned the ceilings of the aisles and of the galleries over them: but of the three paintings which were in the vestibule only one has come down to us in an engraving. The gilded vault of the nave was divided by ornaments in stucco into variously shaped spaces, occupied by single figures. In the centre, child-angels hovered around a radiant wreath encircling the name of Alary. A preliminary sketch for the decoration of this centre vault has been preserved and is now, like most of Rubens' drawings, in the Albertina at Vienna (Fig. 60). Fortunately it was possible to save from destruction the three great altar-pieces which were almost entirely the work of the master's own hand. They were bought by the Empress Maria Theresa and are now in the Imperial Museum at Vienna. The two principal ones of vast size represent scenes from the later Lives of the Saints with numerous life-size figures. In one of these the Founder of the Jesuit Order, St. Ignatius Loyola, in his priestly vestments stands beside an altar; whilst near him are assembled a number of monks belonging to the Society of Jesus attired in black robes. Above, in a cloud of light, hover a number of child-angels, whilst by his prayers the Saint is heals several demoniacs, brought to the steps of the altar (Fig. 62). The other picture represents Loyola's colleague, St. Francis Xavier, another Founder of the Order, preaching Christ in India, and resuscitating in His Name the dead in the presence of an astonished multitude. High above among the clouds we may perceive the emblems of the Catholic Faith, whilst angels bear before them the Saviour's Cross, from which shafts of light cast down an idol in the vestibule of its temple. Out of these subjects, which to another would perhaps have been quite devoid of artistic suggestion, Rubens by his powerful imagination, has created great master-pieces, which, from their general conception and expressive power, from their colouring and effect of light and shadow, might even be reckoned amongst his very finest productions. St. Francis Xavier was canonized in the year 1619 and St. Ignatius Loyola in 1622; from which facts we may conclude that the artist painted the picture of the former Saint for the high altar of this church immediately after his Canonization and that that of St. Ignatius, which is to be seen above the high altar in the abovementioned drawings, replaced it only three years later. The third picture saved from this church now also in the Imperial Museum at Vienna, represents the Assumption of the Virgin, and was painted for a side altar. The Virgin, surrounded by angels and enfolded in a cloud of light, full of joyous expectation is ascending into heaven, whilst the assembled apostles and holy women gaze into the empty sepulchre and look upward with profound devotion. Rubens himself declared this Assumption to be the best that he had
done of the entire series. There is a large composition of the same subject in the Liechtenstein Gallery, the origin of which is not known: but another fine example, engraved by Paul Pontius in 1624, is in the Academy at Di'isseldorf (Fig. 61), a sketch for which is in the Pinakothek at Munich. When in the year 1805 the Diisseldorf pictures, collected by the Electors Palatine, were brought to Munich, to protect Rome from the French, this picture remained behind. The extremely heavy panel of oak on which it is painted, proved too weighty for the means of transport obtainable in those days, and