Rijksmuseum Twenthe - Het kunstmuseum van Enschede

Rubens, Jordaens, Van Dyck Flemish Baroque

From 5 April through 28 September. Heroic Christ figures, shapely curves and mythological deities with billowing locks: that is what Flemish art from the 17th century evokes. There could hardly be a stronger contrast with the sober landscapes of Ruisdael and the highly symbolic genre paintings of Jan Steen from the Reformist Northern Netherlands. But is the view actually correct? Is there really such a difference between North and South? Rijksmuseum Twenthe is presenting in collaboration with the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp the exhibition Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens – Flemish Baroque, from 5 April through 28 September.

It’s a first

The more than fifty paintings and dozens of engravings which the exhibition is showing give us an insight into the meaning, function and the impact of 17th century art as they were produced in Flanders. Most of these masterpieces are being exhibited for the first time in the Netherlands. 


There is a reason why there are clichés about Flemish baroque: the impressive masterpieces of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) match prevailing views on what characterises Flemish baroque. His persuasive, dynamic and emotional style of painting enables the viewer to imagine and ‘feel’ the experience of Christ and the saints: exactly what the Counter-Reformation needed to bring stray sheep back to the fold after the Beeldenstorm or Iconoclasm in the Low Countries. The ingenious pictorial programmes with mythological or allegorical themes and impressive portraits were in turn intended to confirm the authority of the nobility. The powerful, energetic and theatrical tableaus in Ruben’s work are unparalleled in how they cater for the wishes of this kind of client. His apprentice Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) and his contemporary Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) had a similar impact with their work. It’s no wonder then that these three painters set the trend and still influence our view of Flemish baroque. The exhibition in Rijksmuseum Twenthe gives a unique overview of the full range of Flemish baroque by showing the masterpieces of Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens together with painting and engravings of contemporaries which were made for a new market: the prosperous burghers of Antwerp.

Intimate burgher houses

Flemish baroque is not only about the familiar clichés. Besides the church and nobility, we see a new kind of art buyer in the 17th century: the prosperous burgher. For the first time in Western history, Antwerp artists therefore started to produce work for the free, anonymous market. Under the motto ‘something for everyone’, new genres are created such as landscape painting, still lifes or scenes from daily life. So, image production becomes big business. However, the message behind many of these works is still steeped in a profound, Christian morality. The redemption of the soul is a recurring theme.

Theme rooms

Theme rooms in the exhibition draw the visitor into 17th century Antwerp. Of course, visitors have the opportunity to view the great altarpieces and immense mythological tableaus, but there are also intimate scenes from burgher houses on show too, as well as touching family portraits, devotional images and still lifes, as a reminder that life is transitory. The evocation of a 17th century ‘kunstkamer’, packed from floor to ceiling with paintings, completes the picture of that time. Rubens, however, has the last word, for the great master was not only a man of flesh and blood, a flamboyant and self-assured man, but also an artist who sketched, drew and drafted, and who scrutinised the work of his assistants until they did their work exactly as he wanted.

Triptych of presentations of Flemish art in collaboration with KMSKA

The KMSKA or Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp will be closed in the coming years for renovation. Paul Huvenne (director of KMSKA) and Arnoud Odding (director of RMT) have taken this opportunity to initiate a long-term collaboration between the two museums. During a 14-month period RMT is presenting no fewer than three exhibitions around special collections from the KMSKA, which is seen as the most important museum in Flanders. Until the end of 2014 there are three exhibitions: Permeke and the Flemish expressionists (exhibition now closed), Rubens, Jordaens, Van Dyck – Flemish Baroque (5-4-2014 through 28-9-2014) and Jan van Eyck and the discovery of the world (14-9-2014 through 4-1-2015). Many of these works are being exhibited for the first time in the Netherlands.


The exhibition Rubens, Jordaens, Van Dyck – Flemish Baroque has been made possible through the generous support of the KMSKA, Aon Artscope, the Friends of Rijksmuseum Twenthe, the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, Overijssel Province, the City of Enschede and Roombeek Cultural Park.