15 Mysteries

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The Cycle of Paintings

The Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary

The Rosary offered the illiterate of the 17thde century something to hold on to in order to contemplate the most important passages from the lives of Jesus and Mary. As they prayed the one hundred and fifty hail Mary’s of the Rosary, ten per mystery, lay people could imitate monks and nuns praying the one hundred and fifty psalms of the breviary.

The fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary constitute Mary’s photo album as it were, though one that does not only show the joyful and the glorious moments, but – in fairness – the sorrowful moments as well.

The fifteen Mysteries are put in a fixed sequence: first the five Joyful Mysteries, then the five Sorrowful Mysteries and finally the five Glorious Mysteries. There was no sign yet of the fourth series, the Luminous Mysteries, added in 2002 by Pope John-Paul II.

The Joyful Mysteries deal with Mary as the young mother-to-be: the Annunciation to Mary, Mary’s visit to Elisabeth, Jesus’ birth, the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, the finding of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Whereas one does not like to be reminded of one’s grief in a common photo album, yet the Sorrowful Mysteries are portrayed here indeed, to show in all honesty what life is like. Mary was able only to be present while Jesus was carrying the Cross and at His Crucifixion, but not at the three previous Mysteries. While Mary is at first a witness of Jesus’ Glorious Mysteries like the Resurrection and the Ascension, as well as of the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, she has the leading part in the latter two: her Assumption and her Coronation in Heaven.

Before 1617 the cycle of fifteen paintings on panel was commissioned for the northern aisle, which, as a continuation of the Mary-altar at the time, develops into a grand Chapel of Mary at the far end of that nave. In line with the chronological order of the story, the series reads from left to right and is therefore hanging from west to east, and comes to an end near the altar.

As no fewer than eleven different painters were asked simultaneously to account for at least one scene, this resulted in a unique series, representing the Antwerp School of Painters, including the works by the three great masters Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens, and those by Cornelis de Vos and David Teniers the Elder. At this moment Saint Paul’s Church is the only place where one can find a Rubens, a Van Dyck and a Jordaens in their original location.

Although the eighteen year old Van Dyck was but a novice, all three of them were remitted an equal sum of money. They were obviously appreciated better by the commissioners than the other painters, as the only one who was still estimated higher – so we learn from his fee – was Hendrick Van Balen. From the point of view of style the paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens and David I Teniers can be dated from ca. 1616-1617.

Most of the paintings are attributed to a benefactor known by name; only the fifth and the fourteenth were paid for with general contributions. Next to a Preacher and possibly an artist, other benefactors may have had a firm foothold in the Dominican Church as well, either as a (possible) relative of the Preachers, as the current or future dean of the Brotherhood of the Rosary, or because they – or possibly their relatives – were buried there.

The Joyful Mysteries

1. The Annunciation

Hendrik Van Balen

In the Baroque view the story of the Annunciation (according to Lk. 1:26-38) is not situated in a house but in an impressive palace. True to the gospel the angel Gabriel “comes to her” (1:28) to bring her the message that she has been favoured to be the mother of Jesus, “Son of God”. Mary “was greatly troubled at what was said” and turns around. That Mary is a woman of flesh and blood and is symbolized by her red dress, while the blue cape she is enveloped in signifies she is a gifted woman and favoured by God (1:28-30). These colours contrast with those of the angel: yellow and green. There is no real surprise to be seen in Mary’s face; both figures are too doll-like and lack every possible expression of emotion.

In a blessing gesture God the Father has the Holy Spirit “come upon” Mary (1:35), traditionally in the shape of white dove exhaling a bright white halo. Full of joy the angels in Heaven witness the mystery of Jesus’ incarnation. Two angels pay tribute to Mary with roses.

2. Mary Visiting Elisabeth

Frans II Francken

This is one of the very few larger works by Frans II Francken, who was dean of Saint Luke’s Guild in 1616. 

True to the Bible (Lk. 1:39) the fantasized landscape illustrates Mary’s voyage “to the hill country”, on her way to her older cousin Elisabeth, who is also pregnant. As she is “most blessed among women” (1:42) it is clear that Mary is the central figure.

We can see her in the foreground as she lays her hand on that of her older cousin in greeting. By humbly putting her hand on her chest Elisabeth says: “how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (1:43). The bunch of keys and the purse Elisabeth is wearing, illustrate that the ‘housekeeping’ the lady of the house was responsible for, could be seen literally as ‘economics’ or house management in the 17th century.

