CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Saints, Sinners, Lovers, and Fools: 300 Years of Flemish Masterworks

8 June - 20 October 2024

Saints, Sinners, Lovers, and Fools: 300 Years of Flemish Masterworks

Exhibition: 8 June - 20 October 2024

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is presenting the Canadian premiere of Saints, Sinners, Lovers, and Fools: 300 Years of Flemish Masterworks, a major exhibition that showcases The Phoebus Foundation’s world-class collection of Flemish art. Couched in timeless themes, the show transports audiences to the Southern Netherlands during a dynamic period of social, scientific, economic and artistic development (1400-1700). Saints, Sinners, Lovers, and Fools is organized by the Denver Art Museum and The Phoebus Foundation of Antwerp, Belgium, and presents masterworks by celebrated artists of the day, including Hans Memling, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens and Michaelina Wautier, among many others. The Montreal presentation is complemented by selections from the MMFA’s renowned collection of Flemish art.

The exhibition is laid out in six sections and features some 150 works, including monumental paintings, sculptures, books, silverwork and maps. It begins with religious art and portraits of the fifteenth and early sixteenth century. In looking closely at these works packed with symbolism and delightful details, such as Hans Memling’s The Nativity,¬†or¬†Triptych with the Adoration of the Magi¬†by Pieter Coecke van Aelst the Elder, the public will appreciate how Flemish citizens used images to interact with higher powers, build community and secure their legacy.

The next section is dedicated to portraits that celebrate the wealth and status of individuals and, by the same token, mark the dawn of the art patron. Among the works displayed are notably Portrait of Archduke Albert of Austria by Peter Paul Rubens, the Double Portrait of Husband and Wife Playing Tables by Jan Sanders van Hemessen, and a work by his daughter, Catharina van Hemessen, titled Portrait of a Lady. Following this section is a group of paintings depicting fools and foolish behavior that showcase how artists used humor to both moralize and entertain.

Moving into the seventeenth century, subsequent sections highlight Flanders’ significance as a cosmopolitan center of commerce and innovation, both scientific and artistic. Navigation tools and maps join masterworks by Rubens and Van Dyck, international celebrities whose dramatic painterly styles spoke to the heightened emotions of a society plagued by war and political instability.

The exhibition ends in an immersive space inspired by art cabinets, elite collections of art found in the homes of the upper class during this era. Often depicted in period paintings, examples of which are on display, such spaces prefigure the modern museum and invite us to consider the range of desires ‚Äď to connect, to marvel, to possess ‚Äď that led to their inception.

Frans Snyders (1579-1657), A Pantry with Game, about 1640
The Phoebus Foundation, Antwerp

The MMFA’s collection of Flemish art

The Museum boasts one of the largest collections of Flemish art in North America, with over 200 works. The Montreal presentation of the exhibition will include paintings by Adriaen Isenbrandt, Jan Fyt and Jan Bruegel the Elder, among other works from its collection.


The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated art book of over 400 pages, edited by Katharina Van Cauteren, Chief of Staff of The Phoebus Foundation Chancellery. Titled From Memling to Rubens: The Golden Age of Flanders, it has been adapted in French by the international publisher Hannibal Books.

Credits and curatorial team

An exhibition co-organized by the Denver Art Museum and The Phoebus Foundation, Antwerp, Belgium, in collaboration with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
The exhibition is curated by Katharina Van Cauteren, Chief of Staff of The Phoebus Foundation Chancellery. The Montreal presentation is curated by Chloé M. Pelletier, Curator of European Art (before 1800) at the MMFA.

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