CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Anversa & Genova: een hoogtepunt in de barokschilderkunst

Flanders-Genoa: mutual exchange in 17th-century painting Exhibition: 4 October 2003 - 4 January 2004


Nico Van Hout

From the museum website

As part of the Europalia Italia festival, the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen is devoting an exhibition to Genoese Baroque painting. Never before has such an exhibition been mounted in Belgium. The cultural exchange between Antwerp and the Republic of Genoa dates back to the 15th century when there were close ties between traders and bankers in the two cities (though the Genoese were in fact in Bruges even in the 12th century). Flemish paintings and tapestries were avidly collected by the Genoese banking families. At the beginning of the 17th century, Genoa rapidly became the financial centre of Europe. The affluence of its patricians acted as a magnet for artists. Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck both visited the trading centre and immortalised its aristocracy in sumptuous portraits. Moreover, Rubens copied the magnificent architecture of the Genoese palazzi in drawings he later published in book form. Drawn by the favourable financial and artistic climate, the Flemings Cornelis de Wael and Jan Roos were to settle permanently in the Ligurian seaport. The exhibition paints a picture of the mutual influence between Flemish and Genoese artists and, at the same time, provides a colourful overview of works from the Genoese seicento. Some 60masterpieces by Cambiaso, Paggi, Strozzi, Castiglione, Castello, Assereto, Vassallo and Guidobono make this exhibition a unique and not-to-be missed event.

Museum press release

In 1622 Peter Paul Rubens published a book of illustrations, ground-plans and sections of large town houses in Genoa entitled the Palazzi di Genova. In presenting the Northern European public with this book of quintessential architecture, perhaps the artist was hoping the Antwerp aristocracy would start building modern constructions on the banks of the River Scheldt after the shining example of the trading metropolis in Liguria. Meanwhile, the artist set a good example with his own home on the Wapper.

Genoa – La Superba – was an independent maritime republic even in the 10th century. The drive and spirit of enterprise of the Genoese made them the true successors of the ancient seafaring peoples, the Carthaginians and the Phonecians. Supplying as it did ships for the Crusades and with trade privileges and possessions from Spain to the Crimean, the city had tremendous economic clout. However, with the emergence of the Ottoman Empire, the Genoese lost their settlements in the Levant, and with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Genoese trading post on the Golden Horn was also taken.

Economic power depended to a large extent on the production and trading of costly textiles such as brocade and velvet (the word ‘jean’, as in denim, is in fact a corruption of Génes). The trading colony Kaffa on the Crimean lay at the end of the Chinese Silk Route and served as an important transit port for this fine cloth. Genoa’s ambitions for expansion were financed by a group of merchants who founded the first bank around 1408: the Banco San Giorgio. The city’s outstanding location made it the ideal base for trading on the Mediterranean Sea, though it lost that geographic advantage when in 1492 the Genoese Christopher Columbus discovered the New World and the shipping routes began to shift from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean.

Yet Genoa’s real heyday was still to dawn. The dynasties of shipowners and merchants became the bankers of the King of Spain. Between 1550 and 1650 their wealth and influence was such that in Spain this period became known as “el siglo de los Genoveses”. The Habsburgers paid the high rates of interest with gold and silver from Mexico and Peru. Palaces were built and works of art commissioned with the capital amassed over the centuries.

During his stay in the Republic (1605-1607), Peter Paul Rubens was strongly influenced by all the building activity: in the period between 1530 and 1620 no fewer than 170 large town houses were built in Genoa. The nouveaux riches were not afraid to show their wealth. Rubens and Anthony van Dyck immortalized the Doria, Spinola, Pallavicini, Grimaldi and Brignole-Sale families in sumptuous and elegant portraits. Snyders and Wildens stopped off in the city and sold still lifes and landscapes there. Not that they were the first ‘Antwerpenaren’ to discover this market: indeed, Jan Massijs and Frans Floris had preceded them. Forced to flee the City-on-the-Scheldt for religious reasons, Jan Massijs’ peregrinations eventually took him to Genoa, while Frans Floris’ career was boosted in Antwerp when in 1549 the Genoese State commissioned him to produce a wooden triumphal arch to mark the Joyful Entry of Charles V. Some lesser-known Flemish painters even settled permanently in the Ligurian metropolis, including Jan Roos, Cornelis de Wael and Giacomo Liegi. Competition among artists in Genoa was less fierce than in Rome, Florence and Venice, while at the same time a very large number of potential customers and collectors lived there. These two elements made the Ligurian seaport an attractive destination. Genoa’s Golden Age finally came to an end when the Spanish empire went bankrupt. Amsterdam stepped into its shoes in the 1630s.

First and foremost, the exhibition in Antwerp paints a picture of the interaction between Flemish and Genoese artists in the 17th century. Rubens’ stay had a distinct influence on renowned history painters such as Malo, Castello, Castiglione and de Ferrari, who above all borrowed the Flemish master‘s scheme of composition and his coloration. The idiom of van Dyck was successfully assimilated by Stefano Magnasco, while the still lifes of Snyders and Pieter Boel found echoes in works by Anton Maria Vassallo and Sinibaldo Scorza.

The real masterpieces in the exhibition include the mondain Portrait of Marquise Veronica Spinola Doria from the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe, a work the Federal Republic of Germany is releasing for the first time in fifty years, and the Kitchen maid by Bernardo Strozzi, which is the perfect synthesis of the Caravaggian and northern traditions.

At the same time, Anversa & Genova surveys Genoese painting as a whole in the seicento. That art is pervaded with refinement and characterized by its bright coloration and flair for depicting cloth. Seventy paintings by Assereto, Cambiaso, Castello, Castiglione, van Dyck, Gentileschi, Guidobono, Paggi, Procaccini, Rubens, Strozzi, Vassallo and others make this exhibition a unique and not-to-be-missed event.


Marzia Cataldi Gallo, Paolo Massa, Abraham Rudolph de Klerck, Rudy Vercruysse, Margherita Priarone and Mariane Migliaccio, Anversa & Genova: een hoogtepunt in de barokschilderkunst, Gent (Snoeck) 2003. 166 pages.

ISBN 90-5349-446-4.