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Jan Wildens

View of the city of Antwerp

Canvas: 118,5 x 235,5 cm

introduction

The River Scheldt, the vital artery of the city of Antwerp, divides this balanced composition into two equal parts. On the right bank of the river (the upper half), a panoramic view of the city emerges from the misty depths, dominated by the towers of the Church of St. Walburga, the spire of the gothic cathedral, the church of St. Andrew and the abbey of St. Michael. On the left bank, in the foreground, there is a small village built up around the chapel of St. Anne. A crowd of people has gathered on the riverbanks in order to admire the ships heading out to sea. Several boats under full sail and a richly ornamented galley raise their proud silhouettes against the wind, symbols of the city’s mercantile success.

There is another version of this view of Antwerp in the collection of the Belgian Royal Museums of the Fine Arts in Brussels, in which Jan Wildens depicts a decisive event in the city’s history: the arrival on the 4th of September 1632 of Maria de Medici, queen and regent of France, having fled her country accompanied by the infant Isabella. During their brief stay in Antwerp, the two sovereigns visited the workshop of Rubens and Van Dyck, as well as the printing works of Plantin, all of which were symbols of the city’s influence. Their visit was the occasion of incomparable festivities, the memory of which still resonates in this composition. In fact, the city had already begun its decline, consecrated by the Treaty of Münster (1648) which closed the Schelde to maritime traffic.

The exceptional format of this canvas and the quality of its robust and spirited brushwork are like a blazing denial of this slow decline foretold. It offers a perfect platform for the artist’s exquisite atmospheric sensibility, particularly evident in the great swath of stormy sky pierced here thereby raises on. The entire composition is thus shot through with shimmering light, from the façade of the square around the chapel of St. Anne, to the River, above which heavy storm clouds are gathering.
Favoring subtle tints and discreet harmonies, Jan Wildens thus imbues this panorama of Antwerp with a silent but powerful sense of melancholy, as if he wished to pay homage to the past glories of his native city.

Provenance :
Private collection

Littérature :
Dr. W. Alder : Jan Wildens. Der Landschaftsmitarbeiter des Rubens, 1980, n° G.70, ill. 100, 101 and 102.