Ancient Art in Flanders - Expo Ghent 1913

Ancient Art in Flanders at the Exhibition Expo Ghent 1913

The Ghent retrospective of 1913, which was organised in the extensive extension of the Museum of Fine Arts, had a very different character from its predecessors. The Flemish Primitives, the Golden Fleece, and Art in the 17th Century were devoted to a specific art form or period. Old Art in Flanders in 1913 does not only bring together works that have been chosen because they are beautiful; its organisers also wanted to evoke the environment and life in the region of Flanders, i.e. in the country watered by the Scheldt; they considered the river as the great communication route, both in artistic matters and in the field of economic and commercial relations. This Scheldt country stretches from Cambrai to Zierikzee, from the north of France to Zeeland, through western Hainaut, Brabant, the two present-day Flanders and the province of Antwerp; in some respects, it is the Scaldian influence paralleled by the Mosan influence.

As a chronological limit, the organisers had chosen the medieval period and the end of the eighteenth century as the extreme terms. If they wanted to magnify ancestral art, like others, they approached their undertaking in a different way. They did not repeat the beautiful retrospectives of Bruges, Brussels and Liège; it was the reconstitution of the environment and life of the past; it was then the presentation in this framework of the arts of sculpture, miniature, goldsmith's and silversmith's art, tapestry, numismatics and others; In other words, it was the efflorescence and fertility of this Flemish art seen in the conditions of its former existence and in the brilliance that allowed it to exert its influence beyond the borders!

The soul of this enterprise was Mr. Joseph Casier, president of the Organizing Committee, president of the Ghent Monuments Commission and one of the general directors of the Universal Exhibition; he was admirably assisted by his devoted secretary-general, Mr. Paul Bergmans, lecturer and first sub-librarian of the University of Ghent; their collaboration was intimate and complete; together they took on the enterprise and led it to the most complete success, unquestionably recognized and highly appreciated. They had the good fortune to surround themselves with active and expert collaborators: Canon Vanden Gheyn, president of the Society of History and Archaeology, worked with Abbot Crooij to bring together religious silverware and furniture; Louis Gilmont, who collaborated successfully in 1910 on the Exhibition of Belgian Art in the 17th century, masterfully carried out the reconstructions of old flats; he provided powerful assistance to its president, Mr. Casier, in the numerous steps he took to bring the collection together. Mr. Joseph Maertens was especially interested in the souvenirs of the gilds and guilds, as well as in civil silverware. Mr. Georges Brunin, curator of the medals cabinet of the city of Ghent, was appointed to take care of the numismatic section of Ancient Art in Flanders. Mr. Alphonse Roersch, the learned professor of the University of Ghent, agreed to organise the intellectual life compartment; he did so with great success.

How did this elite phalanx carry out its programme? The answer to this question would require several volumes. And such was the conviction of the Exhibition's Steering Committee, since it entrusted Messrs Casier and Bergmans with the publication of an important work in three volumes to preserve the memory of one of the most beautiful art events that Belgium has ever known. In this Golden Book, space does not allow us to give an overview, however brief, of the learned enterprise. Nevertheless, we would like to briefly outline some general aspects and mention some of the most important works.

The environment and life of the Scheldt region were indicated by views of towns at different times of their existence: Valenciennes, Saint-Omer, Fille, Dunkirk, Cassel, for French Flanders; Tournai for Hainaut; Ypres, Nieuport, Bruges, Courtrai, Grammont, Ghent for Flanders; Brussels, Mechelen, Ivy, Antwerp for Brabant; Vlissingen and Middelburg for Zeeland.

Public and corporate life is one of the most characteristic aspects of the Belgian soul; in this section, scenes and memories of the highest interest were gathered together: torchères, cartels, standards, tapestries, necklaces, cups of the guilds of yesteryear filled the vast entrance hemicycle decorated, at the back, with the triumphal arch erected in 1635, at the Friday market, for the Joyeuse-Entrée of the Cardinal-Infant Ferdinand of Spain and reconstituted with the help of Gaspar de Craeyer's paintings.

On the walls of the hemicycle, paintings gave, in the words of the minister Poullet, the most accurate, sensitive, sincere and universal aspect of the past, notably the Procession of the Sablon's virgin girls and Y Infante Isabelle at the shooting of the Great Oath, two precious paintings by Antoine Stallaert; further on, the Drum of the Saint-Sebastian Gilde of Antwerp by Cognet; the Ommegang of Antwerp; and again, the Confrères de Notre Dame de la corporation des bouchers gantois au XVIIIe siècle by Robert van Audenaerde; and the large canvas by François du Chastel, commemorating, in the Museum of Ghent, the Inauguration of Charles II of Spain as Count of Flanders in 1666

Among the jewels of the guilds, the wonderful goldsmiths' necklace, owned by the de Kerchove d'Ousselghem family, stands out.

In the section of intellectual life, sciences and letters, precious souvenirs of the rhetoric chambers, manuscripts and diplomas, cups, coats of arms, cartels, and paintings, and even furniture, attract attention on all sides; such as, in particular, the charming dyptic by Guillaume Bibaut de Thielt, who was general of the Carthusian monks, and the two portraits of the Rampson brothers, work of Otto Venius, loaned by the learned organiser of this section, Mr. Roersch.

