Who was the surrealist Chilean artist Roberto Matta (1911-2022)? What were his roots, how did he evolve as an artist and what place does he occupy in surrealism? How should we understand this work, and what exactly are we looking at? What do we know about the fluorescent pigment, and how can it be conserved? This edition of Phoebus Focus seeks answers to these questions in order to acquire a greater understanding of the importance of Amorphous Figures, a notable work in The Phoebus Foundation’s Latin American collection.

The date: 16 September 2016. The place: Peru, where, in the church of San Sebastián in a suburb of Cuzco, one electrical wire touches another. When the fire is finally extinguished around midday, some eighty per cent of the church interior has been reduced to cinders. In just a few hours, a huge part of the oeuvre of Quispe Tito (c.1611-1681) perished.

This edition of Phoebus Focus turns the spotlight on Quispe Tito’s Holy Family in Nazareth and the motley mix of connections between a painting produced in a brand-new world and a print made in a much older one. Holy Family bridges Jesuit thought and Inca heritage. It tells a tale of artistic and cultural legacies and idiosyncratic interpretations.

Let yourself be captivated by the floral splendour of Vase of Flowers with Vanitas Symbols by Jan Davidsz. De Heem (1606-1684). De Heem belongs to the canon of Dutch Baroque painting and astonishes everyone with the refined painting technique with which he creates his flower still lives. Through historical sources and material-technical research, you will be introduced to the flourishing seventeenth century and the exuberant and colourful Baroque painting of the time.

This Phoebus Focus tells the remarkable story of Johannes I Gansacker (1592-1664) and the remarkable history of his portrait. It allows us to interpret Gansacker as one of the many young, ambitious entrepreneurs in seventeenth-century Antwerp. A self-made social climber who was only too happy to be portrayed at the beginning of that climb by a painter with exactly the same ambitions as him, namely Anthony Van Dyck.

A lone walker at dawn in Ostend, Léon Spilliaert (1881-1946) is entranced by the bleak and ominous desolation of the promenade. A fascination with spatiality and the expression of infinity underlie the numerous dyke scenes Spilliaert created between 1907 and 1909, heralding a unique, formal innovation. Learn more about the compelling Kursaal and Promenade that is the centrepiece of this Phoebus Focus.

The Phoebus Foundation’s collection includes an unusual painting which has an equally unusual title: Head-Baker. A baker’s servant, frozen in motion, with his cleaver raised high in the air, is poised to decapitate the man sitting in front of him with a well-aimed swing. The mysterious title combined with the strange scene raises many questions. Was there really a baker running around decapitating his customers? Is the man administering a humiliating punishment, carrying out an early form of plastic surgery, or is something else going on?

In this Phoebus Focus edition, Katharina Van Cauteren, chief of staff at The Phoebus Foundation, made an analysis of the various meanings and motifs behind Hendrick De Clerck’s depiction of the moralising Biblical story of Susanna and the Elders. Considering the #MeToo movement, this story of power, intimidation, sex and injustice proves more contemporary than ever.

Did you know that lace production in Belgium experienced an unprecedented boom during the First World War? It seems almost contradictory, but during the Great War, lace-makers were producing more lace than ever, driven by Queen Elisabeth. The lace they created was sold in the allied countries for the benefit of war victims. The largest market was undoubtedly the United States, where many of these war lace fragments are still preserved in prestigious collections today. Characteristic of these unique objects is their patriotic iconography: the fragments, handkerchiefs and tablecloths are decorated with coats of arms, clawing lions and heraldry.

In this edition of Phoebus Focus, war lace expert Wendy Wiertz tells the extraordinary story of this unique heritage created during the darkest days of our history.

Flowers power!

Daffodils, pink roses with heads bowed, an orange lily, flaming tulips, bright blue irises, …  The variety of flowers and the bright colours are magnificent and appear to burst out of the panel. Flowers in a Vase with a Clump of Cyclamen and Precious Stones is a masterpiece by one of the most important painters from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries: Jan Brueghel I (1568-1625). Although people would also call him ‘Flower Brueghel’, he only began painting vases of flowers in his late thirties. Flowers in a Vase with a Clump of Cyclamen and Precious Stones is one of the earliest and finest examples, a stunning masterpiece through which this Phoebus Focus zooms in on the sources of inspiration, motivation and method of the master who concentrated on all this floral beauty with such dedication and precision.

