Jan Pieter van Baurscheit

The Four Seasons

Jan Pieter van Baurscheit was born in Wormersdorff, present-day Germany, in 1669. His father was the erstwhile mayor and alderman of Wormersdorff. The 18th-century artist biographer Jacobus van der Sanden wrote in his “Oud-Konsttoneel van Antwerpen” (1775) that van Baurscheit was already an accomplished woodworker when he moved to Antwerp. It is not known why he moved to the Southern Netherlands, but he seems to have settled in Antwerp by 1691, when he was taught by the sculptor Peeter Scheemaeckers (a nephew of the sculptor Peeter Verbruggen the Elder). He became a master of the Antwerp guild of St Luke in 1694/5. On April 4th 1695 he married Catharina Baets, the daughter of a local art dealer. After having two girls, the couple had a boy – Jan Pieter the Younger – who later on was taught by his father and also became a sculptor. Catharina died in 1700; 4 years later van Baurscheit remarried, to Isabella de Coninck, with whom he had three more children. Besides his son, van Baurscheit also taught the sculptor Cornelis Struyf.

Van Baurscheit quickly established himself as a successful sculptor and – at times – architect, receiving many commissions from churches for epitaphs, altars and various other church decorations. In Antwerp, he worked on several commissions for the St Paul’s Church and the St James’ Church. Further afield, he is known to have worked in Brussels and Ghent as well as – occasionally – in the Northern Netherlands. In 1715 van Baurscheit referred to himself as “sculptor to the King”; by 1717 this had seemingly been upgraded to “sculptor to the Emperor” (perhaps in connection to the work he realized for the Joyous Entry; cfr. infra). In 1723 he signed as “statuarius et architectus Caesaris” – “sculptor and architect to the Emperor”. How he came by these titles is unknown; it is however interesting that he also referred to himself as an architect. By the 18th century many courtly sculptors doubled as architects, and it seems van Baurscheit was no exception. For instance, he designed a (temporary) amphitheatre for Emperor Carlos VI’s Joyous Entry in Brussels in 1717. (His son Jan Pieter the Younger also combined both professions, although certainly in the latter part of his career he worked primarily as an architect.) Father and son van Baurscheit collaborated on several projects, most importantly on the refurbishment of the interior of the Antwerp Jesuit church, which was largely destroyed by fire in 1718. When van Baurscheit senior died in 1728, his son took over the workshop, with great success.

Like his contemporaries Michiel van der Voort and Jan Claudius de Cock, van Baurscheit combined the tradition of the Flemish late baroque with the upcoming classicist style idiom. (His son would continue to sculpt much in the same style, although his figures became more elongated and more decorative, influenced by the French rococo; compare for instance the present group with Jan Pieter II’s Four Senses (out of an original five) currently kept at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp). Besides portrait busts, at which he excelled, and church decorations, van Baurscheit also specialized in allegorical or mythological putti, solo or in groups of two, four or five, accompanied by various attributes or animals, representing the senses, the elements or the seasons. These were often carved in marble or stone, but there exist several examples executed in terracotta, both small- and large-scale. They were intended as decorations for interiors or gardens, displayed in niches (in which case the back was only rudimentarily finished) or standing freely. As has been pointed out by Dr. Alain Jacobs, the present recently rediscovered group of four putti, representing the four seasons, shows all the typical physiognomical traits known from other works attributed to the artist; furthermore, there is a clear relationship between these large-scale works and several drawn designs by van Baurscheit and his workshop, currently kept in the Prentenkabinet of the Antwerp Museum Plantin Moretus.

SOLD TO A PRIVATE COLLECTOR; CURRENTLY ON LOAN AT THE BOSTON MFA.

Artist: Jan Pieter van Baurscheit the Elder (Wormersdorff 1669 - 1728)
Medium: terracotta
Dimensions: height 86 cm (Spring), 83 cm (Fall), 88 cm (Summer), 83 cm (Winter)