In the Religious Life section, silverware, furniture, tapestries, and paintings were also on display; the famous reliquary of the veil of Saint Aldegonde of Maubeuge, among the silverware, monstrances, chalices and ciboria had been chosen because of their Flemish origin, as attested by the hallmarks of goldsmiths such as Tiberghien, Renoir, Beghin and others. A marvel was one of the hangings of the Apocalypse suite in Angers Cathedral; among the paintings, we recall the seven panels of the legend of Saint Dymphne sold a few years ago by the abbey of Tongerloo, for which Goeswyn van der Weyden had painted them; then again, an interesting Hispano-Flemish altarpiece as well as the painting The Virgin and Saint Ildefonso from the Robin Grey collection.

In the section of Civil Life, it was a wonder; in the showcases of the centre were displayed the most beautiful silverware marked with the hallmarks of Court rai, Antwerp, Malines, Ath, Grammont, Bruges, Mons, etc. The setting was made up of paintings recalling life in Flanders, village fairs, life in the fields, feasts, guindals, the Feast of the Kings, wedding meals, portraits of lords. Range Pier and Teniers stood side by side with Brauwer, Jor-daens and Pourbus; a few portraits caught the eye, such as that of the Ghent patron, Bishop Triest, whose famous mausoleum Duquesnoy made, and that of Don Cristobal de Medina de Montoja. The same instructive thought was behind the organisation of the documentation room with the map of ancient Flanders and the admirable photographic reproductions of the typical monuments of the region; the same inspiration was found in the room of city views, an exceptionally interesting collection of abbeys, silent quays, towering belfries, fairs, public squares and monuments of all kinds; The jewels of this room were the plan of the belfry of Ghent from the beginning of the 14th century, the drawing of the part of the town hall designed by Keldermans and de Waeghemakere, the watercolours of Vanderschelden; and why not add to it the Preaching of Marc d'Aviano in 1681, at the Friday market in Ghent, a canvas of powerful documentary interest.

The reconstructions of old flats also evoked the environment and life of the ancestors; in this respect the 1913 retrospective was a marvellous display; It undoubtedly deserves this praise, this beautiful Chamber of the Poor, entirely old and transferred from a building next to the town hall where the distributors of the poor, members of the old Armen Caemer, an institution founded in 1531 by Charles V and renewed by the Archdukes in the 17th century, once sat; the woodwork by the Ghent artist Norbert Sauvage, dates from 1689; the paintings by Jan van Cleef and Gilles Ee Plat were done in 1691.

As the building was doomed to disappear, it was necessary to save this highly impressive room, which was not the least of the attractions of the "Old Art", so rich in marvels.

The salon of the 37th abbot of Baudeloo, Antoine Patheet, has been transported and reassembled with its panelling, tapestries and superb fireplace; it is a very vivid and real evocation of this beautiful 17th century
This is a very vivid and real evocation of the beautiful Flemish 17th century, both sober and imposing; in this setting, marvels of silverware marked with the hallmarks of Ghent, Audenaerde and Brussels were displayed.

The reconstructions of the flats have received enough praise for us to dispense with detailing their richness and taste: the bedroom
The reconstructions of the apartments were praised enough for us to dispense with detailing their richness and taste: the bedroom in the Louis XVI style with Bishop Lobkowitz's bed, the kitchen, the antechamber, and the cabinet where, in an appropriate setting, a large number of works of art from the 17th century and some from earlier periods were displayed.

The latter room was highly appreciated; it was praised for its style, harmony and good appearance. The paintings of price, the furniture of choice, the objects of art were arranged there with an exquisite taste; potiches, chimeras, magots, boxes, hanaps, busts, figurines decorated the picture rail and the tables; all the arrangement testified to the taste of the organizers of this reconstitution, Mr. Louis Gilmont and his president, Mr. Casier.

After having mentioned some of the aspects of the first section evoking the environment and life, let us briefly recall the second section devoted to art and art industries; sculpture occupied a preponderant place with manuscript miniatures and tapestry; however, in secondary order, bookbinding, metal arts, embroidery, damask linen, lace and numismatics were also represented there.

The first thought of Messrs. Casier and Bergmans, who promoted the Exhibition, was for sculpture; the embryo of the enterprise, it remained its most important manifestation, although it was limited to mobile sculpture, such as statues, statuettes, groups or altarpieces, to the exclusion of monumental statuary.

The layout of the room reserved for sculptures was praised; the President of Ancient Art, while overseeing the entire organisation, had reserved sculpture and tapestry in particular.

A methodical classification made it easier for visitors to study the transformations that have taken place in sculpture throughout history, from the 14th to the end of the 18th century. Beauneveu's Saint Catherine for the chapel of the Count of Flanders in Kortrijk on the one hand, and Laurent Delvaux's Saint Joseph on the other, were the two terms, very different in technique and appearance, between which the numerous sculptures entrusted to the care of the organisers staggered.