The Antwerp Baroque portrait specialist Anthony Van Dyck painted Henricus Liberti in around 1627-1632 as a self-assured and talented musician, who was well aware of his worth. Today, just a handful of Liberti’s musical pieces have been preserved and the archives hardly mention any traces of the life of this Antwerp keyboard virtuoso and composer. We do not even know for sure when and where he was born.

The fact that the musician was not forgotten is largely due to Van Dyck’s magnificent Portrait of Henricus Liberti, which is now part of The Phoebus Foundation’s collection. This Phoebus Focus zooms in on the prestigious history of Van Dyck’s portrait and brings together the details of Liberti’s life and oeuvre. We also focus on the masterly way in which the painter depicted the inspired virtuoso.

In this Phoebus Focus , Matthew Reeves focuses on the two alabaster pleurants of the tomb monument of the famous Duke Jean De Berry (1340-1416). Who were these men, for whom were they made, and why? Matthew Reeves tells the story of one of France’s richest princes, Jean de Berry (1340-1416), his profound love of art and the wondrous ways in which sculpture can be used to commemorate, move us to prayer, and serve political ends.

Servius Sulpicius Galba was a Roman emperor who overthrew and succeeded Nero during the Year of the Four Emperors, 68-69 AD. In this ‘Phoebus Focus’ Nils Büttner places the extraordinary emperor portrait that Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) painted of him in its context. Büttner does not only whisks the reader off to first-century Rome, he also makes an analysis of Rubens’ support medium and painting method, his fascination with Antiquity, his sources of inspiration and many inventions. In addition, Büttner elaborates on the long tradition of painting portraits of rulers and their integration in Baroque interiors.

In St Begga Leen Kelchtermans examines strong, religious women and their devotion, and Catholic and dynastic displays of power. She whisks the reader away to between the seventh and seventeenth centuries and elaborates on the way Begga, daughter of Itta of Metz (c.592-652) and Pepin the Elder (c.580-639), was officially appointed as the foundress of the flourishing beguine movement in 1630. Around 1635 the Flemish Baroque master Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) portrayed St Begga, a painting that abounds with captivating stories. This edition of ‘Phoebus Focus’ restores both St Begga and Jacob Jordaens to flesh and blood human beings.

Servius Sulpicius Galba was a Roman emperor who overthrew and succeeded Nero during the Year of the Four Emperors, 68-69 AD. In this ‘Phoebus Focus’ Nils Büttner places the extraordinary emperor portrait that Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) painted of him in its context. Büttner does not only whisks the reader off to first-century Rome, he also makes an analysis of Rubens’ support medium and painting method, his fascination with Antiquity, his sources of inspiration and many inventions. In addition, Büttner elaborates on the long tradition of painting portraits of rulers and their integration in Baroque interiors.

In this edition of ‘Phoebus Focus’, no less than three specialists examine two of the sketches that Baroque master Abraham Van Diepenbeeck made for the stained-glass windows of the Antwerp St. Paul’s Church. The stained-glass windows themselves have not survived the ravages of time and so these sketches are invaluable for the reconstruction of the church’s original interior.

Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens… Antwerp is famous because of her many talented artists. But what about Brussels? In this edition of Phoebus Focus, researcher Lara Yeager-Crasselt takes you to the roaring Brussels art scene with a focus on the extraordinary portraiture, with Michael Sweerts as pioneer.

In this Phoebus Focus edition, Lieke Wijnia takes the reader through the history of Saint Mary Magdalene and the little-known artist Melchior de la Mars. Moreover, the author holds up a mirror. In these crazy COVID times, De la Mars’s Mary Magdalene is perhaps more relevant than ever.

This painting of a Young Woman by the Brussels artist Michaelina Wautier appears at first sight to be an ordinary study. Nothing could be further from the truth! A look in detail and behind the layers of paint reveals great secrets of this forgotten important artist.

Who was Elisabeth Jordaens? When did her father, the famous Jacob Jordaens, portray her and why does she look like a peasant woman? In this Phoebus Focus edition, Leen Kelchtermans investigates the context behind the blushing portrait of Elisabeth Jordaens in the collection of The Phoebus Foundation.

Archaeologist Petra Linscheid introduces the unique collection of historical Egyptian headgear from The Phoebus Foundation. These rare pieces cover more than a 1000 year of fashion history.

This Phoebus Focus explores Guicciardini’s masterpiece and its fascinating history. The reader gets a taste of the many themes that the Italian authors address in his magnum opus.