Discretely, more in the background, both husbands embrace. As he is a minister of the Temple Zechariah is wearing a cope, which Francken borrows from contemporary Catholic liturgy.

A bit closer to the right, two angels with elegant colourful wings, follow with the luggage. They are carrying it and have a vivid conversation.

Extremely true to nature big trees and animals have been made small in the background and small insects have been rendered big and exceptionally detailed in the foreground. Through the transparent upper wings of the dragonfly one can see the upper step in front of the house, through the lower wings we can see its shadowy side.

In the middle distance the elegant silhouette of a pair of swans is reflected in the water. In the background little rabbits play in an open field in the woods: a peaceful scene, which is being watched by deer that dare leave the shelter of the forest for a while. It can certainly be questioned whether every detail in the landscape has to be considered in a symbolic way.

3. The Nativity

Cornelis de Vos

In a wooden stable (top right corner) to the extreme right, next to the frame, is Mary.(M)

She has only eyes for her newborn Baby and has already unwrapped the cloths from the Child to show Him proudly to the shepherds.

The child Jesus in a crib looks at the visitors before Him. Behind Mary is loyal Joseph, modestly in the dark background. Due to his doubt about the true nature of this birth, his attention goes to the little angels (E), who hold a banderol with the scriptural passage: “GLORIA IN E[xelci]S DE[o]”.

As Mary’s counterpart there is a shepherdess (2) with a brass milk pitcher on her head and a jug in her right hand.

The kneeling shepherd (1) on the foreground, his hat in his hands, the staff on the ground, has laid down a tied little lamb as a present. Other ones keep their hands joined in prayer. Jacob Van der Sanden (ca. 1781), who was attached to the academy of art, saw “Genuine joy on the faces”. This painting is the one of the series that fascinates most, thanks to the vigorous colours. The way the light succeeds in differentiating the colours and at the same time freshen them up, is just sublime: a strongly Caravaggio-like lighting, inspired by Rubens’ painting of the same name in the Northern transept. This warm range of colouring is due to the yellow of the ears of wheat in the crib and the brass milk pitcher, the brightly red short jacket and the light green knee breeches of the kneeling shepherd, and Mary’s blue cloak. Moreover the blue has been symbolically combined with her white garments and her white complexion.

In a subtle way the newborn Saviour radiates spiritual light. The white circle, consisting of the unfolded cloths and the aureole, amplifies the Child as the source of light in the painting. Jesus, “the light of the world” (John 8:12) that “shines in the darkness” (John 1:4), is represented pictorially in the way the Child makes the faces and the visible members of the people present brighten. Van der Sanden: “In this Christmas night Cornelis de Vos has cleverly had all light come from the representation of the born Messiah, as the divine Light in the darkness of the peoples.”.

What are pastoral motifs at first sight, turn out to be bearers of ‘hidden’ symbolism. The little lamb of which the feet have been tied, is more than just a present from the shepherds. It symbolizes the final meaning of Christ as the sacrificed ‘Lamb of God’, a name that is also given to the host in the Eucharist. All the same as in Rubens’ Nativity the ears of wheat in the crib refer to the Heavenly ‘bread from heaven’.
The donor was Miss Magdalena van Wissekercke (1593-1679), who since 1615 had been associated with the Jesuits as a spiritual daughter. Her memorial slab in the cellar corridor of Saint Charles Borromeo Church is still intact.

4. The Presentation (of Jesus) In The Temple

Cornelis De Vos

True to Jewish religious prescriptions Mary comes to the Temple of Jerusalem on the fortieth day after her child’s birth to be ritually cleansed (‘Purification’) and to consecrate her first born son to God (‘Presentation’), according to Lk. 2:22-39. Because the priest is at the same time the devout, old Simeon, who was “awaiting the consolation of Israel” (v. 25), his gaze reflects the gratefulness for his eyes had seen God’s “salvation, which” He had “prepared in sight of all the peoples” (vv. 30-31). His liturgical garments were highly imaginatively inspired by contemporary Catholic vestments. How playfully do the looks of the characters reflect the direction of this presentation!