Between these two extremes, the stages were marked, for the 15th century, by the beautiful Deposition from the Decker collection; for the 16th century, by the beautiful altarpiece of the legend of Saint John the Baptist belonging to the church of Hemelveerdegem; for the 17th century, by the Virgin Mother of Bon Secours lent by the Brussels Municipal Museum.

The Saint Catherine is one of the purest jewels in the Belgian artistic crown, one of the most imposing and beautiful works of fourteenth-century statuary. More simple, less perfect, but very expressive, was the pretty Virgin Mother suckling the Child, which the Lille Museum had lent thanks to the very kind intervention of the erudite curator, Mr. Theodore. Let us also mention the famous mascarons of the Salle échevinale of Ypres, probably lost in the destruction of the beautiful city by the German artillery, the Altarpiece of Saint Dove of the church of Deerlijk, a Christ of pity by Mr. Nickers, a group of pilgrim Angels by Mr. Léon Kervyn de Meerendré, the Monument votif du chanoine de Pauw from the Kortrijk museum, the beautiful seated Virgin from the Paul de Decker collection, the Sleeping Love from the Madeline collection, the door panels executed by Mathieu van Beveren around the middle of the seventeenth century, the beautiful Bacchus by Servais Cardon from the Capouillet collection, and the beautiful St. Brigid of Sweden in prayer from the Vander Corput collection.

This quick and brief list cannot give an idea of what the sculpture at the Ghent retrospective of 1913 was like.

The manuscript miniatures were arranged by M. Bergmans. Bergmans; the presentation was very happy; we cannot insist on the wealth accumulated in the salon with its yellow hangings which served as a frame for these marvellous paintings, such as the Ceremoniale Blandiniense, the works of Le Muisit, the life of Saint Colette by Pierre de Vaux, the Hours of Notre Dame by Baron de Pélichy, the famous miniature of the Calvary by Simon Benning, the manuscripts of Abbé Raphael de Mercatel and so many others from the Ghent University Library.

We can only mention the beautiful collection of bindings from different periods, the pewter, the damask, the lace, as well as the numismatic series of tokens and medals of inaugurations in Flanders, those of the magistrate of Ghent, of the Châtellenie of the Old Town, of the magistrate and the Franc of Bruges, of the Provostry of Saint-Donatien, of the magistrate and the châtellenie of Kortrijk, of the county of Aalst, of the châtellenie of Ypres, etc.

Among the artistic expressions of the past, perhaps none presents more sumptuous aspects than tapestry; none makes the characters of the successive periods of the history of art better known, especially in the Middle Ages. None has a more profound sense of decoration. In spite of their considerable size, the rooms of Ancient Art in Flanders could not have contained a series of Flemish tapestries large enough to show, in all their breadth, the specimens of the workshops of Brussels, Fille, Tournai, Bruges, Audenaerde and Ghent; but the organisers had been concerned to present a choice of works capable of giving an idea of the beauty, variety and characteristics of this art. For the 14th century, a hanging of the Apocalypse from Angers was a specimen all the more precious because the name of the cartonnier, Jehan de Bruges, is known; for the 15th century, several Verdures and a few characteristic fragments gave a satisfactory idea of the art of the lissier at that time. The 16th century was brilliantly represented by the tapestry of the Death of the Virgin of the cathedral of Reims, by that of Louis XI raising the siege of Salins whose date is known, 1502, and the author of Wilde de Bruges, that of the Ships unloading animals coming from India of the collection of Dreux-Brezé, the Princely Marriage of M. de Somzée, the Battle of Bênévent with the arms of the Borluut, the important hanging of the Miracles of Our Lady of the Pottery of Bruges; impossible to give here all the long enumeration. Among the tapestries of the 17th century, let us point out in particular the brilliant hanging of Minerva welcoming Ulysses and Mentor by Mrs. van Wassenhove, the Departure for War by Mr. van Hamme, the admirable Clovis at Tolbiac from the Musée des Gobelins, the Struggle of Hercules and Cacus by Mr. Schütz, the Dispute of Achilles and Agamemnon by Mr. Empain, the Combat of Hercules and Agamemnon by Mr. M. For the 18th century, two pearls represented the effeminate and meticulous art of this period: Diane and Actéon from the Boël collection and the Marchande de poissons (Fishmonger) lent by the Musée des Gobelins in Paris.

The main room devoted to the tapestries aroused the admiration of the visitors; a true apotheosis room, it was well placed at the end; skilfully arranged by the organisers, the interest led insensibly towards this grandiose finale.

In his inaugural speech, Mr. Joseph Casier, who was the soul of the enterprise, told his audience that the grandiose manifestation of the Ghent Universal Exhibition would have been incomplete without the tribute to the glorious artistic past of the Belgian homeland... Alongside economic concerns, a place had to be given to beauty, that is to say to the poetry of life, to beauty in its present expression as well as in that of the past. On this double ground, our country has victoriously contested the artistic hegemony with the most artistically gifted nations.

This claim has been luminously and prestigiously established at Ancient Art in Flanders. It will be the lasting honour of its organisers to have demonstrated this in a brilliant and definitive way.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle & Internationale de Gand 1913