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An Imaginary View of the Interior of Antwerp Cathedral

Hendrick van Steenwijck the elder (Steenwijk c.1550 - Frankfurt-am-Main 1603)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1570 - 1599

Materials

Oil on panel

Measurements

305 x 470 mm (12 x 18 1/2 in)

Place of origin

Flanders (Belgium from 1830)

Order this image

Collection

Belton House, Lincolnshire

NT 436105

Caption

This is an imaginary view of Antwerp Cathedral before the installation of Rubens's altarpieces and other Baroque elements. The significance of the inscription, at the base of the left-hand pier, beside the portal, ‘TECUM HABIT’ has yet to be identified. The same one can be found on other versions of this picture. These words are a once often-quoted citation from Persius's 4th Satire, l.52, meaning literally 'live with yourself', or, in other words, retire into yourself, and study to be quiet. This is the only survivor at Belton of four such church interiors, which formerly hung in the Tyrconnel London house in 1754. The figures may be by another hand.

Summary

Oil painting on panel, An Imaginary View of the Interior of Antwerp Cathedral by Hendrick van Steenwijck the elder (Steenwijk c.1550 - Frankfurt-am-Main 1603). Inscribed at base of left-hand pier beside portal: TECUM HABIT.., over a crawling snail on the threshold, above the letters: I M. An imaginary view of Antwerp Cathedral (before the installation of Rubens's altarpieces and other Baroque elements), with a procession of black-cloaked and-hatted women (béguines), standing priests, and other figures. Another similar version of the scene, called St Pieters at Louvain, a Christening Party is at Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead, after the original in Brussels.

Full description

The full significance of the inscription on the threshold has yet to be identified. The same one is to be found on other versions of this picture: the panel signed and dated 1586 in the Museum het Catharijneconvent, Utrecht (inv. no. 1987) (see exh. cat. Vermaakt aan de Staat, het legaat Thurkow-van Huffel, 1988, pp.25-26), formerly in the Thurkow collection in The Hague and a similar version of which was in Christie's Amsterdam sale 25-26 November 2014 (lot 8) - with figures attributed to Abel Grimmer - formerly in the collection of R. G. de Boer, Laren (p.133 & fig.1) and P. de Boer, Amsterdam until 1993, also signed and dated 1586 (twice); and possibly on other examples, recorded as on the art market in Zurich in 1953, and as in the collection of R. Robertson in Glasgow, respectively. The words TECUM HABITA are a once often-quoted citation from Persius's 4th Satire, l.52, meaning literally 'live with yourself', as in: 'Retire into yourself - Study to be quiet'. The full passage (lines 51-52) runs: ‘Respue quod non es, tollat sua munera cerdo./Tecum habita: noris quam sit tibi curta supellex’, lit.: ‘Reject what you are not, let the hireling take back his gifts. Live with yourself: know how slender your furniture is’; or, as William Gifford put it in his translation of 1822 (p.133): ‘Hence with your spurious claims! rejudge your cause And fling the rabble back their vile applause To your own heart, in quest of worth, repair, And blush to find - how poor a stock is there!’ The inscription and its source were first noticed, recognised, and published by Lony and Emil Rezníckoví in 'Van de slak op de tak', in the Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 15, 1964, pp. 133-137. They further pointed out that, by associating a snail with it, the artist (or perhaps his adviser, the mysterious I. M., whose initials appear underneath the snail), invested the latter with positive connotations that it had not had in the Bible or the Middle Ages - an association that was taken up in an (unfortunately not illustrated) emblem devised by Joachim Camerarius, and published posthumously by Ludovic Camerarius in 1604; Frankfurt edn., 1654, fol. 97 verso). Its use in this picture is particularly piquant: the words of a pagan (albeit a Stoic) author, introduced into the depiction of a Catholic cathedral (albeit only on the threshold of it), by an artist forced to flee from Catholic Flanders to Lutheran Frankfurt by religious wars and persecution - taking indeed, like the snail, all his 'Hab und Gut' with him.

Provenance

Tyrconnel collection, London in 1754 (142); purchased with a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) from Edward John Peregrine Cust, 7th Baron Brownlow, C. St J. (b.1936) in 1984

Credit line

Belton House, The Brownlow Collection (acquired with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund by the National Trust in 1984)

Makers and roles

Hendrick van Steenwijck the elder (Steenwijk c.1550 - Frankfurt-am-Main 1603) , artist previously catalogued as attributed to Jacob Grimmer (Antwerp 1525/6 - Antwerp c.1590), artist

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