Frans de Momper

A fire near the Grote Kerk in Breda

Frans de Momper was born in Antwerp in 1603 into the famous de Momper family of artists. In 1629 he joined the Antwerp guild of Saint Luke. He spent a significant amount of his career in the Netherlands, mainly in Amsterdam, Haarlem and The Hague. Although his presence is not recorded in Breda, he must have known the city well, probably having travelled there on several occasions and having drawn sketches of its skyline and its prominent buildings. Breda’s Museum owns a painting by Frans de Momper showing soldiers playing ‘tric-trac’ on a road, with the skyline of Breda in the background. The present picture, however, is set right in the town centre, with the Grote Kerk prominent in the middle. 

Although it is not known with certainty which town fire is displayed here, it is quite possible that this is the depiction of an actual event. Several artists in both the Southern and the Northern Netherlands specialized in the genre of burning cities and villages, often painting historical events, such as the Delft gunpowder explosion of October 12, 1654 in the case of Egbert van der Poel (Delft 1621 – 1664 Rotterdam) and the burning of Antwerp during the Spanish Fury in the case of Daniel van Heil (Brussels 1604 – 1664). In the present painting de Momper is possibly referring to the great fire of 1534.

 The fire strikes a contrast with the dark tones of the nightly sky, as the artist captures the whole scene as a play of light and shadows, with people running to and fro carrying buckets and ladders, and a plume of smoke rising into the dark sky. The burning building is the only source of light in the painting, which makes for a very charged atmosphere.

Artist: Frans de Momper (Antwerp 1603 - 1660)
Medium: oil on panel
Dimensions: 38 x 51 cm
Signed: 'Fd Momper', bottom center