Mary, on her knees at the bottom of the steps, keeps looking up motherly at her Child in Simeon’s arms. The latter holds his head backward, his eyes towards Heaven, which stresses the movement of the typically Baroque diagonal composition.
A young acolyte, in a white surplice, carries a burning candle. Referring to the Catholic liturgy of Candlemas, this illustrates Simeon’s words of joy, namely that his eyes have seen “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (v. 32).
The couple of white turtledoves – the offering of the poorer Jews – make a peaceful still life, free and unconstrained, the heads close to each other.

The second part of the story (vv. 36-39) is situated in the background, where the 84 year old prophetess Hanna starts a conversation with Joseph.

However much the distinguished Jewish scribe, on the left, exerts himself to look at the child through his spectacles, he cannot overcome the disability of his short-sightedness. As long as he takes ‘a Jewish view’ of things, he will not be able to recognize the long-awaited Saviour. The Hebrew strips of text on the sleeves and the bottom of his cope refer to the law of the first born being dedicated to God. On the top of his sleeve there is “Consecrate to Me every first-born” and on the bottom edge “all the first-born in Israel”. On the top edge of his cope’s seam there is: “I made sacred to Me, both of man and of beast” and on the bottom edge: “Every first-born son you must redeem” (Ex. 13:13).

This distinguished Jew represents Judaism (the Synagogue); the Dominican on the extreme right against the frame, whether by coincidence or not at Jesus’ right hand side, and the acolyte represent the Church, or Christianity. The Dominican with the Baroque interactive gaze towards the spectators is thought to have been Father Boucquetius, a great promoter of the rosary devotion and possibly the commissioner of the whole series.

Because this is the only panel of which the way of financing has not been noted down, it is supposed to have been a gift by the painter himself.

5. The Finding Of Jesus In The Temple

Matthys Voet

While their twelve year old son is teaching amidst the scribes in the Temple of Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph find him, according to Lk. 2:42-50.

The twelve year old Jesus adducing arguments (with His right forefinger), sitting on an elegant chair under a baldachin, alludes to the wise King(-judge) Solomon.
Challenged by his questions the Jewish scribes look for arguments in the Biblical books and scrolls (the Old Testament). Right in front of Jesus one of them is arguing, keeping his right forefinger to his upright left thumb. Next to him another one puts up a book with a pseudo Hebrew text, while he is putting on his glasses to consult another book.
Also the two dwarfs below – a black one and in front of him a white one, attired in elegant headbands – want to argue along with the others.

The second part of the story, the actual finding, is paid less attention to. Young Mary looks at her child in an obviously worried way, thus expressing her “great anxiety” (v. 48). Behind her we can notice the older face of Joseph, he too fixing his gaze upon Jesus. It is remarkable how Mother and Child nearly merge due to the colours of their clothing.

The Sorrowful Mysteries

1. Gethsemane

David I Teniers

After the Last Supper Jesus and the three favourite apostles – Peter, John and James the Greater – go to Mount Olivet to pray in Gethsemane. In this nightly hour He experiences his death agony. We can read the fear in his eyes (Math. 26:37-38): “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; still, not my will but your be done” (Lk. 22:42). John is lying asleep on Peter’s shoulder, James is sleeping in a sitting position.

The moon breaks through the darkness of the night. In the foreground the light falls on everyone’s clothes. Judas and “a band of soldiers and guards with lanterns and torches and weapons” (John 18:3) enter the estate through a high gate. This panel was donated by Mrs. Vloers, a widow.

2. The Flagellation

P.P. Rubens, donated in 1617

After having been sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin and the accompanying approval of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to have Him crucified, Jesus is first flagellated (Math 27:26; Mk 15:15). Christ is standing with the wrists tied to the flagellation column. Rubens deliberately has Christ turn his back – in a twisted movement – towards the spectators. With this exhibition of the torturing he wants to move the spectator into compassion and through the emotions he wants to enhance the devotion to the Saviour. The colouring is meant to contribute to this emotional appeal as well. In contrast with the gloomy cellars of Pilate’s palace and the dark clothes of the executioners, the naked and bloody body of Christ is illuminated all the better.

Rarely has the physical suffering of Jesus been portrayed so lively and so directly. Rubens tries nothing less than a director who pictures Jesus’ Passion in a raw film by focusing for minutes on the gruesome fate of the innocent man. One can see strips of skin being torn off and blood splashing around. While in a film the drama is raised by the slashing lashes one hears zipping through the air and by hearing them hit the tortured victim, Rubens has to stick to merely pictorial means.

