In the autumn of 2008 the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp was completely under the spell of portrait busts. Heads on Shoulders was the first exhibition on monumental Baroque sculpture since the international Rubens year in 1977.
Like many South Netherlandish painters (Rubens, van Dyck, Jordaens), the Baroque sculptors from the Low Countries enjoyed a fame that extended across Europe. The undisputed master of Baroque sculpture in the Low Countries was Artus I Quellinus (1609-1668). Originally from Antwerp, Quellinus spent many years of his life in the Northern Netherlands, where he not only deeply influenced the flourishing genre of portrait sculpture, but also executed the noted sculptural decorations on the town hall of Amsterdam - a milestone in the history of Netherlandish art. Equally as important is the work of François Duquesnoy (1597-1643). The Duquesnoy family from Brussels is best known for the world-famous Manneken Pis statue (1619). Few people are aware that François Duquesnoy, a descendant of this family of artists, established himself in Italy where he acquired fame under the name 'il Fiammingo' (the Fleming) and eventually became one of the most successful Baroque sculptors, alongside Bernini.
The bust as a genre
The starting point of the exhibition was the bust as a genre. It focused first and foremost on so-called portrait busts. Political figures and dignitaries are a traditional theme in portrait art. But politicians, scholars and aristocrats were not the only ones to be depicted. By the end of the 18th century, even famous actresses were commonly immortalised in marble.
This exhibition was organised in association with the Flemish Art Collection.