Rubens expert Nils Büttner analyses the most intimate work of the Antwerp pictor doctus in the collection of The Phoebus Foundation. He discovers the many similarities with other works of art by the master.

In this Phoebus Focus restorer Naomi Meulemans analyses the work of CoBrA artist Karel Appel. Like no one else, she can extract secrets from the materiality of the paint. The author dissects Appel’s painting layer after layer. The result is somewhat sobering. Were the CoBrA artists as ‘free’ as they wanted to believe themselves?

In 2018, The Phoebus Foundation acquired one of Christopher Plantin’s twelve royal bibles, which he printed on parchment. It is the last copy that was still in private hands. In this Phoebus Focus, doctor Dirk Imhof-sketches the context and meaning of this Biblia regia.

In this Phoebus Focus, sculpture specialist Marjan Debaene unfolds the forgotten history of the Jan Borman II and his illustrious family. His grandiose statue of the Madonna and Child forms the starting point for this unique study.

Keep Your Mouth Shut (‘Mondeken toe’) shows that the boundary between paintings and texts is wafer-thin and that the highest wisdom is sometimes a foolish game. As a connoisseur of Massijs, Bosch and the unique imagery of the Northern Renaissance, Larry Silver dissects all the motifs of the painting. The result is a special analysis of a curious scene, which even after five centuries turns out to be gripped from life.

In this Phoebus Focus edition, Leen Kelchtermans undresses the young woman represented in this artwork, without damaging her honor. By carefully examining each piece of clothing and each accessory, the author gives the young woman back her well-deserved dignity. This Phoebus Focus offers a fascinating insight into the woman’s bygone reality: how she dressed, according to which norms and values she lived, and what it meant to be married in 1613.

In this publication, Timothy De Paepe peels the layers of a late sixteenth-century scene, as if it were an onion. If you look superficially, you see what the title of the work promises: elegantly dressed figures celebrating in a garden. But as the author lets you look with the eyes of a sixteenth-century man. He takes you into a world of entertainment and dance, but also of foolishness, envy and lust.

This Phoebus Focus highlights an artwork with the depiction of Phoebus Apollo by the baroque master Jan Boeckhorst. Phoebus is the sun god after whom The Phoebus Foundation is named. He is the protector of the muses and thus of the arts. He is also a symbol of light and the sun and is intensely connected with the ‘golden age’: a mythical era full of endless abundance and justice.

Peter Snayers specialized in painting scenes of war and combat. In addition to large canvases that glorified military campaigns, he also depicted the ordinary man or woman, plagued by the daily reality of war. The theme ‘A raid on travellers’ is crucial for the oeuvre of Peter Snayers. This Phoebus Focus tells the story of a forgotten master and his place in the turbulent history of the Low Countries.

In the 17th century, the Jesuit Daniel Seghers must have been some kind of pop star. He worked with Peter Paul Rubens, Cornelis Schut, Gonzales Coques and Erasmus II Quellinus. The highest nobility couldn’t get enough of his flower paintings. Years of thorough and refreshing material-technical research helps to lift the veil between past and present. Discover this remarkable master and his highly appraised craftmanship.

The Mere-Monster of Lake Tagua Tagua is an intriguing and enigmatic artwork from the collection of The Phoebes Foundation. This absurd animal is the synthesis of more than 300 years of image building. Even more, the Mere-Monsters Monster turns out to be pure political propaganda.

The fable ‘Van den vos Reynaerde’ was written in the 13th century Flanders. The fox is an antihero: a villain – even a murderer – who mercilessly denounces the hypocrisy of the establishment. The The Phoebus Foundation has a collection with some five hundred publications, reprints and translations of the original Reynaert story. This Phoebus Focus highlights his continued remarkable history.

The Allegory of the Seven Liberal Arts is a masterpiece from the Flemish painter Maerten de Vos. For the first time this unique artwork is analyzed in depth and placed in its historical context.

Only available in Dutch.

Things are not always what they seem, like in the painting with the depiction of Christ in the house of Marta and Mary. If the title does not guide our gaze, this scene would seem to be a banal still life. It is only for those who look attentively that the painting opens a whole world, carefully explained in this Phoebus Focus.

In the first Phoebus Focus, a small triptych with the depiction of Saint Luke painting the Madonna is analyzed in depth. Thanks to the combination of art-historical and material-technical research, this remarkable artwork regained some of its forgotten meaning.

In the Phoebus Focus series, experts and scientists discuss masterpieces from the rich collection of The Phoebus Foundation.