The executioner in the foreground on the left is about to lash out again, with his arm that seems to come out of the frame. This movement also strengthens the power with which he goes for the victim.

Two brawny brutes, on the right, set about Jesus’ back with a rod. The black one in front is about to hit him firmly, holding the raised rod in both hands. As if this were not enough Jesus is kicked in the calves by him, to make him – literally – buckle under, while the soldier pulls away Jesus’ white loincloth in order to expose him even more to the lashes. “Surely he has borne our grieves and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4), thus the second reading on the Wednesday of the Holy Week.

The executioner’s assistant in the back, stripped to the waist, seems to turn his eyes away and to screen his head: can he no longer bear to watch this horror, or is he trying to protect his face from the drops of blood spattering around? Or is he wiping the sweat from his forehead in order to insinuate the efforts he has taken to acquit himself of his diabolic task? On the right below a dog is watching fiercely.

Apart from a few adjustments of the composition, several details are also different from the oil sketch (Ghent, Museum of Fine Arts).

Donor: merchant Louis Clarisse; his son Mark Antony entered the Preachers in Antwerp.

3. The Crowning With Thorns

Artus de Bruyn

In the palace of governor Pontius Pilate Jesus is cruelly mocked as “the king of the Jews” (Math. 27:27-31; Mk. 15:16-20; John 19:2-3).

Christ, exhausted from the slashing flagellation, has a crown made of thorn-bush put deeply onto his head, so deeply that blood is streaming abundantly from the wounds. Moreover, the reed cane which the soldiers “kept striking His head with” (Mk. 15:17), is here put into His right hand as a (broken) scepter. The third attribute of the mocking, the purple mantle (Mk. 15:17) can hardly be seen, but is hanging from the bench, full of blood.

Faithful to the Bible, the protruding tongues of both the executioners with their grotesque mugs, represent how they spat on Jesus (Math. 27:30). In the foreground, the half-naked executioner kneeling in front of Him to pay Him tribute (Math. 27:29c; Mk. 15:19), makes an obscene gesture in front of Jesus’ eyes while holding a red cloth in his right hand, probably destined to strike him in the face” (John 19:3).

The composition and the position of the individuals, especially Christ in profile and the mocking kneeling executioner, go back to Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Scenes of the Passion’ of ca. 1510. However much the figures with their vigorous musculature may contribute to the spatial volume, the compact arrangement of the personages in the foreground remains flat. The slant eyes are typical of De Bruyn as well.

4. Bearing Of The Cross

Antoon Van Dyck, ca. 1617-’18

This is one of the earliest works by Van Dyck: he was not yet 20 years old. Of none of his paintings there are so many sketches. No fewer than 10 have been kept, which provides for an exceptional documentary on the history of the creation of a baroque tableau. Whereas he was too self-centered in his first sketches, Van Dyck gradually discovered his position in the structure of the cycle. The originally horizontal composition evolved into a vertical one, while the original movement towards the left changed into a movement towards the right, as a result of the coherence with the chronological reading of the entire cycle. Because it shows a screened pattern, the drawing in the Antwerp Print Room is considered to be the actual modello. Nevertheless the poses of some figures were still adapted in the process of the construction of the painting.

Several scenes of the Stations of the Cross have been merged here into one representation.

Jesus yields beneath the Cross. Executioner servants and a soldier make Jesus rise and go on. They pull the rope around His waist, urge Him with an ash stick and help to lift the crossbeam.

The meeting with His mother Mary. As Mary’s face is almost completely hidden in her intensely blue cloak – with lapis lazuli as its pigment – the emotion of her mother’s heart can be derived from the tense expression, the tears and her position, with bowing knees. Jesus’ look without words, looking behind at his kneeling mother, speaks for itself.

Thirdly, there is the help that is offered by the summoned Simon of Cyrene, in eye-catching bright red clothes behind Mary, by carrying the cross with Jesus.

The lances and halberds, which are lost in the gloomy sky of the background, emphasize the contrast between the display of power of the authorities and the inhuman grief of ‘mother and child’.
Apparently the painting was appreciated well, and was inspirational for many a painter. But this coin has another side as well. The painting was shortened both at the top and at the bottom with approximately 3.15 inches because later in the 17th century it was placed on the Holy Cross Altar. In 1794 it was transported to Paris, to return here, after the French defeat, in 1816.

