Artus Quellinus the Elder

The Virgin and Child crushing the serpent’s head

Artus Quellinus the Elder was born in Antwerp in 1609 into an artistic family: his father, Erasmus I Quellinus, was a respected sculptor, while his brother, Erasmus II, became a painter. Artus himself was trained by his father, before being apprenticed to his compatriot François Duquesnoy, in whose studio in Rome he worked between 1635 and 1639. Stylistically, Quellinus was much influenced by Duquesnoy, whose classicizing baroque style he introduced in the Netherlands. After his return from Rome  in 1639, he became a member of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke in 1640-41. Also in 1640, he took over his father’s workshop. He had many students, such as Gabriël Grupello and Lodewyk Willemsen, who would help spread the late baroque style across Europe.

Quellinus won several commissions in Amsterdam and worked there in 1646 and 1647. He also spent time in Sweden. From 1650 onwards, he worked for fifteen years on the decorations for the new city hall in Amsterdam (now the Royal Palace of Amsterdam). Here he supervised a team of sculptors, many of whom would become famous artists in their own right, such as his cousin and pupil Artus II Quellinus and Rombout Verhulst. As a result of this very important and highly influential commission, the Rijksmuseum still has the richest holdings of Quellinus’ work today.

In 1658 Quellinus returned to Antwerp, where he would remain active until his death in 1668. He is known to have worked on commissions for many Flemish churches, mainly in Antwerp (St Paul’s church and St Andrew’s church) and Brussels (St Michael’s church and St Gudula’s church), although he also won several commissions in present-day Germany (St Mary’s church in Berlin and Schleswig cathedral). Besides church decorations and tomb monuments, Quellinus also made portrait busts and small-scale sculptures, such as ivory carvings.

The present, recently rediscovered work is a rare small-scale sculpture in marble, probably commissioned by a private patron. It depicts the Virgin Mary and her infant son crushing the serpent’s head beneath their feet – symbolizing the triumph of good over evil. It can be connected to a drawing by Quellinus, which depicts the exact same group, as well as to a sculpted Virgin and Child – also by Quellinus – in St Paul’s church (Antwerp). Finely sculpted and with many intricate details such as the drapery and the stool on which the Virgin sits, it may be considered a very fine addition to Quellinus’ oeuvre.

Artist: Artus I Quellinus (Antwerp 1609 - 1668)
Medium: white Carrara marble, on the original black marble base
Dimensions: height 51 cm