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Scaldis and Antverpia

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Abraham Janssens
Antwerp 1575 - Antwerp 1632
1609
oil on panel
174 x 308 cm
Inventory number 212

In the early 17th century, Abraham Janssens was commissioned for a painting to adorn the mantel of the so-called State Room in Antwerp’s town hall, where delegates of the United Provinces and the Spanish Netherlands were due to conduct peace negotiations. The city council had hoped that the work would inspire the negotiators to reopen the river Scheldt to navigation, which was crucial to Antwerp’s wealth. The painting shows the ancient river god Scaldis leaning on an amphora from which flows the water of the Scheldt, as he offers a cornucopia to Antverpia, the personification of the city. Janssens based the composition of Scaldis and Antverpia on Michelangelo’s world-famous Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. The two figures in the painting are quite sturdy and robust. The illumination is bright and the shadows dark. Note that the fruits and vegetables brought forth by the horn of plenty form a caricatural face.

Duel of paintings

The wall across the room from Scaldis and Antverpia used to be adorned with The Adoration of the Magi, a monumental work by another great artist from Antwerp, Peter Paul Rubens. The confrontation between the two paintings was almost like an artistic duel, but not an evenly matched one: whereas Scaldis and Anverpia was arguably the highpoint in the oeuvre of Janssens, Rubens’s Adoration of the Magi merely marked the start of a career that would profoundly influence artistic life in Antwerp and far beyond.

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