5. The Crucifixion

Jacob Jordaens

Jesus, nailed to the cross, has already expired. Jordaens cannot refrain from using the ‘detail vivant’ so typical of Rubens, and has the parchment heading blowing in the wind. The four attendants, according to John 19:24-26, are placed neatly and parallel at the left and the right sides of the cross.
We find Mother Mary and John the Evangelist iconographically on the right side of the cross. In desperation Mary raises one hand: “Why for goodness sake?”

On the left side of the cross Mary Magdalene kneels down, sobbing. Possibly the presence of her holy namesake was the reason for Magdalene Lewieter to donate this painting. Behind her there is Mary of Clopas, her eyes shut, her head bowed and resting on one hand in contemplation.

The horizon nearly sinks on to the bottom frame. It is an iconographic representation of the Biblical location, Mount Golgotha, from which one looks down.

The Glorious Mysteries

1. The Resurrection

Aernout Vinckenborgh

With the fifteenth (and the twelfth?) this is the only painting known with certainty to have been made by Vinckenborgh (° Alkmaar ca. 1590). The day of his death (Antwerp, 1620) is the ‘terminus ante quem’ for these three paintings and maybe for the whole series as well. His parents were buried in the church of the Preachers.

Christ, rosy-cheeked, triumphantly rises from his grave on the third day, holding a red standard and a palm as the signs of victory. From behind His head a golden halo appears as a rising sun. The white loincloth and the shroud intensify the glow of His glorified body. The way the Resurrected One looks straight into the eyes of the spectator is most remarkable!

Soldiers who are on guard to keep Jesus’ disciples from stealing his corpse in order to insinuate a resurrection, are startled and seek protection. Appalled by what is happening one of them tries to hide, another one tries to protect himself from the dazzling light with his right arm. A third one seeks safety behind his shining shield. The fourth, in armour, keeps quiet on the ground. The description “The guards … became like dead men” (Math. 28:4b) can be recognized in the glassy eyes of the first soldier and in the petrified pose of the third.

Only the fifth one – in the right corner below – who, in contrast, does not perform his task, remains imperturbably asleep. As he is seated in the foreground he is an outstanding repoussoir figure to accentuate the depth of the composition.
Quite remarkably the soldiers are without shoes. Just notice the dirty soles of the two soldiers in the foreground.

The illumination angle here is not symbolically orientated from Jesus’ glorified body, but head-on, be it slightly from the right. Thus Jesus’ shadow falls from His feet on the oblong tomb stone till the rock behind Him. The simplified postures and the slightly clumsy movements are typical of Vinckenborgh.

The donator was Dominican John Boucquet, prior in 1613-1617. He was possibly the commissioner of the entire cycle.

2. The Ascension

Attributed to Artus Wolffort;
formerly to Aernout Vinckenborgh

Christ ascends. The cloud that “took Him from their sight” (Acts 1:9) is used cleverly to make Jesus sit on it.
The heavenly light that surrounds Jesus refers to God’s glow or ‘glory’, which Jesus shares from now on. However, this light overshadows the apostles in the background .

Faithful to the Bible (Acts 1:10) Christ is flanked by “two men dressed in white garments”. Their gesticulations illustrate word for word the text in Acts 1:11, from the left to the right. The man on the left points at “this Jesus”; the one on the right, his right hand raised, refers to “who has been taken from you into Heaven”, while his downward left hand suggests the announcement: “will return [to the Earth] in the same way”.

The disciples and Mary “were looking intently at the sky” (Acts 1:10); some of them amazed and in adoration, others totally astonished. Peter and John, whom we recognize by their traditional physiognomy and the colours of their clothes, occupy the most prominent positions in the foreground. By their placement in the corners below they open up the rhombic composition. Quite remarkably both these apostles, contrary to tradition, are wearing sandals.

3. Pentecost

Matthys Voet

On the 50th day after Easter the miracle occurs in which the apostles, thanks to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, overcome the fear for the Jews and dare come outside to give testimony to Jesus’ message. The dark space indicates that “the doors were locked (…) for fear of the Jews”. Thanks to the election of Matthias the twelve are complete again.
The apostles are gathered around Mary, who has been reading her prayer book. In the composition she is the center of the rhombic positioning of the apostles, the dove symbolizing the Holy Ghost on top.

