Brandekens by Gillis Mostaert in the Ximenez House

The inventory lists two paintings of fires by the Antwerp artist Gillis Mostaert (1528-1598). One of these, a painting described simply as a fire ("een schilderye Brandeken") is documented for the room adjacent to the large sitting room in the back part of the house, while a painting of the Burning of Troy ("een schilderye Brant van Troyen") hung in the sitting room facing the street. The latter was displayed near Rubens's large canvas depicting the Birth of Venus, thus complementing the allegory of water's generative force with that of fire's destructive power. In the art literature of the period, depictions of fires (branden, brandekens) were considered a subject in which Netherlandish painters excelled, and Gillis Mostaert's fires and nocturnal scenes were among the most sought after pieces of this genre. Their value increased after Mostaert's death, perhaps not least due to the central positions afforded to "reflexy const" by art lovers and collectors, as documented in Karel van Mander's Schilder-boeck of 1604. In February 1595, Archduke Ernest of Austria (1553-1595), Governor General of the Netherlands, acquired "two paintings of men and fire" ("zway gemäl von menschen und feuer") by Mostaert. Two paintings representing fires, a "landscape with a fire, pillaging and skirmish" and a "landscape on copper, with a nocturnal fire, adorned with a monastery" are recorded in the 1607 probate inventory of François Perrenot de Granvelle (1559-1607), the younger brother of Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle. Filips van Valckenisse (1557-1614), Lord of Hemiksem, head of the Antwerp militia and perhaps Antwerp's greatest art collector, owned over 50 paintings by or after Mostaert. Ximenez, who experimented in the making of glass in imitation of precious stones, must have appreciated the artist's virtuoso handling of lights and colors; Mostaert's oil paintings, for which he often used copper as a support, appear with a certain luster or glow not unlike that of jewels or glass.

Christine Göttler, University of Bern


Göttler, Christine. "Gillis Mostaert's Depictions of Fires: Uses of Historia in Sixteenth-Century Antwerp." Trading Values: Cultural Translation in Early Modern Antwerp. Eds. Christine Göttler, Bart Ramakers, and Joanna Woodall. Netherlands Yearbook for History of Art 14 (2014) (forthcoming).

Göttler, Christine. "Fire, Smoke and Vapour: Jan Brueghel's 'Poetic Hell:' 'Ghespoock' in Early Modern European Art." Spirits Unseen: The Representation of Subtle Bodies in Early Modern European Culture. Eds. Christine Göttler, and Wolfgang Neuber. Intersections 9. Leiden: Brill, 2007. 19-46.

Gillis Mostaert (?), Burning of Troy, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, Cologne. Image: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln.