CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Understanding art in Antwerp, 1540-1580: classicizing the popular, popularizing the classics

Research Conference: 23 January - 24 January 2008

Understanding Art in Antwerp, 1540-1580: Classicizing the popular, popularizing the classics
conference about the way art was understood by others and itself in Antwerp in the sixteenth century, and how we now should understand that sixteenth-century artistic concept.

Datum: 23 en 24 Januari 2008
Locatie: Groningen, Oude Kijk in ’t Jatstraat 7a, Universiteitsmuseum, Wijnbergzaal
Coördinatie: Groningen Research School for the Study of the Humanities, M.R.B. Wubbolts



‘Artist in conference’: Willem van Haecht (c. 1527-after 1583)

With a concert by Camerata Trajectina


This conference will examine how art was understood in Antwerp in the sixteenth century, how that art understood itself, how it indicated how it wanted to be understood, and how we now should understand that sixteenth-century artistic concept. Attention will be paid to the factors which influenced the vision of the nature and function of art, including those of a non-artistic nature. A central question will be how the popular was classicized and the classics popularized, how this was achieved in the various fields of art and how this was expressed and dealt with in word and image. Works from different artists – painters, poets, composers – will be discussed. Particular attention will be paid to Willem van Haecht, playwright and composer of psalms, initiator and publisher of prints, organizer and producer of city festivals, a perfect example of the protean versatility of art and artist in Antwerp in the period 1540-1580.


In about the middle of the sixteenth century, Antwerp played a leading role in the cultural landscape of the Netherlands. Art in the sense of the contemporary word const incorporated both visual art and literature, and in the sense of the Latin word ars also the artes liberales or liberal arts.
The flowering of art in all its manifestations was partly due to social, economic and technological changes and innovations in its production. These led to a quantitative increase and a greater dissemination, wider accessibility and a broader application of art than before. In addition to its religious and devotional functions, it began to play a recreational role, and in literature and printmaking in particular grew into a vehicle for opinion formation and propaganda. Art increasingly formed part of the cultural capital of the city and its citizens, a means to shape its habitus.
Factors of ideal nature strengthened these developments. The humanist objective to acquire a wide scholarly and cultural training meant that interest in art grew significantly, not only in its products but also in its nature and being. The const and the consten became the subject of reflection, of a discourse about their mutual relationship and their place within the system of artes liberales, a discourse that was conducted both explicitly and implicitly within art itself, in texts, illustrations and compositions, and in the conversations of its recipients, both in private and social spheres, in houses, studios and chambers of rhetoric. Art and artists were characterized by a protean versatility. They encouraged reflection and conversation about what was on display or being discussed, about the display and discussion themselves, about the nature, function and meaning of art.
This discourse also covered the relationship – contrast, reconciliation, equivalence – between native, popular, vernacular traditions on the one hand, and foreign, elite and classical (Latin, Italian and French) traditions on the other. The knowledge, art and literature of Antiquity was experienced as a great enrichment of contemporary culture, but at the same time faced sixteenth-century artists, writers and composers with the question of how to bridge the chronological, artistic, linguistic and mental gaps between them and these rich sources.



Joanna Woodall (London)


Yvonne Bleyerveld (Utrecht)
Stijn Bussels (Leiden)
Femke Hemelaar (Groningen)
Louis Grijp (Amsterdam/Utrecht)
Anke van Herk (Amsterdam)
Jan Luth (Groningen)
Maximiliaan Martens (Ghent)
Bart Ramakers (Groningen)
Todd Richardson (Leiden)
Jeroen Vandommele (Groningen)
Annette de Vries (Groningen)
Caecilie Weissert (Stuttgart)


Dick de Boer (Groningen)
Reindert Falkenburg (Leiden)
Zweder von Martels (Groningen)
Hubert Meeus (Antwerp)
Johan Oosterman (Nijmegen)
Hilde de Ridder-Symoens (Ghent)
David Rijser (Amsterdam)
Henk van Veen (Groningen)


Wednesday, January 23. 2008

10.00-10.30: registration and coffee

Morning chair: BART RAMAKERS (Groningen)

10.30-11.00: Welcome and introduction

11.00-12.30: keynote lecture

JOANNA WOODALL (London): Lost in translation? Thinking about classical and vernacular art in Antwerp, 1540-1580

Discussant: DAVID RIJSER (Amsterdam)

12.30-14.00: lunch (Engelse zaal, Academiegebouw)

Afternoon chair: JOHAN OOSTERMAN (Nijmegen)

14.00-15.30: session 1

TODD RICHARDSON (Leiden): Pieter Bruegel’s Vienna ‘Peasant dance’. The reception of Italianate bacchanalia in the Netherlands

FEMKE HEMELAAR (Groningen): Bold and fervid. The ideology of rhetorical translation in sixteenth-century Antwerp

Discussant: ZWEDER VON MARTELS (Groningen)

15.30-16.00: coffee/tea break (Huis met de Dertien Tempels, Oude Boteringestraat 23)

16.00-17.30: session 2

STIJN BUSSELS (Leiden): Rhetorica and Pictura in search for recognition. Upgrading painting and ‘Rhetorijcke’ as liberal arts in mid-sixteenth-century Antwerp

JEROEN VANDOMMELE (Groningen): Mirroring God, reflecting men. Shaping identity through knowledge in the Antwerp plays of 1561


19.00: Conference Dinner (’t Feithhuis, Martinikerkhof 10)


M.R.B. Wubbolts
University of Groningen