From the dove that comes down over them supernatural, clustered beams of light are penetrating the dark residence of the apostles. Mary, the apostles, as well as the hands and faces of almost all the persons present are illuminated. The Holy Ghost (V) is shown as something that “appeared to them (as) tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each of them.”

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:3-4a); some new dynamics as a result of which the apostles start to gesticulate fiercely. They receive the gift of speaking in different tongues. The naked foot soles of the apostles are dark, not just because of the shadow play.

In the midst of the spiritual emotion of the apostles Mary remains calm. She humbly looks up to heaven, filled with awe.

A servant on top of the stairs, opens the door. Some “devout Jews from every nation under heaven (…) are gathered in a large crowd” (Acts 2:5-6b). The turban of the first one refers to the exotic of ‘all nations’, that subsequently are mentioned by name (Acts 2:9-11).

The composition was inspired by Rubens’ draft of the illustration in the Breviarum Romanum.
Cornelis Verbeeck paid for this painting.

4. Mary's Assumption

Jan Aertsen

If anyone at all is certain to be in Heaven, it must be the strong woman Mary, whose life was fully focused on God’s will. In this ‘Mystery’ a hopeful perspective is hidden for each believer: whoever seeks God in his life will find Him in Heavenly joy.
Mary is sitting in the center of a cloud, her hands joined in prayer and her eyes upwards, which indicates her craving for God. Her lower body is still situated in the grey clouds, while her upper body, dressed in white, stands out against the golden background in Heaven.

On the left apostles are looking on; two of them have folded their hands respectfully. Next to the grave there are three women. According to the Legende aurea: Mary Magdalene, and Mary’s two half-sisters: Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome. One of the women is leaning over the empty grave and finds, so the legend goes, some flowers there.
The artist has probably found some inspiration in the painting of the same name by Otto van Veen (München, Alte Pinakothek).

5. Coronation Of The Virgin Mary

Aernout Vinckenborgh

Nowhere else in the series Mary assumes the most prominent position, as only now she shares God’s bliss once and for all. As a reward for her “faith until death”, according to Revelation 2:10, she is given “the crown of (eternal) life”. God manifests himself as the Holy Trinity. God the Father, the Lord of all life, holds the globe of the universe in his hands and is liturgically dressed in a golden embroidered cope. Completely true to the creed, the resurrected Christ, the Son, is “seated at the right hand of the Father”. While He takes his mother by the arm with one hand (and thus ‘assumes’ her), He – together with God the Father – holds the crown above Mary’s head with the other hand. The dove, symbolic of God’s Holy Spirit, spreads its wings over her.

As in many a song of this feast, the angels rejoice in Mary’s assumption. The 24 of them joyfully make a circle around the central event of Our Lady Mary. It strikes our attention that only the small angels’ heads are winged. Among them there are seven who play a musical instrument: on the left: a tumbrel (top corner), a viola and a double base (bottom); and on the right: a recorder (top), a horn, a lute and a positive organ (bottom corner).

Mary here is still presented as a young woman, as the original sin and consequently transitoriness can’t get a hold on her. With the liturgical text “the King is enthralled by your beauty” (Ps 45:11) in mind the painter has succeeded in rendering her as really graceful. She wears a white dress, a shining, light blue satin mantle and a scarf over her long dark blonde hair: the colours of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

This title is also represented by the ensemble of celestial bodies: the sun, moon and the (crown with the) twelve stars, derived from the Woman of the Apocalypse, who is “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). Here Mary subtly wears the sun as an aureole, but in order not to look more distinguished than the Divine Persons, the artist has depicted her aureole disc ‘airily’ light blue, merely suggested by a yellow rim.

Mary’s usual gesture of keeping her hand on her bosom in modest delight, here refers to her rejoicing song Magnificat: “For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness” (Lk. 1:48). Her eye contact with the spectator is most exceptional in a scene like this. It appears as if she looks us straight into the eyes, with a view saying: “My joy can become yours as well. I will be your advocate.”

The donor, the widow Mary Boxhorn, was the mother of Marius Ambrosius Capello, the later prior of the Antwerp Preachers’ Convent and Bishop of Antwerp. The epitaph statue of her and her husband is nearby the main altar.


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