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Baroque Architecture

Church of St. Charles Borromeo, Antwerp

Pieter Huyssens, S.J., 1615-23. Design also partly attributed to P.P. Rubens.


St. Charles Borromeo,
Antwerp


St. Charles Borromeo,
Antwerp


St. Charles Borromeo,
Antwerp


St. Charles Borromeo,
Antwerp


St. Charles Borromeo,
Antwerp

Ecclesiastical architecture in Belgium in the seventeenth century was strongly influenced by Roman examples. Most churches built during this period were for new Catholic orders tied to Rome, especially the Jesuits. The Jesuit church in Antwerp was the first church to be dedicated to Ignatius of Loyola, who was canonized in 1622. The church is now dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo. The architect was a Jesuit, architect, Pieter Huyssens, S.J. (1577-1637). Huyssens had already built a church in Maastricht for the Jesuit order, and after the completion of this work he went to Rome in 1626 to study architecture for a year.

The facade of St. Charles Borromeo is clearly inspired by Il Gesu by Vignola in Rome, although it is slightly more ornate. Both churches feature fairly flat facades broken up into stories, ornamented with pairs of columns and pilasters. The Antwerp church is unusual in that it has three stories rather than two, as at Il Gesu; as a result the facade has more of a vertical emphasis. Each church has a classical pediment over the central portion of the facade, indicating the nave. In both churches the transition between the nave pediment and the lower roofs of the aisles is masked with a large scroll design. The Antwerp church has more sculpture than its prototype, but the door and some elements seem out of scale with the overall proportions of the building. The general style of Huyssen's design is classicizing, but it is not yet fully Baroque. The facade is not as unified as many Baroque buildings. Architectural historians have described this as a transitional building, related to Italian Mannerist architecture. Regional variants on a style such as this highlight the difficulty of applying stylistic labels, however.

The interior of St. Charles Borromeo has no Gothic rib-vaulting, but instead a wooden tunnel vault which imitates the stone architecture of Italian High Renaissance and Baroque architecture. The gallery over the aisle is decorated with a second arcade of Renaissance arches, an unusual feature. The interior was very richly decorated overall with marble and gold, a lavish expense for which the Jesuits were criticized. Decoration included many important ceiling paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. Unfortunately, the interior was completely destroyed by fire after a lightning strike in 1718, and the paintings by Rubens were lost. Because of Huyssens' relative inexperience, and Rubens' known interest in architecture and familiarity with buildings in Rome, many have concluded that he assisted Huyssens with the design of the church. Rubens was an ardent supporter of the new architectural style over traditional Flemish Gothic; in 1622 he wrote:



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Jeffery Howe, 1997